DEFENDING AMERICA
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
06 June 2000

A RIGHT WORTH FIGHTING FOR

Secretary of Defense William Cohen should be given a medal -- by America's enemies, that is -- for allowing our armed forces to drop to the lowest point of combat readiness and morale I've eyeballed since the first shots of the Korean War were fired almost 50 years ago.

Now this so-called Republican, still flaunting his Clinton drag, is at it again -- assaulting every U.S. citizen's individual rights and basic freedom by not punishing a Privacy Act breach.

In 1998, two of Cohen's Defense Department assistants -- Kenneth H. Bacon and Clifford Bernath -- violated the Privacy Act by wrongfully giving New Yorker magazine writer Jane Mayer information from Linda Tripp's personnel file. Because of their unlawful actions, the world learned Tripp was busted as a teen-ager for larceny, a charge later reduced to loitering -- an arrest Tripp had chosen not to disclose.

Cohen's own Pentagon inspector general concluded that Bacon and Bernath broke the law. The IG report says the harm to Tripp's privacy caused by the release of this information outweighed any public benefit.

Cohen didn't fire these two creeps nor order that they be tried and, if found guilty, sent to the slammer just as Watergaters' Charles Colson and John Dean were when they played their dirty tricks. Cohen didn't even slap his culprits' wrists. Instead, he sent each a letter that expressed not the outrage that would have been appropriate, but "disappointment." No "FELON" stamped on their foreheads, as happened to Colson and Dean, effectively removing them forever from positions of public trust. No pink slip. No jail time.

Come November -- typical of Cohen's double-standard style -- Bacon and Bernath will be free to cash in on high-paying press jobs with a liberal news network or two as payoffs for their shameless service to President Clinton.

This is a sorry example for the troops. In the U.S. military, the Privacy Act is drilled into all the ranks from Day One. To violate it is a career-ender. Every guardian of our defenses knows by heart the strict regulations that govern the Privacy Act, and they all know its purpose is to protect our citizens' civil rights. If a corporal or a colonel had broken this federal law, they'd be in the slammer faster than a drill sergeant can bark "Ten hut."

Now Cohen is blatantly telling the troops that the Pentagon brass are a law unto themselves, and that the rules of this land don't apply to the people at the top. Next, he'll be tossing citizens in the slammer without due process, as if we were some banana republic. Yet, look at his Web site -- http://www.defenselink.mil/osd/topleaders.html -- and you'll see more Privacy Act warnings than Pentagon doublespeak.

Funny how this release happened just when Tripp blew the whistle on Clinton's Oval Office sexcapades with his intern girl-toy Monica Lewinsky. Gee, could it be that someone on high was out to smear Tripp -- a standard tactic to destroy a whistleblower's credibility -- for bringing on the Starr investigation?

Sure, what Tripp did to her supposedly close pal Lewinsky was the Pearl Harbor of betrayals. A person would have to be pretty benevolent to cut the woman much slack.

But Linda Tripp's flawed character doesn't change the fact that violating her privacy was wrong. This is a matter of principle, one that's fundamental to what our country stands for and one that we must continue to uphold and defend.

The Clinton administration has an eight-year track record of violating the privacy rights of their perceived enemies. We know, for example, about the 900 FBI files in a Clintonite's hands that were eagerly mined for dirt on Reagan and Bush administration appointees -- another outrageous breach that to date has also been allowed to go unpunished.

Enough is enough. The Pentagon must be held to a higher standard. Cohen should be fired for dereliction of duty, and Bacon and Bernath should be prosecuted for violation of the Privacy Act.

If we don't draw the line now, we might as well forget about it. Between Cyber-world, Clinton, Cohen and the rest of the Feds, we soon won't have any privacy left to worry about.