MAY 22, 1997
After much speculation, the U.S. Air Force has announced it will grant a general discharge to First Lt. Kelly Flinn rather than the honorable discharge she requested. But she will no longer face court martial charges of adultery and disobeying orders. After this background report, Jim Lehrer leads a discussion about the charges and the way the military handled the media attention.
JIM LEHRER: The Flinn decision is our lead story tonight. A short while ago Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall explained her decision. Court martial charges of adultery, disobeying an order, and lying against Lt. Kelly Flinn will be dropped, but she will be discharged from the Air Force with a less than honorable discharge. Here's an excerpt from the Secretary's news conference at the Pentagon in Washington.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 22, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on how the Air Force handled Lt. Flinn's case.
May 14, 1997:
A discussion of the military's laws against adultery.
April 30, 1997:
A discussion of mixed-gender training in the military.
April 29, 1997:
Staff Sgt. Simpson is convicted of raping trainees while at the Army's Arberdeen Proving Ground.
March 6, 1997:
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) discusses the state of the military investigation into the sexual misconduct.
February 4, 1997:
Senators Chuck Robb (D-VA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) discuss whether the military is doing what it can to protect the women who protect our country.
April 4, 1996:
A NewsHour discussion of Women in the Military.
Browse the Online NewsHour's military coverage.
U.S. Air Force Web site on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL, Secretary of the Air Force: In reaching my decision to approve a resignation in lieu of trial and issue a general discharge. I considered all of the facts and circumstances of this case, including the nature of the charge against Lt. Flinn and the circumstances that led to the charges being brought against her. I considered the absolute requirement to maintain good order and discipline in the military and to protect the Air Force core values of integrity and obedience to orders. Finally, I considered carefully a need for a firm, just, and equitable disciplinary system that is administered even-handedly. But thank you very much, and I'd be pleased to answer people's questions.
REPORTER: This case, Kelly Flinn engendered a lot of sympathy from members of Congress who were extremely critical of the Air Force and how they handled the case. What is your reaction to that reaction?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: Well, clearly, I focused on the fundamental underlying values in this case, the values of officership and the importance of integrity to the Air Force and our absolute need to maintain order and discipline. And those were the criteria that I used in reaching my decision.
REPORTER: The guidelines for general discharge, as your honorable conditions state, among other things, if a member of service has been honest and faithful, do you feel that Kelly Flinn's behavior meets that standard, and did you negotiate through intermediaries with Flinn in reaching today's decision?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: You've actually not read the entire characterization of the general discharge. I will say that I believe, considering all the facts in this case, that the general discharge is the most appropriate characterization of this discharge.
REPORTER: --negotiations with Flinn's team, with her attorneys and how you reached this decision--
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: I have not spoken to Lt. Flinn's attorney.
REPORTER: But the Air Force has.
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: Well, I'm--
REPORTER: Madam Secretary, on another matter, what about the education costs incurred by the Air Force to train Lt. Flinn, were there any negotiations involved in that area that--
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: No.
REPORTER: --she won't have to pay back, or will have to pay it back?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: No. There were no negotiations, as far as I know, in discussions in that area, and it is--we will recoup the remainder of what is owed for her Air Force Academy education.
REPORTER: Madam Secretary, we understand that she will not be able to fly unless she's granted a waiver. Under this general discharge--is that not true--she'd have to apply for a waiver?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: That is my understanding, but I would suggest that you take that up with the subject matter efforts. I don't look at it in terms of a victory. I think this has been a very difficult case. It has clearly occupied a good percentage of my time, and I'm--I'm satisfied with--that the resolution we've reached in this case is fair.
REPORTER: --the fact that you very, very quickly decided--a general discharge--bureaucratic procedures here will move very, very fast. Does that indicate that the chain of command originally made a wrong decision here in ordering up a court martial for Lt. Flinn?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: I think, considering all the facts in this case, and the absolute importance of maintaining integrity of the Air Force and our standards of officership, I'm satisfied that we have reached a satisfactory resolution of this case.
REPORTER: Was she treated unfairly because she was a woman?
SEC. SHEILA WIDNALL: No, I absolutely reject that. That is one thing that I think has never really been an issue in this case, and obviously, I have to say from a personal point of view that is extremely important to me, that we hold men and women to the same standards of officership in the Air Force. And clearly, we have done that.
JIM LEHRER: Flinn's lawyer, Frank Spinner, spoke to reporters at the Minot, North Dakota Air Force Base following Sec. Widnall's decision.
FRANK SPINNER: Today, Lt. Flinn displayed--decided to display the courage and leadership she developed during her illustrious, albeit brief, Air Force career. At this critical point of confrontation, which has captured the nation's attention and appeared incapable of resolution, she decided to resign from the Air Force with the prospect of receiving an under honorable conditions or general discharge, while getting the Secretary of the Air Force options which would preserve her ability to fairly decide future administrative and judicial adverse actions. I stand in awe of Lt. Flinn. I stand in awe of her family.