March 31, 2010 at 12:25 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
General sorry for remarks on gays in Dutch military

A retired general who supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” recently apologized for remarks blaming gays in the Dutch military for a Bosnian massacre — although one blogger is questioning whether the officer is in fact taking back his words.

In a March 29 letter obtained by DC Agenda and other media outlets, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Sheehan says he’s sorry for testifying before the Senate that open service in the Dutch military contributed to Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

During testimony earlier this month, Sheehan said he heard from Dutch chief-of-staff General Henk van den Breemen of the Royal Dutch Marine Corps that allowing gays to serve openly in the Dutch military — which he called part of the liberalization of the country’s armed forces — contributed to the inability of the Netherlands to prevent the execution of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the massacre.

But in the letter to van den Breeman, Sheehan acknowledges he mistated before the committee the Dutch official’s understanding of the situation and apologizes.

“I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military,” Sheehan writes. “It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate.”

Sheehan also writes he doesn’t believe Srebrenica was “the fault of the individual soldiers” serving in the Dutch military at the time.

“Unfortunately, the rules of engagement were developed by a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military,” he said. “As we know, the consequences of those compromises were devastating.”

A number of media outlets reported the letter means Sheehan has apologized for his testimony, but Jim Burroway, editor of Box Turtle Bulletin, questioned whether the general is in fact retracting his statement.

This is a climbdown from Sheehan’s placing blame on individual gay soldiers in Srebrenica, but it is not a complete disavowal of Sheehan’s position. In this letter, he now shifts his blame to “a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military.” This echoes accusations hurled by opponents to DADT that allowing soldiers to serve with honesty and integrity — two core values of all branches of the armed services — somehow represents a political meddling in the conduct of military affairs. (I would also hasten to add that civilian control of the military is also a core value insisted upon by our founding fathers and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.) So while media outlets and DADT repeal advocates may celebrate over this climb-down, I have a feeling that Sheehan’s position hasn’t changed one bit.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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