Continued Military Violations of "Don't Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" Policy Blamed on Lack of Leadership

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the nationís only legal aid and watchdog group on "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue," recently released its fourth annual report on the military's record of adherence to the policy. Four years into the policy, the report documents a 27 percent rise in command violations Ė where commands asked, pursued, and harassed suspected gay servicemembers in violation of current regulations. This is the fourth year in a row that command violations have increased. 

The current policy promised to stop questions about sexual orientation, witch hunts, and harassment and to create a "zone of privacy" for all service members, gay and straight. The report finds that those promises have fallen flat. 

"Commanders asked. Commanders pursued. Commanders harassed. All account for the increased command violations," said C. Dixon Osburn, SLDNís Co-Executive Director. 

The Pentagon has yet to release its 1997 discharge numbers under "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue", although the tally has been available for months. 

SLDN, an organization that helps those targeted by the policy on gays and lesbians, cites a lack of commitment from top military and civilian authorities as the explanation for the most recent upsurge in violations of its own policy. Field personnel receive no guidance on the limits to investigations, servicemembers have no recourse when the policy is violated to their detriment, and no one is held accountable. 

"Lack of leadership. Lack of training. Lack of accountability. All are to blame for the military's persistent failure to abide by its own laws," said former Army Captain Michelle Benecke, SLDNís Co-Executive Director. 

Major findings of SLDNís fourth annual report, Conduct Unbecoming: The Fourth Annual Report on "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" include: 
 

  • A 39 percent increase in "Donít Ask" violations. SLDN documented 124 in 1997, up from 89 reported in 1996. The Navy led the services with 46.
  • "Donít Pursue" violations ranked as the worst problem, with 235 violations in 1997, a 23 percent increase from the previous yearís 191. The Air Force led with 90.
  • Incidents of anti-gay harassment increased 38 percent, from 132 reported incidents in 1996 to 182 in 1997, including death threats and physical assaults.
  • The Navy was worst in anti-gay harassment and asking, with 193 violations.
  • The frequent use of threats during gay investigations to extract confessions, including threats of criminal charges, confinement, non-judicial punishment, and "outing."
  • Most leaders have yet to receive or read a copy of regulations and guidelines limiting gay investigations, and most do not know what those limits are.
Former Under Secretary of Defense Edwin Dorn issued a ground-breaking memorandum clarifying that commanders should investigate perpetrators of anti-gay harassment and lesbian-baiting, not their victims. No one in the field, however, is aware of this guidance. 

SLDN is the only organization that documents violations of "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue." By contrast, the Department of Defense has instituted no method of identifying, documenting, or correcting abuses of the four-year-old policy. 

Among servicemembers who have been investigated by the military in violation of the "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" policy, is Airman Jennifer Dorsey, from Santa Barbara, CA, who was harassed, accused of being a lesbian, and physically assaulted by enlisted women in her dorm. The military took no action against her abusers, and instead threatened an investigation of Dorsey. 

The SLDN report outlines a number of steps needed to end the militaryís abuses of its own policy. They include: 
 

  • DoD should issue guidance stating the limits to investigations under "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue," and the intent of the policy to stop prying.
  • All servicemembers should be trained on the limits to gay investigations and commanders should be required to state in writing their reasons for an investigation.
  • DoD should train inquiry officers and criminal agents in proper investigative techniques that avoid heavy-handed tactics.
  • Commanders who disobey limits should be disciplined. No one in the past two years has been.
  • Provide recourse to servicemembers to stop improper investigations.
  • DoD should adopt an exclusionary rule so that evidence obtained illegally can be excluded at administrative discharge boards.
  • DoD should adopt a rule of confidentiality for psychotherapist/patient conversations.
  • The services should distribute the Dorn memo on anti-gay harassment and lesbian-baiting to all servicemembers.
  • An expert panel including representatives from outside the military should review the administrative separation process and make recommendations for improvement.
SLDNís Fourth Annual Report comes on the heels of what was an embarrassing blow to the militaryís interpretation of the "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" policy. The Navy was forced by a federal judge in January 1998 to halt discharge proceedings against a sailor being thrown out because he allegedly used the word "gay" in his America Online profile. 

District Judge Stanley Sporkin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that in seeking to determine the identity of the person behind the anonymous online profile, the military violated both the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the limits to investigations under "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue." 

"The Navy violated the very essence of ĎDonít Ask, Donít Pursueí by launching a search and destroy mission," Sporkin wrote. "Suggestions of sexual orientation in a private, anonymous email account did not give the Navy a sufficient reason to investigate to determine whether to commence discharge proceedings. In its actions, the Navy violated its own regulations." The military has yet to decide whether it will appeal Judge Sporkinís ruling. 

SLDNís findings in Conduct Unbecoming: The Fourth Annual Report on "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" are well-documented. Servicemembers and attorneys who work on cases are available for interviews, except in cases where servicemembers could suffer retaliation for speaking. 

Source: SLDN 
19 Feb. 98 


More Gays Opting Out of the Military

More people are being discharged from the military after volunteering that they are homosexual, but Defense Department secretary William Cohen says he does not believe that means harassment of gays is on the rise. "This is a trend that caught my eye," Cohen said of the increase Tuesday during an interview on National Public Radio. Cohen said about 82% of those who were given administrative discharges on the basis of homosexuality during 1997 had given "purely voluntary" statements regarding their sexual orientation.  

During that same year, 997 people were given such discharges, a major increase from 850 the year before, according to a new study that has not yet been made public by the Pentagon. Critics contend the rise is due to harassment of gays, but some Pentagon officials have speculated there may be other reasons since many of those who are voluntarily disclosing their omosexuality do so shortly after enlisting. Some officers say it could be used as an excuse by people who are unhappy with being in the military and want to leave. However, the officials said they could not offer any figures to back up such a claim, since the military does not follow those people who return to private life.  

On the radio program Cohen said he had ordered the study to ensure that "there are no witch-hunts going on." The secretary said he believed the "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy of the Clinton administration is working and that if it's not, he'll make sure the policy is followed. The policy, adopted soon after President Clinton took office, is supposed to allow gays to serve if they keep their sexual orientation private and to punish those who engage in homosexual acts or take actions that call attention to their orientation. Commanders are not to ask about sexual rientation or launch investigations without credible evidence.  

Source: The Advocate online.  
8 April 98