Reports Clears Army in Gay Soldier's Death

ByRobert Burns

W A S H I N G T O N, July 18, 2000 -- An Army review of the circumstances in which agay private was beaten to death by a fellow soldier at FortCampbell, Ky., last year has concluded that no officers should beheld responsible and that there is no general“climate” of homophobia at the base, officials said today.

A report by the Army’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. MichaelAckerman, found troublesome anti-gay attitudes among some membersof D Company, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st AirborneDivision — the unit in which the killing took place, according tosenior defense officials who have seen the report.

But it concluded that the 101st Airborne as a whole has nounusual degree of homophobia, the officials said. The officialsagreed to discuss the report’s conclusions on condition they not beidentified.

Dealing With ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’The report’s results are expected to be made public on Friday,along with the findings of a Defense Department advisory group thatDefense Secretary William Cohen formed last spring to draft an“action plan” for each of the military services to address theproblem of harassment of gays.

The panel appointed by Cohen will recommend that service membersof all ranks receive more tailored forms of training on how toproperly implement the Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’ttell” policy on homosexuals, in which gay service members areallowed to serve as long as they don’t reveal their sexualorientation, officials said. Cohen appointed the panel after theDefense Department inspector general reported in March thatharassment based on perceived homosexuality is widespread in themilitary.

Cohen’s spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, declined to comment on eitherthe Army report or the advisory panel’s findings.

Nobody’s At FaultCharles Butler, lawyer for Patricia Kutteles, Winchell’s motherin Kansas City, Mo., said the Army has evidence that Winchell’scompany commander was alerted to anti-gay harassment of Winchellbefore the killing but did not act.

“It appears that the Army isn’t willing to acceptresponsibility for the circumstances surrounding Barry Winchell’smurder,” Butler said in an interview. He said he had not seen theArmy report.

The Army inspector general’s investigation at Fort Campbell wasrequested by Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark, who was commander of the101st Airborne at the time. Clark has since been assigned to animportant post in the Pentagon, and the report concludes that heshould be not be held responsible for the killing last July.

The report’s conclusions are to be reviewed by Clark’ssuccessor, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Cody.

The inspector general’sreport says no commanders at Fort Campbell are to be faulted forthe circumstances under which 21-year-old Pfc. Barry Winchell wasbludgeoned to death in his barracks.

Pvt. Calvin Glover was convicted by a military court andsentenced to life in prison for beating Winchell to death with abaseball bat. Winchell’s roommate, Spc. Justin R. Fisher, wassentenced to 12½ years in prison for his role in the killing. AtGlover’s trial, soldiers testified that Winchell has beenrelentlessly taunted with anti-gay slurs in the months leading upto his slaying.

The incident renewed a national debate over the Clintonadministration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which critics saydoes not work because it has failed to protect perceivedhomosexuals from harassment.

Army’s Credibility QuestionedMichelle Benecke, co-director of the Servicemembers LegalDefense Network — a leading critic of the Pentagon’s policy on gays — said today she had not seen the Army inspector general’s reportbut has questioned the Army’s commitment to ensuring thatcommanders be held accountable for anti-gay behavior on theirposts.

Benecke said she was aware of news reports that the inspectorgeneral found no fault with Fort Campbell’s commanders.

“If that is true, they Army report will not have a shred ofcredibility,” she said today. Her group, which has interviewedmany soldiers at bases across the country, including Fort Campbell,believes that harassment of soldiers perceived to be gay is a majorproblem not being addressed by commanders.

“It’s clear to everyone — except, it seems, the Army — thatanti-gay harassment is a problem,” she said.

Benecke said her group has talked to 20 soldiers at FortCampbell, and they all agreed that “anti-gay harassment andthreats are as common as the uniform.” Many soldiers there wereunwilling to express their concerns to the Army inspector general’soffice, Benecke said, out of fear they would be suspected of beinggay and therefore subjected to harassment.

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