Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 65° Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

More gays discharged than thought


Finkenbinder 
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Finkenbinder (The Spokesman-Review)
Kim Curtis Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – The number of Arabic linguists discharged from the military for violating its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is higher than previously reported, according to records obtained by a research group.

The group contends the records show that the military – at a time when it and U.S. intelligence agencies don’t have enough Arabic speakers – is putting its anti-gay stance ahead of national security.

Between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi speakers, according to Department of Defense data obtained by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The military previously confirmed that seven translators who specialized in Arabic had been discharged between 1998 and 2003 because they were gay. The military did not break down the discharges by year, but said some, but not all, of the additional 13 discharges occurred in 2004.

Aaron Belkin, the center’s director, said he wants the public to see the real costs of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“We had a language problem after 9/11 and we still have a language problem,” Belkin said.

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts.

“The military is placing homophobia well ahead of national security,” said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of gay military members. “It’s rather appalling that in the weeks leading up to 9/11 messages were coming in, waiting to be translated … and at the same time they were firing people who could’ve done that job.”

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, a conservative advocacy group that opposes gays serving in the military, said the discharged linguists never should have been accepted at the elite Defense Language Institute in Monterey in the first place.

“Resources unfortunately were used to train young people who were not eligible to be in the military,” she said.

In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 543 Arabic linguists and 166 Farsi linguists graduated from their 63-week courses, according to a DLI spokesman. That was up from 377 and 139, respectively, in the previous year.

Experts have identified the shortage of Arabic linguists as contributing to the government’s failure to thwart the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sept. 11 commission made similar conclusions.

Ian Finkenbinder, an Army Arabic linguist who graduated from the Defense Language Institute in 2002, was discharged from the military last month after announcing to his superiors that he’s gay. Finkenbinder, who said his close friends in the Army already knew he was gay, served eight months in Iraq and was about to return for a second tour when he made the revelation official.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘Are you willing to go to war with an institution that won’t recognize that you have the right to live as you want to,’ ” said Finkenbinder, 22. “It just got to be tiresome to deal with that – to constantly have such a significant part of your life under scrutiny.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network last month sued the government on behalf of 12 other gay former military members seeking reinstatement.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.