- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia should never be required or encouraged to wear Muslim-style head-to-toe robes, the House said Tuesday, unanimously pushing the Pentagon to eliminate the abaya from servicewomen's wardrobes.
Starting with the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the Pentagon required servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to wear abayas whenever they left their bases. It pulled back a bit in January with a rule that "strongly encouraged" wearing the face-covering robe.
"I am puzzled by the fact that our female military personnel are treated like second-class citizens while stationed on soil they're defending from Iraqi aggression," Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, said during House debate.
By voice vote, the House approved a bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from requiring or even informally urging servicewomen to wear abayas, the unadorned, head-to-toe garment Saudi women wear, and would bar the department from buying the garments to issue to servicewomen.
The Senate has not taken up the issue.
The Defense Department policy on abayas "is completely unacceptable to this House and to the American people," said Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican, a seven-year Air Force veteran and co-sponsor of the bill.
"The sad thing is that this bill is needed at all," said Mrs. Wilson. "This policy should never have been put in place." When senior commanders learned about it, she said, "It should have been immediately repealed as transparently unconstitutional."
The State Department does not require female embassy employees to wear abayas in Saudi Arabia. Lynne Cheney wore a business suit, not an abaya, when she accompanied Vice President Richard B. Cheney on a recent visit there, said Mr. Hostettler.
He introduced the measure that was also co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat.
In December, Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the Air Force's highest-ranking female fighter pilot, had filed suit over the old policy, but Central Command spokesman Col. Rick Thomas maintained the suit did not prompt the relaxation of the rule.
The January change didn't go far enough, Mr. Hostettler said. "Christians like Lt. Col. Martha McSally should not be forced to wear a Muslim outfit, especially when off-duty and on their own time," he said.

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