by Bob Roehr
The military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi language speakers between 1998 and 2004 under the antigay policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” according to data release by the Pentagon. The information was obtained under a Freedom of Information request filed by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, located at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“The Pentagon continues to dismiss trained linguists—people whose skills are desperately needed in Iraq and elsewhere around the world—for being gay,” wrote Nathaniel Frank in the online edition of The New Republic on Jan. 12. He is a senior research fellow at the Center.
The 9/11 Commission Report said the government “lacked sufficient translators proficient in Arabic and other key languages, resulting in a significant backlog of untranslated intercepts.”
Yet about half of the discharges appear to have occurred after the World Trade Center towers fell, even while the armed forces were preparing and carrying out operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Frank.
“These GIs trained at the elite Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Had they graduated—assuming 40-hour work week and two-week vacations—they could have dedicated 52,000 man-hours annually to interrogate Arab-speaking bomb builders, interpret intercepted enemy communications, or transmit reassuring words to bewildered Baghdad residents,” wrote Deroy Murdock in a column syndicated through the Scripps Howard news service.
“The military is placing homophobia ahead of national security,” said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) .
The group reported that it received a record 1,025 requests for assistance during 2004, up from 991 requests the year before. The Pentagon’s report of discharges operates on a fiscal rather than a calendar year, so it is unclear whether those requests reflect an increased number of prosecutions under the antigay policy or a growing reputation for SLDN’s work among active duty personnel.
Meanwhile, an article published in the Michigan Law Review has offered a provocative suggestion on how “don’t ask, don’t tell” might be finessed. The authors drew upon survey data that shows increasingly large portions of soldiers have little problem with gays.
They suggest “integrating” units where openly gay and straight personnel might voluntarily serve together. One significant drawback is that the military’s concept of the world “voluntary” often is significantly different from that of the civilian world.
A gay ‘bomb’?
And in the don’t know whether to laugh or cry department: The Sunshine Project, a watchdog group that monitors chemical and biological weapons, said the Air Force once considered a proposal to develop agents that would turn the enemy gay.
The three-page memo, “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” read as if it had been written by a bunch of junior high geeks, but instead came from a laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
A “distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior,” were among the dozens of suggestions made in the 1994 report. There is no indication that the military actively pursued development of any such chemical agent.
The New Scientist reported on the issue Jan. 15.
The Justice Department plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that would allow colleges and universities to restrict military recruiting on campuses without losing federal funds, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, sided with FAIR, an association of law schools and other plaintiffs.
In Florida, Patric Ian Henn could get 15 years in prison for lying about losing his domestic partner Sept. 11 to get benefits, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Henn, 29, pleaded guilty to a grand theft charge, admitting he concocted a tale of heartbreak so he could bilk the American Red Cross. His plea came without a deal in place with prosecutors.