- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

The U.S. military has become the target of an international human rights group, which is investigating how the military enforces its ban on open homosexuality in the ranks.
The military has opened two bases to an investigator from Human Rights Watch, the largest U.S.-based human rights group. It annually issues scathing reports on abuses worldwide, including in the United States.
The organization is already on record as a critic of the Pentagon's prohibition on open homosexuality, known as "don't ask, don't tell." In its most recent annual report, the group states that same-sex troops cannot hug or hold hands.
Human Rights Watch World Report 2000 also links the policy to "incidents of anti-gay hate crimes against service members, on and off bases." The report does not document such abuses.
The investigator, Allyson Collins, has visited the sprawling Navy base in Norfolk, Va., and Fort Jackson, S.C., one of the Army's two mixed-sex recruit-training bases. She has asked the Air Force to let her enter one of its air bases and has interviewed Pentagon officials and service members.
"We were just doing what we were asked to do," said Fort Jackson spokesman Karen Soule. Ms. Collins observed "how we train soldiers in basic on 'don't ask, don't tell,' " she said.
Mrs. Soule said Ms. Collins attended a class on military justice, which included a talk on "don't ask, don't tell." She also attended a class for recruits on core values and treating colleagues with dignity and respect.
An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said allowing Human Rights Watch to enter the base was not a difficult decision. "The hardest thing we had to do was find a time to get them there," he said.
Ms. Collins described her investigation this way: "It's looking at this policy. It's looking at allegations of harassment and the reported difficulty service members have in raising questions about harassment due to the fact they fear they may be investigated if they discuss the content of the harassment."
In its annual report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch singles out "don't ask, don't tell" as a human rights abuse. The report also cites the death penalty and cases of police brutality as other U.S. abuses.
The report states: "In addition to the direct effects of the policy, incidents of anti-gay hate crimes against service members, on and off bases, went unreported because the victims feared their sexual orientation would be disclosed in the course of any investigation information that would end their careers. The policy also undermined efforts at curtailing sexual harassment."
The report also criticizes U.S. legislators and religious leaders who condemn homosexuality or the political agenda of homosexual activists.
Human Rights Watch operates a $14 million annual budget, employs about 300 people worldwide and accepts only private donations.
"We definitely support any gay rights that have to do with civil rights," a spokesman said.
It is currently backing a global move to create an international criminal court. The Clinton administration opposes membership because military personnel could face charges and trial outside American jurisdiction.
The organization's large board of directors includes:
* Gary Sick, a former national security official in the Carter administration who spawned the never-proved theory that Ronald Reagan's aides conspired with Iran to delay the release of U.S. hostages in 1980;
* Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at the University of California at Berkeley;
* Peter Osnos, a former Washington Post reporter who now heads a new publishing house, PublicAffairs.
Human Rights Watch's ongoing investigation is the latest in a series of probes targeting the Pentagon's homosexual ban.
As the election season heated up, a number of Democrats, including President Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Al Gore lambasted the exclusion policy. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gore, who are courting the homosexual vote in their runs for a New York Senate seat and president, respectively, have vowed to scrap the regulation and open the ranks to homosexuals.
Mr. Clinton called the policy "way out of whack," but said he is powerless to end the ban without Congress' consent.
But Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, generally back enforcement.
"I am satisfied that the policy generally is being implemented effectively," the defense secretary said recently.
Much of the criticism of "don't ask, don't tell" stems from the fact discharges have more than doubled since the policy took effect in 1994.
Mr. Cohen has ordered each military branch to administer sensitivity training to troops to ensure they know the policy's limitations. "Don't ask, don't tell" allows homosexuals to serve as long as they keep their conduct private. Commanders may not inquire about a person's sexual orientation in the absence of evidence of homosexuality.

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