Kennedy's 'Hate Crimes' Help for the Military

Did you know that recruiting stations and military bases are hotbeds of “bigotry and prejudice?”  In a September 26 floor speech, Senator Edward Kennedy claimed that white supremacists and soldiers are allowed to incite violence against minorities and homosexuals.

The Massachusetts Democrat smeared the military to win votes for his “hate crimes” amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill for 2008.  The ploy, unfortunately, worked.  Sixty senators supported his “hate crimes” amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, which is now in conference committee.  

Kennedy’s legislation would add nothing to provisions in military law that forbid and punish racism, harassment, and violence against any individual — not just members of special groups.  The effect on civilians could be extreme, however, since “hate crimes” legislation would expand legal sanctions against persons accused of targeting someone because of sexual orientation or “perceived gender identity,” whatever that means.  Advocates say that transgendered people should be considered hate crime “victims” if their “perceived gender identity” does not permit access to the private facilities of the physically-opposite sex.

Some misguided legislators may vote to retain the provision if they believe that President Bush will not veto a bill that is important for national defense and the war.  Others may be persuaded by Senator Kennedy’s unwarranted attacks on the military, which deserve closer examination.

Most examples of “hate motivated violence” cited by Kennedy occurred years ago.  All were punished promptly or are still under investigation.  Military training programs have countered the influence of civilian racist groups and gangs, and the armed forces led the way in officially banning racial discrimination decades ago.  “Hate crimes” legislation would not accomplish anything new or useful for minorities.

Nevertheless, Senator Kennedy raged about a recent incident involving the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg.  Two soldiers reportedly stole and sold military equipment, including armored vests and a Humvee, to white supremacists.  Kennedy’s rant, however, was only half-true and completely misleading.

As reported in the Fayetteville Observer, Army officials were in the process of dismissing Private Joffre Cross, 21, and Private Jason Niewoit, 18, on June 11, due to “patterns of misconduct.”  Their discharge date was June 11, but the FBI got there first.  Both soldiers were arrested on June 4 for selling stolen Army equipment and medical supplies.  

The soldier thieves could have offered the contraband to gang members or flea market merchants.  Unluckily for them, their customer happened to be an FBI agent posing as a white supremacist.  One of the two soldiers was drawn to racist websites, but there was no evidence that the misfit men were involved in violence motivated by hate.  

There are troublesome individuals in the military, and more should be done to prevent the recruiting of individuals involved in disreputable groups.  Kennedy’s bill, however, would not change juvenile privacy laws that withhold misconduct records from recruiters.  This does not excuse allegations that “hate crimes” are rampant and accepted in the ranks.  Nor is it fair to speculate about tragedies that may or may not have involved sexual tensions in the military.  

In 1999, for example, homosexual activists crafted a polemic campaign focusing on the brutal murder of Army Pfc. Barry Winchell, an alleged homosexual, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in July of that year.  Senator Kennedy cited the savage killing of Pfc. Barry Winchell as evidence that more must be done to end “hate crimes” and harassment of homosexuals.

The confessed killer, Pvt. Calvin Glover, assaulted Winchell in the barracks with a baseball bat on July 4, 1999, several hours after Winchell had beaten him in a drunken brawl.  Evidence of Glover’s hostile attitude toward Winchell, who was involved with a curvaceous transgender male nightclub entertainer, was a factor in his trial and sentencing to life in prison.  

An Army Inspector General investigation cleared Fort Campbell commanders, but noted poor morale and a tolerance of underage drinking and anti-gay language.  The report also noted that battalion commanders were reluctant to ask questions about matters involving alleged homosexuality.  This was an apparent consequence of  Bill Clinton’s problematic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which Congress rejected in 1993.     

In the tragic case of Pfc. Winchell, a failure to ask questions apparently was a factor in the creation of a volatile situation that exploded with violence.  Perpetrators of this crime have been rightly punished, but there is no need for additional legislation to stop harassment or murderous assaults — of anyone — in the barracks.

Liberal activist groups keep complaining about alleged harassment of homosexuals in the military, but their claims do not hold up.  Gays are one of several groups not eligible for military service.  Eighty percent of those who were discharged since passage of the 1993 law left the service not because of harassment or witch hunts, but because of voluntary statements admitting homosexuality.  According to a 1998 Defense Department Task Force report, there were only four cases of anti-homosexual harassment reported since 1994. Two of those cases involved anonymous letters that could not be traced.

Conservative legislators have learned to be wary of bills offered “for the children.”  Conferees should be equally cautious about “hate crimes” legislation offered to “support the troops.”  Accepting Kennedy’s non-germane amendment would set a dangerous precedent that could politicize defense bills in the future.

If the controversial amendment is not stripped in conference committee, President George W. Bush should veto the bill and instruct Congress to try again.  He also should chastise politicians who defame the armed forces just to score rhetorical points for a pet liberal cause.