lawmakers who say the military has kicked out 58 Arabic
linguists because they were gay want the Pentagon to explain
how it can afford to let the valuable language
Seizing on the
latest discharges, involving three specialists, members of
the House of Representatives wrote House Armed Services
Committee chairman Ike Skelton that the continued loss
of such ''capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists
continues to compromise our national security during
time of war.''
discharged in the latest incident, former petty officer 2nd
class Stephen Benjamin, said his supervisor tried to keep
him on the job, urging him to sign a statement denying
that he was gay. He said his lawyer advised him not to
sign it because it could be used against him later if
other evidence ever surfaced.
In an interview
with the Associated Press, Benjamin said he was caught
improperly using the military's secret-level computer system
to send messages to his roommate, who was serving in
Iraq. In those messages, he said, he may have referred
to being gay or going on a date.
''I'd always been
out since the day I started working there,'' Benjamin
said. ''We had conversations about being gay in the military
and what it was like. There were no issues with unit
cohesion. I never caused divisiveness or ever
He was discharged
under the ''don't ask, don't tell'' law passed in 1994.
The law allows gays to serve if they keep their sexual
orientation private and do not engage in homosexual
acts. It prohibits commanders from asking about a
person's sex life and requires discharge of those who
acknowledge they are gay.
representative Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, who has pushed
for repeal of the law, organized the letter sent to Skelton
requesting a hearing into the linguist issue.
''At a time when
our military is stretched to the limit and our cultural
knowledge of the Middle East is dangerously deficient, I
just can't believe that kicking out able, competent
Arabic linguists is making our country any safer,''
signed by about 40 House members, says that with the latest
firings 58 Arabic linguists have been dismissed from the
military under the ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy.
It said Congress should decide whether this
application of the policy ''is serving the nation well.''
For Benjamin, 23,
the discharge ended a military career he had hoped to
He said he was
particularly frustrated that he was among about 70 people
investigated at a base in the state of Georgia for using the
computer to send personal notes, yet others who are
not gay still are in the Army even though they were
caught sending sexual and profane messages.
investigators from the Defense Department's Inspector
General's office pulled the message logs for one day
and reviewed them for violations. Some workers, he
said, received administrative punishments for writing
dirty jokes, profanity, and explicit sexual references.
researchers at the California-based Michael D. Palm Center,
which tracks these issues, three Arabic linguists were fired
as a result of the computer reviews. Their names were
not released, but Benjamin agreed to discuss the
director of the center, said, ''There is simply no
commonsense reason for the military to fire Arabic linguists
in the midst of a dire shortage of translators.
Translating al-Qaeda cables is more important than
making sure that the military is free of gays.''
Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense
Department is enforcing the law.
of Defense must ensure that the standards for enlistment
and appointment of members of the armed forces reflect the
policies set forth by Congress,'' he said, adding that
those dismissed can serve their nation by working as
contractors or at other federal agencies.
Benjamin said the
computer review was done last December but his
discharge was not finalized until the end of March. His
roommate, he said, was allowed to finish out his tour
in Iraq and come home in February, then was discharged
in early April.
''I was always
discreet; I never considered it would be an issue,'' said
Benjamin when asked why he joined the military, knowing the
policy existed. ''I thought if I don't say anything,
they're not going to ask me. But it was more
aggressive than I thought.''
Meehan's bill to
repeal ''don't ask, don't tell'' has 124 cosponsors, but
efforts to get Congress to take another look at the issue
have failed so far. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
said this year that he had no plan to review the
policy. (Lolita C. Baldor, AP)