New guidelines issued for 'don't ask, don't tell' policy
August 13, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) --The Pentagon issued new guidelines Friday designed to strengthen the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward homosexuals in the military and to reduce harassment of gays and lesbians.
Issuance of the new rules was apparently expedited by the uproar following the death of a gay soldier, Pfc. Barry Winchell, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Winchell was allegedly beaten to death with a baseball bat by another soldier in his unit.
"I've made clear that there is no room for harassment or threats in the military," Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a statement accompanying the new guidelines.
The new directives make no major policy changes but are aimed at clarifying existing policies and making sure everyone knows the rules.
The guidelines also reiterate a previous warning that commanders should not be diverted from investigating charges of harassment of alleged homosexuals.
"The report of a threat or harassment should result in the prompt investigation of the threat or harassment itself," Rudy De Leon, undersecretary of Defense for personnel matters, said in one of the memoranda.
"Investigators should not solicit allegations concerning the sexual orientation or homosexual conduct of the threatened or harassed person," the statement continued.
"If, during the course of an investigation, information is received that the service member has engaged in homosexual conduct, commanders shall carefully consider the source of that information and the circumstances under which it was provided in assessing its credibility. Such information does not negate the need to investigate the alleged harasser," the new guidelines say.
Friday's updated guidelines came in part as a response to charges by civil rights groups that the controversial policy has increased harassment and prompted witch hunts of suspected gays, especially when inexperienced officers have investigated the sexual orientation of troops based only on rumor or suspicion.
With the number of homosexuals per year being discharged from the military almost doubled since "don't ask, don't tell" was instituted in 1994, advocates for gays in the military say the new guidelines are not enough:
"'Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue' promises to stop anti- gay harassment, but military leaders have been AWOL when it comes to stopping anti-gay harassment," said Michelle Benecke, of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gays in the military.
"The absence of leadership has sent a message to the field that it is OK to harass suspected gay service members," said Benecke.
White House spokesman Barry Toiv was asked Friday if the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- a compromise from President Clinton's original plan to allow gays to serve openly in uniform -- was a failure.
"There have been a couple of areas that improvements were needed and in fact that's the work that's been going on that has led to the guidelines that are being issued today," Toiv said. "I said it worked. I didn't say it was working perfectly."
Pentagon officials say most discharges of homosexuals from military service follow voluntary statements by the individuals, but that there's a special need to stop harassment of gays -- after they have declared themselves, but before they've officially been discharged from duty.
Correspondent David Ensor and Reuters contributed to this report.
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