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Anecdotal stubbornness vs. documented evidence: Do you care yet, John McCain?

by Jeremy Hooper

When reporters Kerry Eleveld and Chris Geidner pressed him on Don't Ask Don't Tell discharges, Sen. John McCain (Increasingly Far R-AZ) had a very novel response:


Well, Senator, maybe you will care what diligent DADT researcher (and G-A-Y friend) Dr. Nathaniel Frank had to say in his 2009 book Unfriendly Fire:

From pp. 178-183:

But by all accounts the witch hunts, seizures of private possessions, security clearance denials and delays, and outings by counselors, doctors and clergy were not what the politicians promised, and not what military leaders like Colin Powell publicly supported when he signed onto “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue,” saying “we will not ask, we will not witch hunt, we will not seek to learn orientation.”[i] As Byzantine as the policy is, some things are quite clear: commanders are not allowed to ask, and no one is allowed to harass.

Yet hundreds of indisputable violations of the policy’s strictures against asking, pursuing and harassing have been documented each year since its birth in 1994. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a watchdog and legal aid organization that has monitored the effects of the policy since its inception, reported 340 command violations (perpetrated by the military) in the first year alone, including fifteen actual or attempted “witch hunts” and ten death threats to service members for perceived homosexuality. For the first three years, SLDN documented 1146 violations, with the number increasing each of those years. The abuses of “don’t ask” have ranged from the purposeful to the neglectful to the vicious. Examples documented by SLDN include the continued use of outdated documents asking recruits if they were gay (as late as 2002, the Air Force was found to be using a fifteen-year-old form that asked recruits “are you homosexual or bisexual?”); routine flouting of the “don’t ask” principle by simply asking service members, “are you gay?” or substitute questions such as asking men, “do you find men attractive?”; violating the prohibition on asking about sexual identity in security clearance inquiries by asking if applicants are in “a physical relationship” with a roommate of the same sex; and mocking “don’t ask” with questions such as, “I'm not going to ask you if you're homosexual, but if I did ask, how would you respond?"[ii]

Sometimes the questions were hostile. A chief of boat shouted to a sailor, “You [sic] not going to tell me you’re a fucking faggot, are you?” A Marine recruiter said, “Because of President Clinton’s new policy, I can’t ask you if you’re a fag. So I’ll just ask if you suck cock.” Other times the hostility was less overt, but with the same effect, as when an officer told a woman under his command, “I know you’re a lesbian,” leaving her tongue-tied and unsure of the consequence of his statement. Still other times, the sheer repetition of infractions wore troops down and out. At San Antonio’s Lackland Airforce Base, where some of the worst and highest number of violations took place, unit members asked an airman if he was gay so many times that he simply acknowledged the truth, and lost his job. A sailor was asked if she had “ever told anyone on the ship that you are gay.” Despite the blatant violation the question constituted, her captain threatened her with criminal prosecution if she did not answer the question or if she made false statements. The threat itself was also completely forbidden under the policy, but the pressure was too much for the sailor, who admitted she was a lesbian and was quickly thrown out.[iii]

The limits on pursuits have been even more flagrantly ignored. Investigators have seized letters, diaries, books, magazines, computers, even posters of lesbian singers, including Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang, in an effort to determine service members’ sexuality and past history. In 1996, an Air Force Major, for example, was investigated on criminal charges of sodomy after the clerk at the local MotoPhoto store saw fit to make an extra copy of his pictures—nothing sexual, just the major with his arm around another man—and sent them to the Office of Special Investigations. In the Navy, a commander read through the medical records of one sailor and started discharge proceedings after noticing treatment of a medical condition associated with gay men. For the discharge investigation of a Marine corporal, inquiry officers counted among admissible evidence attendance at the Dinah Shore golf tournament and buying Anne Rice novels. Such unfounded extrapolations from the slimmest bits of “evidence,” such wild and groundless speculation based on nothing but stereotypes, were clearly violations of “don’t pursue.”[iv]

When Airman Sonya Harden was investigated, the “credible evidence” that began the process was a third party accuser who was in an ongoing quarrel with Harden over money. Harden insisted she was straight, and brought ex-boyfriends to testify on her behalf. Eventually, her accuser admitted she was lying when she charged that Harden was in a lesbian relationship, and that her motive was retaliation for the financial dispute. Harden was discharged anyway, despite the recanted charge and the testimony of ex-boyfriends.[v]

The misuse, abuse and neglect of evidence in discharge proceedings should come as no surprise given the make-up of all too many of the discharge boards. In reviewing colonels who were up for board of inquiry spots, one said, “I think homosexuals are immoral,” another said he thought they “have either a physiological or psychological problem as deviant from society,” and a third said “my religious beliefs are against homosexuality.” The three colonels were placed on the board. “I think it would be hard to find three board members that would have an opinion different from those already expressed,” commented the lieutenant colonel responsible for choosing the board.[vi]]

With such attitudes rampant throughout the military leadership, suspected and accused service members rarely stood a chance. But if violations of “don’t pursue” referred to over-zealous investigations of friends and family on flimsy evidence, full-scale “witch hunts” were used to describe expanding webs of inquiry that sought to pressure military members to turn one another in by “naming names.” The notorious witch hunts were rampant in the years prior to “don’t ask, don’t tell” and were a major impetus behind reform, with its promises of a “zone of privacy.” But throughout the 1990s, little changed, and in some ways, things got worse: the venomous rhetoric of the cultural and political debate around gay service, together with the bitterness felt by many in the military who resented what they perceived as the imposition of social change by military outsiders, raised temperatures on this issue, and shone a spotlight on the elephant in the room—who might be gay among us?

The United States Military Academy at West Point is the elite training ground for U.S. army officers. Like all military commands, West Point has extensive counseling available to ensure the well-being of service members. So when Cadet Nikki Galvan’s mother died, an academy counselor was available to help her deal with her grief, and suggested she keep a journal as part of her mourning process. In it, Galvan confided, or so she thought, about a number of very private emotions she was facing, and one of these was her sexuality. Not long after she started her journal, she was asked point blank—in front of four other cadets—if she was a lesbian by her lieutenant colonel. Instead of answering, Galvan submitted a complaint. But rather than taking action against the improper questioning of Galvan, the Army seized her personal diary and private emails under a pretext that officials were investigating a reported “disturbance in the ranks.” An investigation ensued, whose report reads that Galvan “violate[d]” regulations “by making various statements in her diary indicating a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts or conduct.” Galvan said she felt “violated and humiliated,'' and that her friends stopped talking to her out of fear they would be suspected of being gay. ''My cadet life became unbearable,'' she remembered. Facing a discharge, Galvin resigned. West Point tried to recoup $100,000 in tuition funds, based on failing to honor the service obligation that cadets incur by attending for free. Her departure ended an excruciating ordeal for her, but marked just the beginning for West Point, where officials expanded the investigation into an outright witch hunt that took aim at thirty other women at the academy.[vii]

The West Point witch hunt sparked by Galvan’s ordeal was more the rule than the exception. In the spring of 1994, military investigators interrogated over twenty marines about their sexual orientation. One was thrown in a military jail for over a month. Another had his bed turned on its side, his private possessions ransacked and his personal computer confiscated. The navy admitted the next year that it had engaged in a witch hunt, but—with no punishment for wrongful investigations—no one in the military was held accountable or suffered any consequences, besides the marine who languished in the brig for a month of his life, and the rest of the troops who were terrified into a state of permanent insecurity.[viii]

Later that same year, a young soldier serving in South Korea endured a horrendous ordeal when she was assaulted by a group of male soldiers who also threatened to rape her. Her resistance prompted her attackers to spread lies that she was a lesbian. This phenomenon, known as lesbian-baiting, is one of the most troubling abuses of the gay ban, when men whose advances are rebuffed accuse women of being lesbians, out of retaliation or wounded ego (some men, no doubt, have convinced themselves that any woman who refuses their charms must not be straight). Again and again, female service members who report harassment, even rape, end up the target of threatened and actual investigations into their sexuality. And several of these victims, like the soldier in South Korea, were straight. When she reported the incident, her commanding officer turned on her, accusing her of being gay and threatening her with prison if she did not admit it and identify other service members suspected of being gay. A military judge dismissed the charges due to lack of evidence, but her command would not let up, starting administrative discharge proceedings against her. Only after enormous legal intervention by SLDN and great financial cost to the soldier’s family did the Army relent, allowing the harrowing experience to end with a delayed transfer to a new command.[ix]

One of the largest witch hunts unfolded in Sardinia, Italy early in 1996, aboard the U.S.S. Simon Lake. Prompted by questions directed at Seaman Amy Barnes, Navy personnel expanded their inquiry to encompass a shocking sixty women on the ship. In sworn affidavits, sailors alleged that the Navy intimidated, threatened and harassed them in an effort to force them to out themselves or others. “If you do not tell the truth, you will go to jail for 10-15 years, one investigator told Heather Hilbun, before she was grilled on her own sexuality and that of six other named women. “Command Investigators threatened and intimidated me into giving involuntary statements,” testified another, “by telling me I would be violating Article 78 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and would go to jail if I did not answer their questions.” The sailor commented that “being forced into giving statements which had the potential to be used against RMSN Barnes, who is my friend, was extremely upsetting.” Unchastened, the Navy argued in court that service members had “no legal basis upon which to challenge” the extraordinary scope of the investigation, as the current rules “create no enforceable rights” for those who get caught in the military’s intrusive net.[x]

During the same period in early 1996, the Air Force showed exactly what their priorities were in the age of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Airman Bryan Harris faced life in prison for the accused rape another man and other related charges. Because Harris was gay, his sex life was seen as an invitation for investigators to catch other gays in the military—even if it meant drastically reducing his punishment for a real crime in exchange for learning the names of men who simply happened to be gay. Late in January, Air Force lawyers struck a deal with Harris to give him just a 20-month sentence if he named all the men he had had sex with in the military. Of the seventeen men he named, five were in the Air Force (the rest were in other service branches), and each was promptly rounded up and charged with homosexual conduct. Questions in the Air Force investigations into Harris’ peers included asking co-workers if they would be “surprised to find out that” the airmen were gay, if the airmen ever talked about women, “you know, the way men talk about women,” where and with whom the airmen hung out, and if it would seem “unusual” for the airmen not to have girlfriends—all bald violations of guidelines restricting questions about orientation or about events outside the circumstances in question. Four were fired. The fifth was court-martialed in a criminal trial, and terrorized by word from officials that he could get thirty years in prison—for consensual sex with another man. Eventually he was allowed to leave the military without serving jail time.[xi]

[i] Senate Committee on Armed Services, Policy Concerning Homosexuality, 1993, 709.

[ii] “Conduct Unbecoming: The First Annual Report,” 1995; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Second Annual Report on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, report 1996); “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, report 1997); “Conduct Unbecoming: The Ninth Annual Report on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, report 2003).

[iii] “Conduct Unbecoming: The First Annual Report,” 1995; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Fifth Annual Report,” 1999; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Second Annual Report,” 1996; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997.

[iv] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Second Annual Report,” 1996; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997.

[v] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Fifth Annual Report,” 1999.

[vi] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997.

[vii] Carolyn Lochhead, “Defense Secretary Says He Will Correct Treatment of Gays,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 27 1997; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Fifth Annual Report,” 1999.

[viii] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Second Annual Report,” 1996; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Fifth Annual Report,” 1999.

[ix] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Second Annual Report,” 1996.

[x] “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997.

[xi] J. Jennings Moss, “Losing the War,” Advocate, April 15, 1997; “Conduct Unbecoming: The Third Annual Report,” 1997.

**SEE ALSO: Frank's recent report, "Don't Ask Don't Tell: The Damage":

(Scribd upload courtesy of Towleroad)


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