Monday, July 11, 2005


By William Fisher

Twelve gays and lesbians discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation are suing the U.S. Government in an effort to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars homosexuals from openly serving in the military.

The six men and six women are also asking to be reinstated in the military. All were discharged after their sexual orientations became known to their to superiors. The plaintiffs represent all branches of the armed services except the Marines.

Lawyers for the Bush administration asked U.S. District Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. to dismiss the case, known as Cook vs. Rumsfeld, arguing that "courts should not second-guess congressional judgment."

The Boston judge did not rule immediately, and did not indicate when he would decide whether to accept or reject the government's request.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the first executive order signed by then President Bill Clinton in 1992 and adopted by Congress a year later, says that military personnel may not inquire about the sexual orientation of service members. But those who acknowledge they are gay or lesbian must be discharged.

Nearly 10,000 members of the military have been dismissed since the policy was introduced.

"You cannot re-litigate questions that were reasonably reviewed by the legislative branch," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Quinlivan. The military's ban on open homosexuality, he argued, helps to maintain cohesion in military units by "reducing sexual tensions and promoting personal privacy."

But plaintiffs' attorney Stuart Delery argued that "don't ask, don't tell" violated the veterans' rights to free speech, privacy and equal protection under the law. The policy is biased, Delery said, and has not been shown to produce cohesion in military units.

Six previous lawsuits challenging the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy have been
unsuccessful. Two others are pending, including a case called Log Cabin Republicans vs. Bush, filed last fall in Los Angeles.

But the Boston case is the first to base its arguments on Lawrence vs. Texas, a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws against sodomy.

"Lawrence changed the landscape," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which filed the case on behalf of the 12 gay and lesbian veterans.

Osburn said that 65,000 gays and lesbians were serving in the U.S. military. He said there were a million gay and lesbian veterans.

Dismissing gay and lesbian service members, he said, reduces military ranks "at a time when the military is not meeting its recruiting goals."

Osburn said his organization was prepared to take its fight to the Supreme Court. The high court has never heard a challenge to the military's policy on gays and lesbians.

Megan Dresch, 22, was the only one of the plaintiffs to attend the Boston hearing. She joined the Army in 2001 and was discharged a year later after she told a superior officer she was a lesbian.

According to the Associated Press, Dresch said she was feeling "stressed" while serving with the Army's 230th Military Police Company in Germany. When she told her sergeant that she wanted to see a chaplain, he asked what the problem was, Dresch said. She said another member of the company interjected, and said the problem was that she was gay.

"He asked if that was true, and I said yes," Dresch said. "I have never been big on lying, so I told the truth. I figured the discharge was coming. But I was disappointed. I really loved being in the military."

Dresch, who is currently studying automotive mechanics in Phoenix, said she saw the Army as more than a career. "It was my life at that point," she said, adding that her unit is in Iraq, and she wished she could be there too.

"Without a doubt I would go back into the Army," Dresch said. "This is my country, and I want to serve. I want to go back and fight for the freedoms that I believe in."

Meanwhile, interest in a new book about lesbians in the military is rising. “Secret Service: Untold Stories of Lesbians in the Military” is a compilation of true stories, as told by lesbians serving in the four branches of the armed service. Its author is Zsa Zsa Gershick, a lesbian who conducted and published the interviews, served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1978 to 1983.

In an appearance on C-Span, the public service television network funded by America’s cable companies, Ms. Gershick charged that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unworkable and “based on prejudice”.

She recounted the experiences of some of the military members whose stories are presented in her book, contending that “in a field hospital in Iraq, a wounded soldier doesn’t give a damn about the sexual orientation of the person saving his or her life.”

There is zero evidence, she said, that the presence of gay men and women in the military has any negative effect whatever on unit cohesion or morale. The result of the Clinton policy, she added, is to “force people to live a lie.”

Among the 10,000 gays discharged from the military, she said, are translators, linguists, and people with highly specialized -- and expensive training – who the military now desperately needs. “Where are their replacements going to come from?” she asked.


By William Fisher

Many people will remember Janice Karpinsky, the Army Reserve Brigadier General who was reprimanded and demoted for failing to stop the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

But few will remember Brigadier General Rick Baccus, who was sacked as commander of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO), for coddling detainees.

Under Gen. Baccus’s watch, detainees were granted such privileges as distributing copies of the Koran, providing prisoners with "rights cards," special meals, adjusting meal times for Ramadan and other Muslim holidays, and disciplining prison guards for screaming at inmates. Inmates were told they need only give their name, rank and number.

Many of these are the same practices the Pentagon now proudly hails as examples of its humane treatment of detainees.

Shortly after he was sacked, after only seven months in command, Gen. Baccus told the Guardian newspaper: "I was mislabeled as someone who coddled detainees. In fact, what we were doing was our mission professionally."

After his dismissal, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put all of GITMO, including military police, under the control of military intelligence. Pentagon officials insist that, in contrast to the CIA, military intelligence officers continued to operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Geneva Conventions.

Gen. Baccus, who wears the Army Ranger and Special Forces tabs and the master parachutist and pathfinder badges, said he faced constant tension from military interrogators trying to extract information from inmates.

"There is a dynamic tension that exists in that kind of situation," Gen. Baccus said. "Often times, those kind of approaches led to questions as to why am I doing that. Am I trying to coddle the detainees? Am I trying to bend to their desires?" he said.

The Pentagon's frustration with Gen. Baccus is officially denied. It claims he was relieved of his duties as part of a general reorganization of the camp, which called for a commander of higher rank.

Gen. Baccus insists he did his job honorably. "In no way did I ever interfere in interrogations, but also at that time the interrogations never forced anyone to be treated inhumanely, certainly not when I was there."

In retrospect, says Reed Brody, Director of International Programs for Human Rights Watch, “The firing of Gen. Baccus looks like an important step in the downward spiral that led to the widespread abuse of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere.” He told IPS, “Under Gen. Miller, detention and interrogation functions were brought together for the first time, creating a model in which guards could ‘soften up’ prisoners for interrogation.”

Baccus, 53, was also relieved of his duties with the Rhode Island National Guard. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, told The Associated Press he relieved Baccus for various reasons that "culminated in my losing trust and confidence in him."

But Lt. Col. Bill Costello, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla., which oversees Guantanamo, said Baccus' departure was related to the merging of operations at the Naval base. He said Baccus did a good job overseeing the safety and security of detainees.

Although the detainees at Guantanamo were not given the protections of the Geneva Convention, Gen. Baccus says he took steps to ensure they were not subjected to abuse. He said there were fewer than 10 instances of abuse during his seven months in command.

The Pentagon was reportedly particularly upset by the speech Gen. Baccus made to incoming prisoners via GITMO’S public address system.

“Peace Be With You”, he began. “I will continue to address you when I have information that you need to know. I know you are aware that not all of those who came to this camp are still in this camp. Some are being cared for at our hospital. Others are in jails elsewhere. Each of your cases is different. As we learn the truth about each of you, we are better able to address our concerns with each of you, and the United States government can resolve your status. Whether you are here at this camp, or elsewhere, as long as I am responsible for you, be assured that you will be treated humanely, and in accordance with the reputation of the United States as a nation of laws. I also expect you to respect the camp rules. Your cooperation encourages me to consider improvements in the camp. My priority continues to be the safety of the guards and your safety. The new detention facility will be ready in about two weeks, God willing. We will inform you about your move to the new and better facility as we near the completion. I continue to urge you to be patient. I will inform you of any developments as we learn. May God be with you.”
"All the service members here recognize the fact that they need to treat the detainees humanely," Gen. Baccus said. "Any time anyone lays down their arms, our culture has been to treat them as noncombatant and humanely.”

Early on in the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon was apparently reluctant to use the harsher interrogation techniques authorized for the CIA. But Gen. Baccus's successor at the camp was Major General Geoffrey Miller. Miller instituted a "72-point matrix for stress and duress", which the Washington Post said set out a guide for the levels of force that could be applied to detainees. These included hooding or keeping prisoners naked for more than 30 days, threatening by dogs, shackling detainees in positions designed to cause pain, and extreme temperatures.

General Miller was later put in charge of the US military's prisons in Iraq. His recommendations for Abu Ghraib -- merging the functions of prison guard and interrogator as he did at Guantanamo -- were cited in the Pentagon's internal report on the Iraqi prison.

Those reports confirmed that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was systematic, part of a policy instituted at U.S. military detention centers from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to Iraq, and not restricted to low-ranking soldiers.