Clinton to Fight HIV Policy Opposes Military Discharges

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton promised Friday to fight in Congress and the courts against a new requirement to discharge military personnel infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But aides said the administration would enforce the provision.

The requirement, contained in a defense bill that Clinton was scheduled to sign today, is unconstitutional, offensive and cruel, the president said.

Clinton ordered the Justice Department not to defend the provision's constitutionality in the courts. White House officials predicted that if Congress does not repeal it, the Supreme Court will throw it out.

Nonetheless, the administration made clear that if the AIDS language is neither repealed nor found unconstitutional by the courts, the Defense Department will have no choice but to discharge service members testing positive for HIV. A total of 1,049 service members are known to be HIV positive.

Jack Quinn, the White House counsel, said the Pentagon would wait "until the last possible moment" before actually removing anybody from the military. The provision says a service member must be out of uniform within six months of a positive HIV test.

Presidents lack the authority to declare laws unconstitutional, but Quinn said Clinton hoped that setting the discharge process in motion would lead to an early court test of its constitutionality.

The discharge requirement is part of a $265 billion defense authorization bill for the 1996 fiscal year that Congress adopted last month.

Clinton plans to sign the bill to get money to finance the armed forces.

He has made clear from the start that he finds unacceptable the

provision requiring that service members with HIV be honorably discharged. Quinn said Friday that Clinton considered the measure "completely abh orrent and offensive."

"This provision, in the president's judgment, is mean-spirited and serves no purpose other than to punish people who deserve the government's help, not its hatred," Quinn said.

Secretary of Defense William Perry and Gen. John Shalikashvili,

chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, oppose the provision. Quinn said they believed that discharging service members deemed fit for duty "would waste the government's investment in the training of these individuals and be disruptive to the military programs in which they play an integral part."

Under current policy, service members with the virus who are able to perform their jobs may remain in the military. …