Pentagon Questions 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

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In retrospect, it seems obvious that a policy as doughy as "Donít ask, donít tell" would have some implementation nightmares. And while the Pentagon isnít ready to give up on the compromise policy issued by President Clinton in 1994, itís coming out with a new set of guidelines that it hopes will make the feckless policy a little less hard for soldiers, gay and straight, to live with. The main complaint: Soldiers who complained to superiors about gay-bashing — soldiers who may or may not have actually been homosexual — often found themselves targets of investigations into their sex lives that were no less harassing. The Pentagon will try to rectify that on two levels: by ensuring that all investigations be run and overseen by senior military lawyers — rather than low-level commanders who may have an ax to grind — and by instituting tolerance training of the troops from boot camp on. After five years, says TIME writer-reporter John Cloud, the new policy has improved the situation for gays in only one significant way: "Homosexuals no longer get a dishonorable discharge when they leave," he says. "That means they get to keep their benefits."

The Pentagon also is hoping the new policies will defray some of the outrage over the incident at Fort Campbell, Ky., last month in which a supposedly gay soldier was bludgeoned to death in his barracks. And if that was a relatively isolated incident, thereís plenty of argument over whether the "Donít ask, donít tell" policy has made the situation better of worse. Discharges due to sexual orientation have risen every year since its implementation, from a low of 617 in 1994 to 1,145 last year. Pentagon officials respond that the increase is due instead to voluntary declarations of homosexuality by men and women who simply wanted to get out of the military, and claim that investigative abuses in the ranks are relatively rare. They might consider adding a third provision to the policy: "Donít find out."