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language is neither repealed nor found unconstitutional by the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
The discharge requirement is part of a $265 billion defense
authorization bill for the 1996 fiscal year that Congress adopted
Clinton plans to sign the bill to get money to finance the
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. …