As investigators pursued an Air Force officer they suspected of drugging and raping other servicemen, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy hung over their case.
Testimony during the court-martial that resulted in Capt. Devery L. Taylor's conviction revealed an investigation made more complicated by the 1993 law prohibiting the military from asking about the sex lives of its members but requiring the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay.
Among other things:
- Taylor says that to save his career, he initially lied in denying he was gay, and that made him look guilty to investigators. He also claims some of his victims saved their careers by falsely accusing him of rape rather than admit consensual sex.
- Military investigators had to step around the law, telling servicemen they interviewed that their job wasn't to uncover consensual gay activity but that their answers would be reported to their commanders.
- One of Taylor's victims and another man left the military after being interviewed by investigators. The first man testified that he was gay and that Taylor raped him. The second man was forced into early retirement after he told investigators he had a consensual relationship with Taylor.
"When this law was sold to the public, it was said it would protect the privacy of service members, but it has instead put them in difficult positions where they have to choose between their careers and their own safety," said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents military members discharged for being openly gay.
Prosecutor calls it 'unique case'
Maj. Kathleen Reder, who prosecuted Taylor, said that despite any complications, the system worked.
"Male-on-male rape in general is an underreported crime. The level of sensitivity and professionalism in the military was so great that these men were able to come forward. This is not only a unique case in the face of the military, it is a unique case on the face of the Earth," she said.
"Don't ask, don't tell" was implemented by the Clinton administration. It represented an easing of the military's policy of investigating suspected homosexuals and discharging anyone discovered to be gay.
Under the law, military investigators cannot question service members about their sexual orientation, but gays can be discharged if they talk about it.
But Ralls and other critics say it can attract sexual predators like Taylor to the military because it often discourages their victims, gay or straight, from coming forward for fear of being kicked out of the service.
"These people were victims of a predator who was able to be more effective in his predatory techniques because of a federal law," Ralls said.
Taylor, 38, was convicted last week of raping four men and attempting to rape two others. He was sentenced to 50 years in a military prison. His attorneys said "don't ask, don't tell" will be a factor in their appeal.
Six victims, including four military men, two of them married, testified at the court-martial that they had felt drugged after drinking with Taylor at bars. They said he then took them to hotel rooms or his apartment and raped them.
Investigators said Taylor had spiked the men's drinks with gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, which is often called the "date-rape drug" because it leaves people groggy and powerless.
Defense argued incentive to lie
Taylor's defense was that the sex was consensual. His attorney, Martin Regan, argued before the jury of nine Air Force officers that "don't ask, don't tell" gave Taylor's military accusers an incentive to say they were drugged and raped rather than admit consensual gay sex.
Regan said "don't ask, don't tell" also led Taylor to lie at first about having gay sex, and that led investigators to wrongly conclude he was a rapist.
Taylor, the former chief of patient administration at Eglin Regional Hospital, testified at his court-martial that he feared authorities were on "a gay roundup" and that he lied about his activities because he was trying to protect his career and those of his gay friends.
"To defend yourself against criminal allegations, you then have to say I am going to give up my job, walk away from something I love doing, something I've been recognized as one of the best at the base for doing," Regan said.
One longtime Air Force security officer was forced into early retirement because he told the military investigators that he had consensual sex with Taylor. Investigators tracked the man down while looking into Taylor's past relationships.
Another airman, whom Taylor was convicted of raping, left the military after investigators interviewed him. He testified that he was gay and had traveled and shared hotel rooms with Taylor.
But Reder, the prosecutor, said "investigators went to great pains to do their job and respect the privacy of others."