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News - 06 March 2003

Hearing Closed for General at Site Where Gay Soldier Was Slain By The New York Times

WASHINGTON - Groups that oppose the promotion of an Army general who commanded a base where a gay soldier was beaten to death failed today to have the nomination hearings opened. The groups wanted to express their anger over the incident.  The officer, Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark, was commander of Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1998, when a 21-year-old soldier was beaten with a baseball bat as he slept in his barracks.  Other soldiers said the victim, Pfc. Barry Winchell of Kansas City, Mo., had been tormented with name calling, rumors and an inquiry into his private life that was supposed to be forbidden by military policy.  An Army investigation exonerated all officers, including General Clark, and said no climate of homophobia existed at the base.  Opponents of the promotion contend that the taunts directed at Private Winchell were part of a culture that the general allowed to develop at the base.  


The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has to vote on General Clark's nomination to lieutenant general, decided this afternoon against opening a hearing next week to discuss the promotion, as had been requested by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Organization for Women and People for the American Way.  Most nomination hearings are open.  The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group that monitors military justice, is leading the effort against the third star for the general. Group officials said they wanted to submit testimony to the committee before it voted. "General Clark demonstrated a profound lack of leadership," the executive director of the network, C. Dixon Osburn, said. "He failed to take even the most basic steps to improve conditions on the base."  Private Winchell's mother, Patricia Kutteles, also called for the Senate to reject the nomination, saying it "sends a dangerous message that antigay harassment is condoned in our armed forces."  Gay rights organizations contend that the slaying symbolized a hate crime rooted in homophobia and that the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, instead of making life easier for gays and lesbians in the armed services, has left many to suffer in silence or leave the military.  In 1999, another private at Fort Campbell, Calvin Glover, of Sulphur, Okla., was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Friends testified at a court-martial that Private Winchell, who had been given high marks for his service, had remained silent about his harassers because he feared the consequences of the "don't tell" part of the policy that provides for expulsion if a soldier's homosexuality becomes known.  


The number of discharges of gay service members increased, to 1,273 last year from 1,149 in 1998 and from 682 in 1993.  Under the policy that the Clinton administration introduced, the military cannot inquire into a soldier's sex life unless there is clear evidence of homosexual conduct. Men and women who volunteer the information can be discharged.  After Private Winchell's murder and reports of white supremacists in the Army, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 1999 that amended the court-martial manual to allow judges to weigh hate-crime factors in sentencing.


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