New Policy on Gays In Military Draws Fire One Year Later
LAST April, military officials knocked on former Marine Cpl. Craig Haack's door and told him he was under investigation for homosexuality. They then scoured his room for evidence, seizing letters, a diary, video tapes, a computer disc, and a pair of shoes.
The inquiry was expanded to 21 other soldiers at Camp Hanson, a US base in Okinawa, Japan. All were questioned about their sexual orientations. After they hired legal help and won the backing of several congressmen, the Marine Corps dropped its inquiries against all but one soldier, including Corporal Haack, who later quit the service. But one corporal was prosecuted and jailed for 45 days.
A recent report calls the case one of the most glaring examples of how military commanders have either failed to implement or have willfully violated President Clinton's year-old policy on gays and lesbians in the armed services. ''Many military officials continue to ask questions about sexual orientation, conduct witch hunts, and condone harassment of lesbian and gay servicemembers in direct violation of the new policy,'' says the report by the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which provides legal representation to those accused of homosexuality.
Senior military officials, however, insist that the policy has been successfully implemented. ''My sense is ... in the absence of different information, the force has adapted to the new policy and is doing a good job with it,'' says Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ''It is not the hot issue that it could have been or might have been in the past.''
The policy is also facing its first real court test. A US federal judge in Brooklyn is hearing testimony in a suit filed by six active and reserve service members who claim the so-called ''Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue'' policy violates their constitutional rights.
The policy, adopted after much political controversy, preserves the practice of discharging admitted homosexuals. But it allows gays and lesbians to continue serving if they present convincing cases that they will abstain from sex. Specifically, the policy forbids the questioning of personnel about their sexual orientations or using disclosures made in confidence -- typically to priests, doctors, parents, or in security clearance procedures -- against a servicemember in investigations. It also bars ''witch hunts'' or other coercive tactics.
The SLDN says that it documented 340 violations of the policy since it was implemented on Feb. 28, 1994. Among them were 15 ''witch hunts,'' including the one in Okinawa, and 10 cases in which service personnel faced death threats because of ''their actual or perceived sexual orientations.''
''There were some minimal promises made in this new policy that would make lives a little better for servicemembers. Even those minimal promises are not being enforced,'' says Dixon Osburn, a co-author of the report. The group says it received more than 400 requests for assistance, including some from heterosexual soldiers targeted by inquiries. The SLDN says its review ''reveals a pattern of violations that often render the policy little more than 'ask, pursue, and harass.' ''
As a result, it says that the discharge rate for homosexuals has remained unchanged: about .04 percent of total military personnel -- 594 men and women -- were discharged last year, the same rate that has existed since 1991. ''The cost of training replacements ... has exceeded $17.5 million,'' the report said.
The SLDN contends that available data disputes the military's assertions that homosexuals negatively impact discipline and morale. In its report, the group says that at least 15 homosexual servicemembers were allowed to continue serving and have received strong support from their units.