Army closes promotion hearing for Winchell's commander

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 15 2002 12:00 AM ET

Military watchdog group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has urged a U.S. Senate committee to reject President Bush's nomination to promote an Army general who commanded a base where a gay soldier was beaten to death, according to The [Nashville] Tennessean. SLDN is one of a group of gay and human rights groups that oppose the promotion of Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark, and on Friday SLDN tried unsuccessfully to have Clark's promotion hearing opened, according to The New York Times. Most nomination hearings are open.

Clark was commander of Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1998, when 21-year-old Pfc. Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat as he slept in his barracks. Other soldiers said Winchell had been tormented with antigay name-calling, rumors, and an inquiry into his private life, which was supposed to be forbidden by military policy.

An Army investigation exonerated all officers, including Clark, and said no climate of homophobia existed at the base. Opponents of Clark's promotion contend that the taunts directed at 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 Clark's nomination to lieutenant general, decided Friday afternoon against opening a hearing that will be held this week to discuss the promotion. The open hearing had been requested by SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

SLDN 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.

"In the wake of Winchell's murder, Clark demonstrated the poorest leadership, issuing no statements against harassment, refusing to speak with or meet the parents of Pfc. Winchell or to reassure base soldiers that harassment would not be tolerated," SLDN director C. Dixon Osburn wrote in a letter to the Senate committee chairman, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.

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."

A spokeswoman for Levin said the committee was scheduled to meet in a closed executive session Monday to determine how to proceed on several nominations. No votes are planned, she said.