Gay Or Rapist?

12.16.2008

By Richard Morgan

The trial exposed 'don't ask, don't tell' not merely as an open joke in public policy but very seriously and very dangerously as an obstruction to justice. Giving an accused gay rapist a fair military trial is a catch-22 (the book Catch-22, interestingly, also involves ludicrous bureaucracy faced by soldiers): If the accused isn't guilty of forced sex, then he'll be expelled for consensual sex. Such an approach makes cases tougher on the innocent even as it provides ample room to hide for the guilty. How can the Pentagon hope to expose a gay rapist in its ranks if its policy is basically to sweep talk about gays under the rug? While Captain Taylor was convicted, how many unknown and unreported opportunists in uniform see a hush-hush Pentagon as a playground for rape?

'Don't ask, don't tell' is actually just half the story. Law journals often cite its longer nickname: 'don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass.' The policy's recently deceased chief architect, Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos, called it simply 'don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue.'

According to the court transcript, Captain Taylor's accusers -- Captain Beyersdorf, Lt. Wayne Cox, ex-airman Keith Kaczocha, Staff Sgt. Jason Sanders, and civilians Dago Rivera and James Rogers -- were all very drunk during their sexual encounters (they were all contacted to comment for this article; all declined). Their testimony overflows with bottles of Bud Light, pints of Guinness, Red Bull with vodka, lemon drop shots, tequila, oatmeal raisin cookie shots, Irish car bombs, and raspberry liqueur. They suspected Taylor of having drugged them with GHB, the iconic so-called 'date-rape drug,' although all tests for the drug were negative and no GHB was found in Taylor's residence. When Lieutenant Cox was asked point-blank, 'And even today, you don't know whether you were raped or not, do you?' his response was a cold 'No, sir.'

When a physical exam of Captain Beyersdorf was conducted soon after his rape, there was no trauma in his rectum or on his buttocks. Undeterred, a prosecutor asked, 'How much force to have sex with a person who's just a rag doll?' The prosecution called a doctor to the stand who testified that Captain Beyersdorf's weird morning euphoria suggested -- but didn't prove -- that he was still feeling the giddy, debilitating effects of GHB.

Without question, Captain Beyersdorf and the other accusers were angry. When one was asked why he waited so long before coming forth, he said flatly, 'I was coping. I decided that I was going to hire someone to beat him up and leave a sign on him stating that he had raped a man. And I knew if I came forward that I'd be a suspect.'

When Sergeant Sanders left Captain Taylor's apartment after a sexual encounter, he was so drunk and debilitated that he called 911 for a ride home, telling the 911 operator, 'I'm just really drunk and I've got -- I'm married and I've got a wife and a kid. I don't know where the hell I'm at either.' In the span of his three-minute call, Sergeant Sanders told the 911 operator 'I just want to go home' nine times. But by the time police showed up, Sergeant Sanders had hitched a ride home with a newspaper delivery van. Four days later Sergeant Sanders admitted himself to a rehab clinic for alcoholism; he had tried reporting the crime on base but says he was told by military investigators, seemingly out of the blue, 'Y'know, cocaine is not a date-rape drug or anything.'

For his part, Captain Taylor was certainly not above suspicion. Cruising his favorite gay bar he introduced himself with a variety of identities, often under the name 'Ma Rouge,' sometimes as an opera singer or an international fashion model or a secret agent. His preferred accents included Belgian, French, Norwegian, Scottish, and Spanish -- never the folksy Appalachian drawl of his rural North Carolina hometown. His voice is soft and studied, with the crisp enunciation of a newscaster. Sometimes his flirting consisted of a simple dirty look, a steadily held gaze. Other times he would approach his targets audaciously, starting a conversation with one by saying 'You've got the most luscious set of bun-buns that I've ever seen' (to which the reply was 'Whatever'). He had sex with many of the men the same night he met them, sometimes without knowing their names. Lots of folks, gay and straight, have one-night stands, of course; but date rapists don't tend to score second dates.

Many of the encounters wove through a bar called Helen Back, a meeting ground for bikers, soldiers, gays, and straight civilians. It has a military night, a ladies' night, and a guys' night (as well as a bald night and a service-industry night). It's a place of sexual liberties, selling T-shirts that boast of going above & beyond the call of booty and sandwiches with names such as French Kiss and Menage ' Trois. As evidenced by the various Washington Redskins jerseys on the walls, before the Taylor court-martial the area was best known as the hometown of Danny Wuerffel, a Heisman Trophy winner who went on to have a short and lackluster NFL career.

In closing arguments the prosecution called Captain Taylor 'the worst kind of wolf in sheep's clothing, because he threatens human trust. He violates their bodies and their minds. Single victims, married men, fathers, heterosexual, homosexual -- it doesn't matter to him.

'And what upsets Captain Taylor more than anything else? It's not sexual assault, because the response to that is 'No worries.' He was a little bit upset about a suggestion that he was actually trying to kill anybody. But what he was the most upset about was if you ever insinuate that he committed oral sex on anybody,' the prosecutor continued. 'I want to be clear that I don't believe rape is a sexual crime. It is about control. It is about the primary sexual organ, the mind.'

Captain Taylor's modus operandi was laid out for the jury: the charming conversationalist who slipped drugs into men's drinks, then milked his hospital stature to play Florence Nightingale, taking them to his home, where, with nobody to protect the victims, he could have his way with them. 'That's what predators do, is lead you into a false sense of comfort,' the prosecution clarified. 'To Sergeant Sanders: 'Sit Back.' To Captain Beyersdorf: 'Relax.' How pitifully condescending from this arrogant rapist. How disgusting when their bodies can't do anything but slip away. No one is sitting back and relaxing anymore. He's been revealed for who he is, and the stories of six men have become one very painful experience. This was not a gay roundup. They were finding a serial rapist, and they found him.'

The jury of 10 officers took seven hours to deliberate before finding Captain Taylor guilty on all counts. The accusers' sex lives are still known only to themselves; as for reasonable doubt, 'don't ask, don't tell' essentially mandates that it is not unreasonable to assume all soldiers are straight. When faced with a charge of 'soldiering while gay,' there's no telling what an officer might do under the gun.

During his interrogation by the sheriff's office at his initial arrest, Captain Taylor was asked, 'Why would these people say these things about you?' The Air Force captain's response: 'Just look at them.' Looking is all the investigators and jury members could do. Because they couldn't ask, and they just couldn't tell.

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