(CNSNews.com) – (EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on March 16, 2010.) A conservative pro-military group is defending a statement it issued, and which was signed by more than 1,000 retired generals and admirals, in support of a 1993 federal law that says it is illegal for homosexuals or bisexuals to serve in the U.S. military. The signed statement is being criticized by a homosexual activist group that is relying on a partially corrected PBS news report about the issue.
The homosexual group Servicemembers United says that some of the officers who signed the statement were involved in controversies and that most of them are older. The group also claims that some unnamed generals were surprised to find their names on the statement, although Servicemembers United has not identified these generals.
The Center for Military Readiness (CMR), which issued the statement and gathered the 1,164 signatures, said that the homosexual group’s claims were false.
This statement was first delivered to the White House, Pentagon, and to members of Congress in spring 2009 with then 1,050 hand-written signatures. (See earlier story)
This week, Servicemembers United, which supports repealing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy, posted a report attacking the CMR’s statement. However, the group’s attack alleged that only seven military commanders we involved in past controversies, criticized their age, and pointed out that three of the signers are now dead.
Further, the homosexual group claimed that three unnamed generals had said they did not want to be on the list of signatories. All of the signatures have been accounted for, said CMR President Elaine Donnelly .
The DADT policy is different than the 1993 federal law which the statement concerns.
The DADT is a 1993 directive in the Defense Department regulations that says, in part, “Commanders or appointed inquiry officials shall not ask, and members shall not be required to reveal, whether a member is a heterosexual, a homosexual, or a bisexual.” (Click here for link to updated directive.)
The 1993 federal statute, which President Bill Clinton signed into law, says that homosexuals or bisexuals cannot serve in the U.S. military, and that the “presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
Even if all the signatories questioned by Servicemembers United were disqualified and removed from the statement, the list would still carry 1, 157 names of retired military commanders who oppose allowing homosexuals to serve in the military.
Nevertheless, Donnelly does not accept any of the conclusions reached by the homosexual activist group.
“If you don’t have any arguments, you attack your opposition, personally,” Donnelly told CNSNews.com. “We anticipated it. We guarded against it by having genuine signatures because we knew that they would likely try to do something like this. That’s why our precautions were certainly justified and sustain the list now. We did not do this by e-mail.”
The handwritten signatures were gathered by snail mail, she said.
“It was slower that way, but much more credible,” said Donnelly. “But until we released that list, we didn’t say a word about what’s going on. We didn’t need to. We knew that the list was mounting. At the proper time we would release it to the media, send it to the White House, and that’s exactly what we did. So it was an extremely successful project. That’s why the opposition was trying to weaken its impact.”
The Center for Military Readiness provided CNSNews.com with a copy of each hand-written signature, but asked that the personal signatures not be reproduced for public consumption to protect the security of the individuals.
The statement drive began in October 2008. Two of the signatories died shortly after signing the statement. In another case, the widow – with power of attorney – signed the statement for her husband. The widow’s signature is footnoted in the statement.
A spokesman for Servicemembers United (SU) could not be reached for comment on this story despite several phone calls and e-mails from CNSNews.com.
But, in a news release on Monday, March 8, SU Executive Director Alexander Nicholson said the statement was illegitimate.
“Those of us who are familiar with the distortions often promulgated by Elaine Donnelly and the Center for Military Readiness have long suspected that this list is not completely legitimate,” Nicholson said.
“Not only do we now have evidence that this list is peppered with inconsistencies and errors, but we have also uncovered scandals and controversies associated with members of this list which indicate gross failure of judgment and leadership by some of its members,” Nicholson added.
With regard to the alleged controversies, a censure against one admiral was reversed, while a general cast in a negative light in the report has gone on to serve prominently in veterans organizations. Donnelly pointed to these examples, but said she did not look into every individual attack, because it was not a valid point given the volume of names on the list.
“It’s quite obvious they did some cherry-picking,” Donnelly said, pointing out the SU report used a sampling size of just 200. “That in no way impugns the size of that list, the integrity of that list. It’s again, just a desperate measure.”
The face-off between these organizations comes as President Barack Obama and certain liberal Democrats in Congress are pushing to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, and as Congress is considering legislation that would do so.
The SU’s report on the statement also attacks the age of the signatories.
“We’ve discovered that the approximate average age of the Flag and General Officers for the Military statement is about 74 years old,” the SU release said. “The oldest living signer is 98, however, several have died since this document was created. … The average entry date of these individuals into the military is 1958, with the oldest living signer joining in 1930.”
But the CMR analyzed the signatories on its list and compared it with the retirement dates of the Palm Center/Shalikashvilli List. The latter list has 115 signatures from retired military commanders calling for the repeal of DADT. The CMR signatories comprise a younger list – based on retirement date – than the Palm Center signatories.
For example, 16.7 percent of the Palm Center/Shalikashvili List retired in the 1970s, while only 1.7 percent on the list of FGOM retired in that decade.
The SU report relies heavily on a news story broadcast on June 29, 2009 on the PBS “News Hour.” The SU also says it went further than PBS in finding people on the list who said they did not remember signing it.
“In response to limited verification outreach, Servicemembers United and PBS “News Hour” both received responses from some signatories indicating surprise that they are included on the list,” the SU report says.
“One general wrote, ‘I never agreed to represent either side of this issue.’ Yet another wrote, ‘I do not remember being asked about this issue.’ We find this disturbing especially given that such a small number were actually able to be reached for independent verification,” the report added.
PBS “News Hour” reporter/producer Dan Sagalyn, who worked on the story, told CNSNews.com, “I don't have any recollection or record” of talking with anyone from Servicemembers United for the story.
The PBS story last June reported, “One general expressed surprise his name was even on the list, since he says he had never agreed to sign the letter, and at least three officers listed as signatories are dead.”
However, in an Aug. 20, 2009 correction, the PBS “News Hour” said, “The report noted that at least three of the military officers listed as signatories of a March 31 letter to President Obama and Congress opposing changes in the current law were dead. According to Elaine Donnelly, the president of the Center for Military Readiness and who assembled the list, those officers died subsequent to their signing the letter. The News Hour stated the facts as it knew them with no suggestion of inappropriate conduct.”
“The producer’s statement dissembles and the Lehrer NewsHour ‘clarification’ continues to perpetuate an unsupported statement that tangible evidence shows cannot be true. It is not clear whether the producer considered Servicemembers United to be a source, but we do know that the gay activist group is using PBS to support false allegations. This is an example of liberal media irresponsibility and bias at its worst,” Donnelly said.
The PBS correction continued, “The News Hour report also stated that one general was surprised to see his name on the list because he did not agree to sign it. The officer and the News Hour stand by this statement.”
In a written statement, PBS’s Sagalyn told CNSNews.com, “We stand by the clarification we posted on our Web site.”
Donnelly said that PBS is perpetuating a falsehood and is a mark of media bias. She said she sent the producer of the piece the signed statements and postmarks of the dates they were signed.
“If it was the phantom general’s idea, why would he want his name on our list if he does not agree?” Donnelly said. “We insisted that the producer tell us who this was and we would immediately get in touch with that person and say we have your signature. If you want your name to be taken off the list, we are more than happy to do that.”
She said the CMR was contacted recently by a one-star general, but she said he was the only one who has asked to be removed from the list.
That withstanding, the number currently stands at 1,164, she said.
While advocacy groups always issue statements, Donnelly said she is most concerned that PBS has not issued a more complete correction, because the PBS “News Hour” is a respected news organization and will likely be cited by future activists to weaken the impact of the 1,000-plus statement.
In an Aug. 10 letter to the “News Hour,” Donnelly asked three questions about the person she referred to as the “phantom four-star.”
“Does this person know how CMR received his signature if he did not send it?” Donnelly asked the “News Hour.” “Has he requested anonymity, or was it the producer’s idea to withhold his name? If it was his idea, why would a four-star officer want his name to remain on the FGOM [Flag and General Officers for Military] list supporting a cause with which he does not agree?”
Donnelly accused the “News Hour” producer of stonewalling.
PBS “News Hour” Producer Sagalyn said the four-star general in question asked not to be named.
“The four-star general asked for anonymity,” Sagalyn said in a written statement. “Many of the four star generals we called to see if they would appear in our story refused to do so because they did not want to be ‘out in front on this issue.’
“They were happy to sign the list and that was it. In the same vain, the four star who told us he was surprised his name appeared on the list also did not want to be out in front on this issue and didn't want to do anything that would call attention to themselves,” Sagalyn added.
Donnelly said the CMR went to great lengths to authenticate every name on the list, anticipating challenges. Further, she said each of the 51 four-star generals has been accounted for. So she is still uncertain who PBS is talking about.
“I predicted at the time that that unresolved issue would be something the opposition would try to use against us,” Donnelly said. “I’ve been proven right. That’s why we have to hit it head on.”