The report found that "offensive comments about homosexuals were commonplace and the majority believed these offensive comments were tolerated to some extent within the military," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said.
The survey also found, Bacon said, that nearly 40 percent of those asked "felt they had witnessed, or been a target of, harassment for perceived homosexuality." He said most of the reported harassment was verbal, but there also was "a disturbing amount" of offensive graffiti and even violence.
"This behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the military," Bacon said. The conclusions make clear that, "We need to do more work on this policy," he said.
In response to the inspector general's findings, Defense Secretary William Cohen sent letters to the top civilian and uniformed leaders of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to insist that, "We have to do a better job," Bacon said.
Cohen also ordered the establishment of a committee of civilian and military officials to figure out how to improve the implementation of the gay policy and reduce anti-gay behavior.
Set in law by Congress in 1993, the policy says gays and lesbians may serve in the military so long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves but still bars openly gay people from serving in uniform.
Last December, Cohen ordered the inspector general to survey 70,000 service member at U.S. military bases around the world on their level of understanding of the policy.
The spark that caused the Pentagon to take a closer look at how the gay policy is being implementedand the extent of anti-gay behavior in the fieldwas the bludgeoning death last July of a gay Army private, Barry Winchell, at Fort Campbell, Ky. His killer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
After the conviction, President Clinton called the gay policy "out of whack."
Critics of the Pentagon inspector general's survey methods, including the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, say it is flawed because gays could not respond candidly without risk of being exposed and therefore possibly expelled.
Michelle Benecke, co-executive director of the Defense Network, said today in an interview before Rush's news conference that the Pentagon has been slow to recognize that the administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is not adequately enforced.
"Leaders in the field have to be held personally accountable," Benecke said. "Soldiers follow the flag," and their officers need to make it clear to all troops that anti-gay behavior will not be tolerated.
In a recent report on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, SDLN claimed to have documented 968 incidents of anti-gay harassment, including a murder, assaults, death threats and verbal gay bashing from February 1999 to February 2000, up 142 percent from a record 400 violations the preceding year.
By ROBERT BURNS