Military abusing 'don't ask, don't tell,' study shows Wide investigations made

discharges of gays up 17%

February 27, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Two years after the Clinton administration enacted a policy of "don't ask, don't tell" for homosexuals in the military, Pentagon documents and interviews with service members show that the military is not only continuing to ask some troops about their sexual orientation, but also is asking their parents, friends and therapists.

The documents suggest that the administration's effort to help homosexuals in the military may instead be leading to formal, wide-ranging investigations in cases that might have been handled in the past with little fanfare and without punishment.

That change may help explain why the number of service members discharged for homosexuality rose last year in the Army, Navy and Marines. Pentagon figures show that in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 1, the three services discharged 488 service members for homosexuality, a 17 percent increase over the previous year. The Air Force said it did not have data on such dismissals.

The documents were obtained by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington group that assists members of the military accused of homosexuality. Among them was a November 1994 Air Force memorandum that outlined the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and listed the people who should be questioned in an investigation to determine whether a service member was homosexual.

The list includes the service member's parents, brothers and sisters, school counselors, roommates and close friends, "including people the subject member dated." The memo also directs investigators to review "mental health and medical records."

A Navy memorandum seemed to recommend that Navy prosecutors consider intimidating sailors who serve as character witnesses for gay service members by warning the witnesses that "supporting homosexual interests" could lead to their punishment.

The documents and interviews with service members and their families show that there is widespread confusion in the military over how to implement the policy and that some service members are being subjected to sweeping investigations of their sex lives on the basis of second-hand reports.

In a report to be made public today, the Defense Network said that its monitoring of hundreds of cases showed that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was "as bad, if not worse, than its predecessors," with witch hunts of homosexuals still common in all branches of the military.

The Defense Department disputed the conclusions of the report, questioned its interpretation of Pentagon documents and defended a 2-year-old policy intended to satisfy gay activists and military traditionalists by allowing gays to serve in the armed forces as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation.

"We believe that the current policy is working well," said Kenneth Bacon, the department's chief spokesman. "The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy balances an individual's right to privacy with the military's need to maintain unit cohesion and readiness. We are concerned about allegations of witch hunts, and we will investigate all firm evidence of such violations of our policy."

Mr. Bacon said family members and friends of service members would normally be contacted by military investigators only in limited circumstances, such as when the service members had declared their homosexuality or when evidence suggested that a member was falsely claiming to be a homosexual to leave military service.

The legality of "don't ask, don't tell" is under challenge in federal courts. Last March, a federal district judge in New York City struck down the policy, saying that it violated the First and Fifth Amendments and catered to the fears and prejudices of heterosexual troops. The Clinton administration has appealed the decision.

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