A retired U.S. general has told senators that the Dutch policy of allowing gays to serve openly in its military was partly to blame for its failure to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
In testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bans gay people from openly serving in uniform, former NATO Commander John J. Sheehan, sparked outrage Thursday when he claimed gay soldiers weakened the Dutch army.
Srebrenica, in Bosnia, was a safe haven for Muslims and was under protection from Dutch forces. However, Bosnian Serbs attacked it in 1995, killing 8,000 people.
Sheehan said that having gay soldiers at Srebrenica had sapped morale and contributed to the disaster.
“The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since world war two.”
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Sheehan he was “totally off-target.”
“Did the Dutch leaders tell you it (the fall of Srebrenica) was because there were gay soldiers there?” Levin asked.
Sheehan replied: “Yes. They included that as part of the problem.”
Dutch defense ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering refuted Sheehan’s claims: “It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense.”
In a statement, Dutch Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos said, “The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims.”
The Armed Services panel has held a series of hearings to explore repealing the military’s ban on gay service members.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill this month to repeal the ban.