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Pentagon: Stop Harassment Of Gays

ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF
AP
The Pentagon, acting after the murder of a gay soldier, said Friday that military commanders will be held responsible for any harassment by troops of perceived homosexuals in the military.

On orders from Defense Secretary William Cohen, the Defense Department sent an "action plan" to the armed forces calling for top-to-bottom training aimed at preventing harassment of women, minorities, gay soldiers or troops thought to be gay.

The move, following the beating death of a gay Army soldier by a fellow soldier in Fort Campbell, Ky., last July, was the latest in a series of Pentagon steps to improve enforcement of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy allowing gays and lesbians to quietly serve in the military.

The new action plan warns that "commanders and leaders will be held accountable for failure to enforce this directive." It stresses that all troops, from privates to generals and admirals, should get instructions tailored to their individual responsibilities under the controversial 1993 policy.

The plan was put together in response to a survey earlier this year by the department's inspector general that found anti-gay speech and harassment were commonplace in the military, especially among enlisted troops.

At the same time, the Army Friday released a report concluding that there was no general atmosphere of homophobia at Fort Campbell -- home of the 101st Airborne Division -- and that no officer should be held responsible in the death of Pfc. Barry Winchell, 21, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat while in his bed.

"The command climate at Fort Campbell as a whole was positive with certain exceptions unrelated to implementation of the homosexual conduct policy," the Army said. "The command climate in Pfc. Winchell's unit, however, was described as poor."

While clearing all commanders at Fort Campbell, the report does conclude that members of Winchell's company violated the military's policy on homosexuals.

Under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, repeatedly attacked as discriminatory by civil rights groups, homosexuals are tolerated in the U.S. armed forces so long as they do not publicly reveal their sexual orientation.

In return, the military has been repeatedly warned not to seek out and badger perceived homosexuals or drum them out of uniform.

"The services shall ensure that commanders and leaders take appropriate action against anyone who engages in ... condones or ignores mistreatment, harassment and inappropriate comments or gestures," Friday's directive said.

It also warned officers that anyone complaining that they have been badgered because they are perceived to be gay must not be questioned about their sexual orientation. And it warned troops that they should not discuss such orientation.

The directive ordered the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to develop effective means of measuring how well the policy is being carried out.

A Pentagon report puout in March, based on a study of 38 military installations around the world, showed that about 80 percent of 71,570 troops and workers surveyed said they had heard offensive speech, derogatory names, jokes and remarks about homosexuals in the previous year.

In last summer's Fort Campbell case, two Army soldiers were sentenced to prison in the death of Winchell, who was battered as he lay in his bunk.

In a subsequent investigation, the Army's inspector general found troublesome anti-homosexual attitudes among some members of Winchell's company in the 101st division and concluded that a first sergeant in the company was aware of the problem. That man has been reassigned.

But the Army's report was sharply attacked by Winchell's mother Pat Kutteles, who has filed a wrongful-death suit against the Army.

Kutteles told CBS News she found it appalling that no officer or commander was held accountable in connection with her son's death, and how the army essentially absolved itself of any responsibility. She was briefed by the inspector general before the report was released.

"We feel the army has a lot of responsibility in his death in that the climate that was created at Fort Campbell—the violence, the harassment—all contributed to his death,"said Kutteles.

Kutteles also took issue with the notion that the attack on her son was an isolated incident. She said she and her husband had spoken with many soldiers who have faced, and who continue to face harassment and threats since Winchell's death.

Kutteles said she's concerned about the impact the present atmosphere might have on the safety of soldiers now in the army. "The soldiers who are serving need to feel that they can be safe and that they can be secure and that they can serve their country in safety."

Army Pvt. Calvin Glover was convicted in a military trial and sentenced to life in prison for killing Winchell. Winchell's roommate, Spc. Justin Fisher, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the murder.

Soldiers testified at Glover's trial that Winchell had been badgered with anti-homosexual comments for months before he was killed.