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Advocacy group says military rooting out gays

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Cohen: 'Don't ask, Don't tell' not a 'dismal failure'

February 26, 1997
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

THE PENTAGON (CNN) -- Despite the 1994 Pentagon "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on witch hunts to root out homosexuals, gay service members remain victims of improper investigations, a gay advocacy group charged.

"I was doing my job and doing it well," said former airman Andre Taylor. "My life, however, unexpectedly came crashing down around me. Security police came out of the blue to question me about sexual conduct."

Taylor was investigated after another airman, facing jail time, made a deal with military prosecutors to name names. That -- argues the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network -- is a violation of the "Don't Ask" policy.

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"Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue was intended to protect service members from anti-gay harassment, from asking, from witch hunts and from select criminal prosecutions," Michelle Benecke of the defense network said.

Since its implementation, however, command violations of the law have been rampant. Benecke said there is a "wink-and-smile attitude" among senior commanders toward witch hunts.

Moreover, women in the military -- heterosexual and lesbian -- are accused of being gay when they reject sexual advances or report sexual abuse, she said.

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Discharges up dramatically

Statistics compiled by the group show 850 discharges from the U.S. military for homosexuality in 1996, up 18 percent from 1995 and 43 percent from 1994.

The Pentagon says the higher numbers could simply be a result of more homosexuals being admitted to the military under the new policy. More than half of the discharges were new recruits in training, the Pentagon says.

The new defense secretary has promised to make sure the commanders don't go too far in hunting down gays in the military. "If I find that the policy is being violated, that there is active pursuit and prosecution, then I'll do whatever I can to see that's stopped," William Cohen said.

Under the don't ask, don't tell policy, homosexuals may serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret. Commanders are barred from asking service members about their sexual orientation.

"I don't think you can call it a dismal failure," Cohen said of the Pentagon's approach.

The gay rights group said the Pentagon used the same excuse last year in the face of a similar report. But it complains that none of its charges were investigated -- and no commanders have been disciplined.

 
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