Pentagon to review 'don't ask, don't tell' policy
Probe to assess harassment of gay troops
December 13, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized it and days after President Clinton said it wasn't working, Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered an immediate review of the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuals in the U.S. military.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Monday that teams will be sent to major U.S. military bases from all branches of the service to investigate what Bacon called "the climate" at the facilities as it relates to the policy.
The policy allows gays to serve in uniform if they do not openly discuss their sexual preference or engage in homosexual acts.
But it also forbids harassment of gays or investigation of suspected homosexuals without solid evidence.
The Pentagon's review of the policy follows last week's court-martial and conviction of an Army private for beating to death a gay infantryman with a baseball bat as he slept.
Testimony during that trial showed the victim had been harassed by other soldiers for months before his death. That harassment allegedly took place with the knowledge and occasional participation of non-commissioned officers.
The review ordered by Cohen will be headed by the Defense Department's Inspector General's office, whose investigators will "try to evaluate the climate by talking to people."
"The extent to which disparaging speech or expression with respect to sexual orientation occurs or is tolerated by individuals in the chain of command will be assessed," Bacon said, adding that Cohen would receive a report in 90 days.
The Clinton administration policy, which reversed a half-century ban on homosexuals in the military, has been at the center of a heated debate since it was initiated in 1994.
Hillary Clinton, running for the U.S. Senate in New York, called the policy a failure last week. President Clinton said over the weekend that he agreed with her.
"It's out of whack now, and I don't think any serious person can say it's not," Clinton told CBS Radio.
Since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy went into effect, the number of service members discharged for being gay almost doubled. Some 1,145 were forced to leave the service last year alone, the most since 1987.
A legal advocate for gays in the military welcomes the Inspector General review but says the policy should be shelved.
"It was doomed to fail from the very beginning because it's a double standard, because it provides exactly the wrong incentives. It provides incentives for snoops and snitches under this policy," said C. Dixon Osburn of the Service Members Legal Defense Network.
"It provides incentives to anyone who wants to hurt someone by accusing them of being gay in order to get rid of them," said Osburn.
After Army Pfc. Barry Winchell, 21, was murdered last summer at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Cohen issued new guidelines requiring troops to undergo anti-harassment training and assign more senior officers to investigate allegations of homosexual activity.
Pentagon spokesman Bacon noted that commanders at Fort Campbell and of the 101st Airborne Division based there have promised a full investigation following the court-martial of a second soldier charged in Winchell's death. That trial has been postponed until early next year.
Bacon said the charges raised during the first trial about condoned harassment of suspected gay soldiers has raised questions about whether similar behavior was occurring on other military installations.
Clinton reluctantly agreed to the "don't ask, don't tell" compromise after military officers and their allies on Capitol Hill objected to his campaign promise to lift the ban on gays in the military. Those who opposed lifting the ban said the presence of openly gay men and women in the military would undermine unit cohesion.
White House officials say that with his limited time left in office, Clinton has decided the best he can do is to require the military to live up to its end of the bargain and obey the letter and spirit of the compromise.
Correspondent Chris Black, Producer Chris Plante and Reuters contributed to this report.
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