US Military Fires Three More Gay Arabic Linguists as Shortfall Continues

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri May 25 13:04:57 UTC 2007

News Release: Military Fires Three More Gay Arabic Linguists as Shortfall

News release:

*Iraq Combat Units Losing Their Translators from Frontlines*

SANTA BARBARA, CA, May 24, 2007 - The Associated Press reported yesterday
that more Arabic linguists have been fired by the military under the "don't
ask, don't tell" policy that requires separation when a commander learns a
service member is gay or lesbian.  The linguists were investigated after
military officials listened in on conversations conducted on a high-level
government computer system which allows intelligence personnel to
communicate with troops on the frontlines. One linguist was serving in Iraq
with a Marine combat unit when he was discharged. A military source reported
that he was known to be gay but was allowed to serve and was only formally
investigated after an Inspector General audit obtained language from the
computer chat rooms that apparently suggested he might be gay.  Enlisted
with the Navy, he was serving with the Marines in the "individual
augmentation" program, which allows the military to pull talent from
whatever branch they need to, in order to fill shortfalls such as that of
the highly trained Arabic linguists.  Under "don't ask, don't tell," the
military has fired at least fifty-eight Arabic linguists.

Stephen Benjamin, who agreed to talk to researchers at the Michael D. Palm
Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was
discharged from the Army this March from Ft. Gordon, Georgia.  Benjamin, 23,
attended the Defense Language Institute, the military's premiere training
school for foreign linguists.  Graduating in the top ten percent of his
class, he scored a 3.3 on his Defense Language Proficiency Test, well above
average. He then became a Cryptologic interpretor, responsible for
collecting and analyzing signals and assigned targets to support combatant
commanders and other tactical units.  Arabic interpreters work with
intelligence agencies to translate target cables from stateside and foreign
military bases as well as providing critical translation for combat and
logistics units on the frontlines.  Benjamin was first introduced to Palm
Center researchers by the leaders of the Call-to-Duty Tour (

In October 2006, the Army Inspector General conducted an audit of a
government communications system and investigated seventy service members
for abusing the system.  Benjamin said he was called in for questioning, and
was asked about a comment he made in which he said, "That was so gay -- the
good gay, not the bad one." Out of the seventy people, a small number,
including Benjamin, were eventually investigated for violations of the
"don't ask, don't tell" policy.  Although he is not sure which comments
prompted the investigation that led to his discharge, he said he had
passingly referred to social plans that would have revealed he is gay.

He said that some of the worst violations of the government computer system
involved people having cyber sex on the system, but those people retained
their jobs. Benjamin was aware of the risk of being monitored, but assumed
the military would be focused on other issues.  "The risk was always there,"
he said, but in some cases, this system "was our only means of
communicating," especially for those stationed in Iraq. Dr. Nathaniel Frank,
senior research fellow at the Palm Center, who is writing a book on "don't
ask, don't tell," said the loss of people like Benjamin highlights the
hidden costs of the current gay exclusion policy.

"The military often suggests that it fires people only when they make
'statements,' as though they are willful and flagrant violations of the
law," he said. "This is a facile misunderstanding of military life.  The
reality is that surviving combat, working efficiently, and bonding with
peers are all dependent on this human element of military life, where people
talk about their lives with one another. It's hard to see how cybersex on a
government communications network is not considered a career-ending offense
while mentioning that you had a date last week is such a large threat to
unit cohesion that the individual must be fired."

Benjamin said he was out to many of this peers, and "out entirely" in his
office.  In nearly every case, no one cared that he was gay, and those who
did care did nothing about it. "The only harm to unit cohesion that was
caused was because I was leaving," he said. "That's where the real harm is,
when they pull valuable members out of a team." During his investigation,
Benjamin was given the chance to rebut the charge that he was gay.  His Navy
supervisor and a civilian supervisor suggested he write a statement
insisting he was not gay, but lawyers at the Service Members Legal Defense
Network advised him that if he lied and was later found to be gay, he could
face a less-than-honorable discharge and even fraud charges for writing
false statements.

His JAG officer told him the gay exclusion policy is "politically
unpopular," and that military attorneys donĀ¹t like enforcing the policy, an
assertion reinforced when his commanding officers told him they were sorry
they had to lose him.  His Captain's evaluation read, in part: "EXCEPTIONAL
LEADER. Extremely focused on mission accomplishment. Dedicated to his
personal development and that of his sailors. Takes pride in his work and
promotes professionalism in his subordinates."

When he was discharged, Benjamin was preparing to re-enlist for another six
years.  He volunteered to deploy, hoping to serve in Iraq so he could work
in the environment -- and with the soldiers -- he had directly assisted as
an Arabic translator at Ft. Gordon. "I wanted to go to Iraq so I could be in
the environment with the soldiers I was protecting," he said. Though he
could not discuss the details of his intelligence work because many were
classified, he said it involved sending reports with critical information
out to the frontlines, and he knew that in his work, he "made a difference."

Benjamin is now working in Atlanta at a computer company.  When his military
discharge became real, he recalled: "I was kind of in disbelief. I kind of
expected someone to go, ha ha, we're just kidding." But no one did.  While
he's enjoying his new job, it doesn't compare to what he did in the
military.  "I'm happy where I am now," he said "but I'd be happier in the
military, doing something that mattered a little bit more."
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