The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday confirmed President Bush's controversial nomination of Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark for promotion to lieutenant general, the Army's second-highest rank. Clark's nomination now goes to the full Senate for a vote. If confirmed, Clark would take command of the Fifth United States Army at Fort Sam Houston, Tex.
The Senate has declined to act on Clark's nomination for more than a year due to serious concerns regarding his leadership. Clark was commander at Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1999 when Pfc. Barry Winchell was bludgeoned to death by fellow soldiers who believed Winchell was gay. "There is not, nor has there ever been during my time here, a climate of homophobia on post," Clark said at a news conference prior to leaving Fort Campbell in 2000. But reports of antigay harassment under Clark's command surfaced in light of Winchell's murder, including antigay graffiti and assault. Clark also implemented a policy at Fort Campbell that led to a record number of discharges of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members at the post, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
SLDN, along with Winchell's parents and a coalition of military, veterans, and civil liberties organizations, voiced strong opposition to Clark's promotion in Senate hearings and closed-door meetings with military officials. In a statement released Thursday, Winchell's parents, Patricia and Wally Kutteles, said, "The harassment of our children must not find harbor in the world's most effective military. The sting of antigay animus has been felt far outside Fort Campbell and beyond the reaches of Major General Clark."
"We are disappointed by the confirmation," said SLDN executive director C. Dixon Osburn. "We do not believe Major General Clark's record merits this promotion. Major General Clark did, however, undergo unparalleled scrutiny by the Armed Services Committee. For the first time, the Senate sent a strong message that antigay harassment under a commander's watch will no longer be ignored. For more than a year, senators questioned Clark's leadership and his failure to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from harassment and murder. Those questions have been heard in the halls of the Pentagon and throughout our armed forces. It is a victory for those who believe in the safety and dignity of our men and women in uniform."