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Secretary Cohen has Approved the Retirement of General Jamerson

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 07, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I wanted to start by announcing two retirements. Secretary Cohen has approved the retirement of General James Jamerson of the Air Force, who is currently the Deputy Commander in Chief of the European Command stationed in Germany; and also the retirement of General Walter Cross, who is the Commander in Chief of the Transportation Command and the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, in Illinois. Both of these fine, dedicated Air Force officers have served their country very well over long careers and they will be missed.

Secretary Cohen has recommended to the President, people to replace these Air Force officers in their current jobs, and we expect to have an announcement soon from the White House on their replacements.

Second, I would like to tell you that in about two hours we expect to release the report on the don't ask/don't tell policy. This is a review that Secretary Cohen requested last year in response to allegations made by the Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network. Those allegations were that the don't ask/don't tell policy was being implemented improperly by commanders throughout the military. The report did not find that allegation to be true. It found, instead, that the policy is working well, for the most part, and that it is being implemented fairly and effectively.

There were one or two, maybe three cases where it found that there had been some problems, and in order to make sure that the policy is implemented as fairly and as uniformly as possible, the report does recommend five changes in the way the Department of Defense administers the policy, and Secretary Cohen has accepted all of those recommendations. I'd like to run through very quickly what these recommendations are.

First, before launching investigations into charges that somebody may be in violation of the don't ask/don't tell/don't pursue policy, that the commander check with higher headquarters' legal authorities to make sure that any investigation is carried out in full compliance with the Department of Defense regulations.

Second, the Department of Defense will issue additional guidance on pre-trial agreements that are sometimes entered into in order to obtain information on consensual sexual conduct. There have been some cases where, in order to avoid penalties, a person may try to plea bargain through a pre-trial agreement, and perhaps provide information or make allegations about other people in the military. We want to make sure that there's no violation of privacy in the course of negotiating these pre-trial agreements.

The third recommendation is designed to make sure that in so-called coming out cases where a person announces that he or she is coming out and may want to give information about other people in the military, that there are no abuses of privacy in the course of conducting these coming out investigations.

So basically, it's a firmer adherence to rules designed to protect people's privacies. The recommendation is that guidance be issued to deal with these situations.

The fourth recommendation is that more training be given, particularly to investigators who actually review the facts of alleged violations of the policy, but also to commanders as well, and attorneys, to make sure that they understand what the policy is, that they understand the proper rules for implementing the policy and for carrying it out fairly.

The fifth recommendation is that the Department re-issue some earlier guidance that was put out by former Under Secretary Ed Dorn last year that deals with sexual harassment. It specifically deals with cases where threats or charges are made alleging that somebody is homosexual in order to harass that person, and the policy says that such threats or harassment is wrong, it won't be tolerated, and that the person making the threat, the alleged harasser, should be investigated for sexual harassment and possibly disciplined for sexual harassment. So the threat for the harassment will not be accepted at face value and the person who made the threat will not be let off scot-free if it's learned that the person is, in fact, violating the sexual harassment prescriptions in the military regulations.

So those are the five recommendations that are contained in the report. Secretary Cohen has accepted these recommendations and accepted the report.

With that, I'll take your questions on this or anything else.

Q: It would just seem that given the fact that you made these five pretty substantial recommendations, that it would validate the criticism of some of the gay rights groups that there has been, in fact, a problem with the way the policy has been administered. Otherwise, why would you need to take these five corrective actions?

A: There are very few policies in the U.S. Government, or in the world as a whole, that can't be improved. This is the first review of the implementation of don't ask/don't tell since it was put into effect in early 1994. The report is very clear, as you will see when you read it, that the people who did the review believe that the policy is working well and for the most part is being implemented fairly and effectively. That's not to say that in 100 percent of the cases it's being implemented fairly and effectively. I think this is a policy that commanders and senior civilian officials in the Department have worked very hard to make work. It's a policy that balances the military's concern about homosexuality with the right to privacy by people in the military. In reviewing four years of the policy at work, these five recommendations were made for essentially leading to greater uniformity and implementation. I think they're appropriate in light of the finding by the report that there are not widespread abuses, there are very, very small numbers of problems, and that the policy generally is working well. But it can work better, and that's the goal.

Q: We haven't seen the report yet, at least some of us haven't, but the big jump in the numbers discharged jumped something like 597 to 997, something like that. There's a large jump anyway, whatever the numbers are. Are you saying that is completely attributable to people, as you say, coming out and then being discharged because they have said that?

A: The report does find that there has been an increase in the number of discharges. The primary reason for that increase is because of so-called statement cases.

There are basically two types of cases that lead to discharge. One is a statement case where a person says "I am gay" or a statement is made about a person saying "He or she is gay" and then the statement is investigated, if it's a credible statement.

The second are acts cases where a person is found to have engaged in homosexual acts or marriage. What we have found is that over the last three years the number of discharges for acts or marriage has declined by 20 percent. However, the number of discharges for statements has increased.

In 1997 there were 997 discharges. Eighty-two percent of those discharges were in cases involving statements of homosexuality. And in compensating, 18 percent obviously were because of acts. So statements are the primary reason for the discharges, and what the services believe, and have found in their own work, is that most of the statements are voluntary, self statements or proclamations.

Now when I say they believe that, when a person comes to his or her commanding officer and says, "I'm gay," the commanding officer does not start an investigation. He says, okay, you've made a statement that you're gay and the policy prohibits that and therefore they begin administrative proceedings for discharge. Ninety-eight percent of the discharges are handled swiftly, they're administrative discharges, and they're generally under honorable conditions or they're general discharges without dishonorable conditions, so they bear no stigma whatsoever on the person's records. They're not a blockage to future employment.

Q: So you're saying some of the voluntary ones could be, the person could feel under pressure that someone else is going to...

A: We don't know that because, as I say, when a person comes forward and makes a statement, the commander does not then whip out a form and say fill out this form and explain exactly why you're saying this. Are you saying it because you're coming out and you feel this the right thing to do? You're saying it because you have some fear that somebody else may be about to make a statement about you? We don't investigate the statement itself or the circumstances behind the statement. We accept the statement.

Q: I thought the Secretary said this morning that that 82-percent figure is voluntary. Voluntary statements.

A: It is largely voluntary. These are statement cases, and the services believe that most of the statement cases are voluntary self proclamations.

Q: Is there any reason to believe that the increase in number is because of the timing, it seems to indicate that these people are trying to get out of the military? Has there been any study of exactly when these statements are made?

A: The overwhelming number of the statements occur in the first four years of service. I think about 80 percent of the statement cases... Last year 82 percent of the statements were made in the first four years of service or less, and 58 percent of the statements last year were made during the first year of service.

The report does not speculate as to why this increase has occurred except to attribute the increase in the area of statement cases rather than acts, but I think that it's clear that in society as a whole more people are so-called coming out, and more young people in particular, in college and high school and shortly after college, so it's not surprising that the military would be subject to exactly the same trend that we see in society as a whole.

Q: If ten were a perfect number, how would you rate the success of the don't ask/don't tell policy? We both know how it was born in such controversy, but it's been accepted, it's working. What kind of a grade would you give it?

A: I'm not sure I'm qualified to be the grader in this case. I think it would be more appropriate to ask that question of somebody who's spent more time on the policy than I. But based on my personal observation and fairly extensive travel around the country and around the world, talking with commanders and with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, I'd say that the policy gets a fairly high grade, probably a nine. The reason I say that is that this never comes up in the course of discussions that I have witnessed between commanders or enlisted people and the Secretary of Defense or other officials with whom I've traveled.

Everybody realizes that this is a difficult issue, and that this policy attempts to balance two different equities. I think it's clear from reading this report, and I think you'll see it, it's a very brief report, it's easy and quick to read, I think you'll find that this report concludes the same thing, that the policy is working.

Q: Is it your sense that the same acceptance is evident in Congress and the retired military community?

A: I didn't say that.

Q: I know. I'm saying do you think it's been accepted...

A: I can't speak for either of those groups. They'll have to speak for themselves.

Q: Some groups that have still been critical of the Pentagon have contended that there've been hundreds of cases of what they call command violations, yet the study you say found only one or two or three?

A: It found a very small number, I think three. And they didn't describe them specifically.

Q: Is there any action being taken...

A: This was not a report to take action. It went back several years in time and looked at a pie slice of cases. This report was designed to lead to, produce, if necessary, recommendations that would improve the implementation of the policy and I think it's done that.

Q: Your fifth point about revising things so that if someone makes an allegation that someone else is homosexual, it may be more likely that sexual harassment charges might be brought against them. In that situation, when an allegation like that is made, does the military investigate its voracity? And if it turns out to be in the military's view true, does that mean that the accuser would not bring sexual harassment charges?

A: One of the reasons for this policy deals with a very specific set of charges, and we will get you a copy of the warning or the policy statement that was issued by Under Secretary Dorn last year. This recommendation is that we simply reissue it, repeat it, to make sure that it's sort of filtered all the way through the military.

There's a specific set of allegations that's made sometimes, and it involves primarily women. The allegation is that if women reject sexual overtures from men, that the men may sometimes charge that they're lesbians, and that's why they've rejected the overture. And this, we have not found a high incidence of that, but one of the reasons that Under Secretary Dorn issued this was to deal with that type of situation.

So in order to investigate a statement or charge that somebody is gay, there has to be credible evidence. One of the points made in this policy issued, or statement issued, by Under Secretary Dorn last year was that this type of allegation or charge is not necessarily credible evidence. That it has to be looked at from both sides as possible harassment as well as a charge that there may be a violation of the don't ask/don't tell policy.

Q: The two other recommendations, two and three, the one having to do with basically plea bargaining and then outing other people when you're coming out yourself, is that viewed as credible evidence that someone's gay?

A: It's difficult to talk in general terms without knowing the specifics, but I think it's important to go back to what this report does find. What it finds is that 98 percent of the discharges under the don't ask/don't tell policy are administrative discharges that are made without any stain on the person's record. They're honorable or general discharges.

So what we're talking about are a very small number of cases that may be contended cases, or where there may be investigations. The point of this report is that most of the discharges occur because people come forward and proclaim themselves as gay, and then there's no question as to what the circumstances are. The discharge proceedings begin and they go forward very quickly in an administrative way.

So we're not talking about a large number of cases. Most regulations are designed to deal with exceptions rather than rules, and these recommendations are really designed to deal with the exceptions to effective implementation rather than the general, which is effective... The law is being implemented effectively.

Q: What's the service breakdown in terms of...

A: I don't have the breakdown, and it's not in this report. There are some reports through the Air Force. There are some specific figures for the Air Force, but not for the other services. That may be something you may want to inquire about, but they're not in here.

Q: The names that come up in these plea bargain cases or in the other ones, where you've said privacy is a concern, so it's not broadcast. But are they investigated, or is that a case-by-case basis?

A: As I said, I can't talk generally about these cases. It's like your stories, the facts of every story are different and you can't generalize about them in a uniform way.

Q: Is it possible that the United States supplied any Russian made anti-aircraft missiles to any African country that could have eventually found a way into the hands of people who would have used them to bring down this plane in 1994 that was carrying the Presidents of Burundi and Rwanda? Is that a possible scenario?

A: Based on everything I know, it is not possible.

Q: Has the United States ever supplied Russian made anti-aircraft missiles, or actually any aircraft missiles to Uganda?

A: No, the U.S. has not ever provided anti-aircraft missiles to Uganda.

Q: What do you make of this story, the published report that suggested that the missiles that brought down this plane, and I'm not even sure that that's a fact, but that the possibility of the missiles that brought down the plane could have come from American stockpiles taken from the Iraqis during the Gulf War.

A: I think first it's a calumnious charge; and second, I think it's wrong.

Q: Did the Secretary talk to the independent experts on the F/A-18E/F before going ahead with the production decision?

A: I don't believe that he did talk to the independent experts. He did get a briefing from the Navy, and he got a briefing from his acquisition officials on this, but I don't think he spoke individually to the independent experts.

Q: Was there a written report by these independent experts?

A: I don't know. All I saw was a summary of various reports and studies by the Navy. We can try to check into that.

Q: Has the United States supplied any weapons captured during the 1991 Persian Gulf War to any third country?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Would the United States be routinely... Do we have a policy against that or do we have any policy governing the transfer of arms acquired from other countries to third countries?

A: I think going back to the question at hand, which is did we provide missiles to Rwanda, the answer is no. The basis for the charge made in the French press, one of the charges -- I might point out there have been two charges in the French press. One charge in the French press was that these were missiles provided through France. Another charge in the French press was that they were missiles provided through the United States. We deny that because we have no record of providing any missiles to Uganda. We did not provide missiles to Uganda.

Q: A China question. Chinese General, Wang Ke... He is planning on coming to the U.S. Do you have any information when possibly?

A: This is the Chief of Logistics, I understand, who's here now? Yes. He met very briefly with Secretary Cohen yesterday, and he's been meeting with officials in the Department. He is here as part of an exchange program, and he is the -- as I understand it -- the Logistics Chief of the Chinese military. He's been meeting with fellow logisticians in the American military.

Q: Does Secretary Cohen plan to accompany President Clinton when Clinton goes to China?

A: He does not have current plans to accompany him.

Q: Are there any new agreements where U.S. forces might observe Chinese military maneuvers or Chinese forces might observe U.S. military maneuvers? Anything new on that?

A: Not that I'm aware of. You mean new since Secretary Cohen's trip to Beijing? No. Not that I'm aware of. Are you aware of something I should know about?

Q: I just had an inquiry.

A: No, I'm not aware of anything new.

Press: Thank you.

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