Saturday, September 15, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Pursue

Most people think the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy means that if you don't announce that you're gay, you can keep your job. But in practice, William Saletan documents, if you don't tell, the military can—and often does—investigate and interrogate you until you're forced to tell.

Margaret Witt, a major in the Air Force Reserve, is in the process of being discharged for lesbianism. How did investigators find out she was gay? An anonymous tip. They tracked down her former partner, a civilian, and got the woman to admit that she and Witt had lived together. When they interrogated Witt, she confessed. If she hadn't, they could have prosecuted her for "false official statements" and imprisoned her for five years. Last fall, a federal judge conceded that Witt had "served her country faithfully and with distinction" and "did not draw attention to her sexual orientation." Nevertheless, he concluded, she had no constitutional grounds to contest her discharge. If you don't tell, they make you tell.

Six years ago, the Army kicked out Alex Nicholson, an interrogator, under DADT. How did he disclose his homosexuality? He mentioned it in a letter to a friend—in Portuguese. A colleague found the letter, translated it, and outed him. "Nobody asked me if I was gay and I wasn't telling anyone," says Nicholson. "You would think that a private letter that you had written in a foreign language would be sufficiently safe." But you would be wrong.

Last year, the Army discharged Bleu Copas, a sergeant, from the 82nd Airborne. The basis? Anonymous e-mails. The first time superiors asked Copas whether he was gay, the context was informal, and he denied it. The next time, they put him under formal interrogation—"Have you ever engaged in homosexual activity or conduct?"—and he refused to answer. Eventually, to avoid prosecution for perjury, he gave in.

Four days ago, the Stockton, Calif., Record reported the recent expulsion of Randy Miller, a paratrooper who served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. His offense? Being in a gay bar—and rejecting a proposition from a fellow soldier, who apparently retaliated by reporting him to the Army. Like Witt, Miller admitted his homosexuality, but only under interrogation. If you don't tell, they make you tell.