- October 21 - Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has learned that a vote on the controversial nomination of Major General Robert T. Clark is expected on Thursday following a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. If MG Clark's nomination is approved by the Committee, he will face a vote by the full Senate concerning his promotion to Lieutenant General, the Army's second highest rank. A Senate confirmation would place Clark in command of the Fifth United States Army, based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
In 2002, the Armed Services Committee elected not to act on the nomination due to serious concerns about MG Clark's leadership before and after the murder of PFC Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, Ky. Winchell was beaten to death by fellow soldiers who believed he was gay. In the weeks and months following Winchell's murder, SLDN revealed evidence that MG Clark failed to curb a virulent anti-gay atmosphere on his base, including pervasive harassment of perceived gay and lesbian soldiers and anti-gay graffiti on base.
A Department of Army Inspector General report found that MG Clark failed to order required training on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or on how to address anti-gay harassment. The report shows other troubling facts about MG Clark's tenure at the post, including command-wide low morale; inadequate delivery of health care to soldiers and their families; and widespread, leader-condoned underage drinking in the barracks. Under Clark's leadership, and due to a gay discharge policy he implemented, Fort Campbell recorded the highest number of lesbian, gay and bisexual discharges at any military installation worldwide. According to "60 Minutes," the base also saw an alarming spike in domestic abuse cases.
MG Clark issued no statements against anti-gay harassment, refused to speak with or meet the parents of PFC Winchell for four years after their son's death. He also failed to reassure base soldiers that anti-gay harassment would not be tolerated, leading Senators to question President Bush's nomination.
"There is compelling evidence that there were problems at this base," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Armed Services Committee, recently told "NBC Nightly News." Other Senators told NBC that, in private meetings, "MG Clark portrayed himself as the victim, claiming his character was being maligned," leading one Republican Senator to confide that, "The General still doesn't get it."
"The question before the Armed Services Committee is whether Major General Clark lived up to his responsibilities to my son, and the sons and daughters under his watch," said Patricia Kutteles, PFC Winchell's mother. "The answer is no. He failed to stop harassment under his watch. Beyond the courts-martial, he failed to hold a single soldier accountable for the dangerous atmosphere on his base. He failed to take even the most basic steps -- such as ensuring 911 emergency services -- to protect his soldiers. His nomination should be rejected."
A dozen retired senior military leaders also called on the Armed Services Committee to reject the nomination. In a letter released today, the officers note that Clark "is not suited for promotion to a position of increased responsibility." The officers go on to say that, "One lesson every commander learns ... is that he or she is responsible for every action under his or her command.... MG Clark should not be rewarded with a promotion."
A coalition of military, veterans and civil liberties organizations led by SLDN have also called on Senators to oppose the nomination. The Democratic National Committee, People for the American Way, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Transgender American Veterans Association and Michigan's Triangle Institute have joined Mrs. Kutteles and SLDN in their opposition.
"Promotion should be based on an exemplary record of service to our men and women in uniform," said SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn. "Major General Clark, through his actions surrounding PFC Winchell's murder, failed that test. There are many leaders more qualified to assume command of the Fifth U.S. Army. The Senate Armed Services Committee should insist President Bush find a better candidate for this prestigious post."
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and related forms of intolerance. For more information, visit http://www.sldn.org.