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Ex-general apologizes for Dutch gay soldier remark

By Ed O'Keefe

A former Marine general has apologized to Dutch military leaders for recent comments suggesting gay Dutch soldiers were to blame for the 1995 execution of Bosnian Muslims.

Testifying at a Senate hearing this month on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Ret. Gen. John J. Sheehan said that the liberalization of the Dutch military and subsequent enlistment of openly gay soldiers combined with poor military leadership contributed to its failure to hold off Serb forces in Srebrenica.

Asked by senators if Dutch leaders had blamed the presence of gay troops, Sheehan replied: "They included that as part of the problem."

Sheehan's comments earned a strong rebuke from senators and the Dutch government.

But in a letter sent Monday to a Dutch military general, Sheehan apologized for inaccurately reflecting their conversations.

"I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military," Sheehan wrote.

"To be clear, the the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers," Sheehan said later. "The corporals and generals 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."

The Dutch military is "happy" with the apology, according to the Dutch Embassy in Washington.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 31, 2010; 2:38 PM ET
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And you wonder why is is was so hard to get cooperation from other countries military when the have to work with neanderthals like then Gen. John J. Sheehan of the U.S. marine Corps.

Posted by: crete | March 31, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Funny how Sheehan didn't get around to apologizing to a few tens of million gay people in the U.S., not to mention all the rest of us who don't share his stupid and outdated ideas.

Posted by: jonfromcali | March 31, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Sheehan , and those who think like him have no place in today's military. The USA is clearly way behind other nations in how it views gays. Sheehan should resign or be fired if he does not resign, for the sake of all the hardworking soldiers who are not part of his homophobic neaderthal club.

Posted by: lsf07 | March 31, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Good points, Crete and Jon. I can only surmise that Gen. Sheehan apologized to the Dutch because of peer pressure, not because of any remorse about his homophobia.

Posted by: DCSteve1 | March 31, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

The apology was too late, as the Dutch had already surrendered.

Posted by: jiji1 | March 31, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I guess he didn't expect the Dutch to be listening when he told that whopper.

Posted by: sarahabc | March 31, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Sheehan can't resign. He's already retired.

Posted by: byxnet | March 31, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Correction, please: General Sheehan is still a general, on the retired list. He is not an ex-general. The headline should have stated that. He might have been tactless, but he has done nothing to strip himself of the dignity of his rank.

Posted by: GABinOdenton | March 31, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Let's be clear about your headline, Washington Post. Ex-general Sheehan did not apologize to any of the serving gay soldiers he insulted with his comments. He apologized to the Dutch general whose comments he lied about, and only because the Dutch were as outraged by the comments as the rest of us. The man is a poor excuse for a human being, much less a United States armed services general.

Posted by: tomsj | March 31, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

How could anyone characterize the general's remarks here as an "apology"? It's an "apology" only in the broadest sense of the word -- in this case, it's the deceptively-worded explanation of a liar.

Posted by: Manwolf | March 31, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

General Sheehan is really just saying he is sorry if Dutch were offended by his comments. He isn’t apologizing for saying them nor does he actually say that they weren’t true. What I didn’t see in this article was a Dutch Officer coming foreword and publicly denouncing his comments. Perhaps there was an existing dissention amongst the ranks due to the status of homosexuals serving in the military coupled by the poor political direction by their government. Being as they could not slander their own government, perhaps they expressed to the General that the homosexuals caused the defeat. I rather enjoy the fact that he goes on to deliver a parting shot to their nations politicians by pointing out a their “ambivalent understanding of how to use the military”.

Posted by: miked2805 | March 31, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

When will he appear before congress and admit he perjured himself?

Posted by: madest | April 1, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Alas, Sheehan, WHAT ONE SOWS, SO SHALL THEY REAP ... powerful rule from THE BIBLE!

Posted by: stevenleonghawaii | April 1, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

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