Did Gen. Sheehan Really “Climb Down” From Blaming Gay Soldiers for the Srebrenica Massacre?

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2010

That’s what some European news outlets are reporting. That “climb down” comes in the wake of outrage over Gen. John Sheehan’s testimony in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he blamed the presence of gay Dutch soldiers for the 1995 massacre of more than 8000 Muslim men and boys. Sheehan claimed that this is what the Dutch chief-of-staff General Henk van den Breemen of the Royal Dutch Marine Corps had told him.

Members of the Dutch military swiftly and vigorously challenged Sheehan’s remarks. The Dutch defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, called Shehan’s comments were, “scandalous and unbefitting a soldier,” and the Prime Minister denounced him as “irresponsible.”

Sheehan has climbed down somewhat from his accusation in a letter sent yesterday to the now retired Gen. van den Breemen, in which Sheehan wrote that “the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in now way the fault of the individual soldiers.” A copy of the letter which has been provided to BTB and other outlets reads:

Gereral Henk van den Breemen
Royal Dutch Marine Corps (Ret.)
[personal address redacted]
29 March 2010

Dear Henk,

Thank you for our much appreciated conversations of the past week. During the mid-1990s, you and I discussed a broad range of issues and policies that reflected the social, political and financial pressures under which NATO Alliance members struggled. 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. It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate. As a fellow Marine, I have the deepest respect for you personally and professionally. NATO and the Netherlands were well served by your leadership.

To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers. The corporals and sergeants executed their orders based on the priorities of the political authorities. Unfortunately, the rules of engagement were developed by a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military. As we know, the consequences of those compromises were devastating.

I wish you the very best during this Easter season.

John J.Sheehan
General U.S.Marine Corps (Ret.)

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.

Rene van Soeren

March 30th, 2010

Mounting pressure by the Dutch government and the Dutch LGBT movement (Pink Army, COC Netherlands)threatening to sue him have forced retired general Sheehan to apologise for his remarks blaming Dutch gay and lesbian soldiers for the Srebrenica massacre.

General Sheehan homophobic remarks have backfired and turned out to be a shot in his own foot. The general has simply lost all credibility as an oppponent of DADT now that it is clear that his comments have turned out to be completely unfounded.

Sheehan’s recollections of his talks with his broter in arms Van den Breemen were ‘inacurrate’ – that’s just a euphomism for telling lies…

Bruce Garrett

March 30th, 2010

First thing that crossed my mind reading the news articles on this was, this is a non-apology apology. Its: I’m sorry I put it so bluntly, so starkly…here, let me obfuscate it a tad, wrap it in some fuzzy buzzwords, to make it easier for you folks who need to pretend the unmitigatedly vile prejudice behind the words isn’t there. Oh…and since you’re clearly not going to back me up on this, I’m sorry I dragged you into it Henk. It’s those damn politicians…


March 30th, 2010

I seriously doubt that he has changed his view on DADT and frankly I don’t care anyways. He’s retired. He can make an ass of himself all he likes.

Sheehan may be subtley including DADT in his comment that “a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military.” Yet I actually take this to be a legitimate criticism of the situation the Dutch soldiers as a whole were in during the Srebrenicia Massacre many years ago.


March 30th, 2010

Funny how is apology about gays causing the genocide did not actually include an apology to the gay soldiers. He has no Honor or Integrity, he should not be called a Marine.


March 30th, 2010

Sheehan: Just your typical lyeing Conservative testifying before Congress.

They cannot win with the truth.


March 30th, 2010

…and soooo Sheehan lies to Congress and then apologizes to the DTUCH General?

What about an apology to Congress? and to the American People??

This was blatanly misleading and he needs to set the the record straight Over Here, in America!

Richard W. Fitch

March 30th, 2010

This was more than being “blatanly misleading”. By the Dutch report, it was an outright damn lie; and, if Sheehan made his testimony under oath, this should be grounds for filing charges of perjury.

Willem van Oranje

March 30th, 2010

I can understand why you read that phrase this way. I also don’t think Sheehan has changed his position on gltb to serve openly in the army one bit.

However, the conclusion of the Dutch inquiries into the fall and the massacre of Srebrenica and what NATO and the Dutch did wrong was indeed attributed to ‘the rules of engagement […] with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military’.

The problem was that the politicians in NATO countries believed they would only need peace keeping forces to protect and police the safe areas in Bosnia. That’s why the Dutch were allowed to bring only light artillery to the area, not heavy artillery. If things would go wrong, there would be air support, but in the case of Srebrenica, that never came, despite repeated calls from the Dutch.

There were other errors made, both on the ground, in the chain of command, and with relation to NATO.
But the basic error was the believe that peacekeepers would be enough, instead of peace enforcers.

Michael Ditto

March 30th, 2010

I don’t see any shift in his position whatsoever. I watched the hearing live and didn’t get the impression that he thought individual gay soldiers were the problem, but that the Dutch military had been corrupted by liberalism including allowing gays in the military.

Of course as Senator Levin pointed out, the Dutch military suffered from a failure of training (peacekeeping/policing versus war fighting) that has absolutely nothing to do with gays in the military.

It was Sheehan’s failure (and others) at NATO to assign the Dutch, with full knowledge of their competencies, with confusing rules of engagement, to such a task.

Simply speaking, you don’t give the responsibility to a nurse to rebuild a jet engine any more than you’d tell a jet mechanic to handle someone’e medical care. Sheehan and the rest of NATO never should have sent a bunch of cops to fight an insurgency.

Sheehan is trying to rewrite history on the backs of gay people to save his legacy. That’s pretty warped, and his perspective should be viewed through that lens.


March 30th, 2010

“So while media outlets and DADT repeal advocates may celebrate over this climb-down…”

Really? So you think the media’s on your side? Huh. Ya don’t say.

I’d been watching the media coverage of this issue, and I hadn’t noticed the slightest bit of media bias on this issue.

Note: Media Outlets and DADT repeal advocates are synonomous. Mentioning them both in the same sentence is redundant.


March 30th, 2010

Thank you BTB for once again being the lone voice of sanity in the gay blog wilderness.

I’ve been on countless other sites railing about their misleading and inaccurate reporting on this issue. Many of them have headlines that say that the general apologized for blaming the massacre on gay soldiers when he didn’t really do that at all. He apologized for “giving the impression” that he was blaming INDIVIDUAL soldiers but he didn’t say that he didn’t think that the Dutch policy and gay soldiers as a whole were the problems. He also apologized for misstating the OTHER generals opinion. He never said, knowing now that what he believed to be the opinion of the Dutch general was false that he had changed his OWN mind about the cause of the tragedy.


March 30th, 2010

The big question is whether or not Senator Levin will recall General Sheehan to clarify his statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee? THAT is the only place where his clarification will have ANY weight. He needs to specifically address HIS opinions and why, in the absence of any report from the Dutch, he still holds such negative opinions of openly gay soldiers and their service.

Everyone should contact Senator Levin’s office and demand that the General be recalled to clarify his testimony.

This is shaping up to be better than the Elaine Donnerly testimony, for OUR side.


March 30th, 2010

It is a climb down since the issue in dispute wasn’t Sheehan’s views, but rather whether there was a Dutch source that agreed with Sheehan. Sheehan said there was and now he admits that that statement was inaccurate.

So what we are left with is an opinion by Sheehan which he initially supported solely with a second hand account of a remark made to him 15 years ago, which he now admits he misremembered. I hope Sen. Levin makes the record reflect that this is the quality of evidence adduced in support of the policy.

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