Army inspector general ordered to review policy on homosexuals

Leadership to be evaluated at Ky. fort where soldier was beaten to death

January 11, 2000|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Army's inspector general will review the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy at Army installations around the country, officials said yesterday, after the beating death of a gay soldier and complaints that anti-gay harassment is continuing.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera said he is directing Lt. Gen. Michael W. Ackerman, the inspector general, to assess how the Army is implementing the military's policy on homosexual conduct.

Caldera said Ackerman will focus on the leadership at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Pfc. Barry L. Winchell, 21, was taunted by fellow soldiers and beaten to death in July.

On Saturday, the second of two soldiers at Fort Campbell was sentenced for his involvement in the death of Winchell.

"The soldiers who serve in the United States Army today are the best we've ever had," Caldera said in a statement. "They serve our nation and merit our respect, and they deserve to be treated with dignity in a climate of safety and security."

Caldera said Ackerman is to complete his review by May 1. It will be coordinated with a military-wide review being handled by the Pentagon's inspector general. That review was ordered by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in December.

One former soldier at Fort Campbell said anti-gay taunts and marching songs continued after Winchell's death. Javier Torres, a former private at the base who was discharged from the Army in October after declaring his homosexuality, said he feared for his safety and took his concerns to the inspector general at Fort Campbell.

In a phone interview from Kentucky, Torres welcomed the Army review but said, "I think they're a little bit late."

Last month, Pvt. Calvin N. Glover, 19, was convicted of bludgeoning Winchell to death with a baseball bat and sentenced to life in prison.

Glover was among those who taunted Winchell about his perceived homosexuality and lost a fistfight to Winchell the day before his death.

During the trial, a sergeant at Fort Campbell testified that he asked Winchell about his sexual orientation, a clear violation of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Other soldiers testified that despite anti-gay taunts leveled at Winchell, superiors never intervened.

On Saturday, Spec. Justin R. Fisher, Winchell's roommate, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison on charges of obstructing justice and making false statements.

Michelle M. Benecke, a former Army captain and co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that aids homosexuals in the military, said she fears that the review at Fort Campbell might lead to the "scapegoating" of sergeants and lower-ranking officers.

The problem at Fort Campbell rested with the commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Clark, Benecke said. "If leadership had taken the proper steps, Winchell would never have been harassed in the first place," she said. "If Army leaders are serious about stopping harassment and violence, they will hold Major General Clark responsible for the poisonous climate he allowed to fester under his command."

Benecke said Clark and other Army higher-ups have been silent about the problem of anti-gay harassment.

"The point is, harassment is a problem. Leadership is needed to fix it," she said.

Clark asked the Army's inspector general Saturday to review the "command climate" at Fort Campbell.

Army officials noted that he and other Army leaders could not comment on the situation because they could not prejudice themselves during the trials and expected appeals.

Under the military's 1993 policy on homosexuals, gay soldiers may serve as long as they don't declare their sexuality. Recruiters are not permitted to ask potential recruits whether they are gay.

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