General apologizes for comments Dutch army

The Royal Netherlands Embassy wrote today that General John J. Sheehan has apologized to former Dutch Chief of Defence General Van den Breemen about his remarks on March 18 that related the Srebrenica massacre to gays serving in the Dutch armed forces.

Sheehan, a former NATO commander who retired from the military in 1997, was speaking at a public hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee in opposition to a proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military. An opinion article in the Los Angeles Times by Borris Dittrich, Dutch born director of Human Rights Watch described the exchange:

Homosexuals in the Dutch military had depleted the forces' morale, he argued to the senators, and made them "ill-equipped to go to war." And that was in part why they failed to prevent Bosnian Serbs from massacring more than 8,000 civilians in the former haven of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) seemed incredulous at the testimony. "Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?" he asked.

"Yes," Sheehan said. "They included that as part of the problem." He even claimed that the former Dutch commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force had told him this was true.

Earlier, Dutch prime minister Balkenende denounced the comments as “irresponsible” and said “these remarks should never have been made.” Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos issued a statement: "I heard the statements made by retired US General Sheehan in today's public hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he suggests a causal relationship between gays serving in the Dutch military forces and the massacre of Srebrenica. I couldn't disagree more.

I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, such as in Afghanistan at the moment.

The military mission of Dutch UN 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."

In today's letter, Sheehan wrote: "I am sorry that my recent public recollection ... 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military".

Gays have been allowed to serve in the Dutch army since 1974.

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