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Senators Ask Aspin for Independent Inquiry Into Naval Deaths

August 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A bipartisan group of senators asked Defense Secretary Les Aspin on Thursday to convene a special inquiry into the deaths of 50 sailors whose families have questioned the military’s findings that they committed suicide.

″The concerns of these constituents simply cannot be dismissed as delusions stemming from ‘denial’ about their sons’ deaths, as some have suggested,″ said Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., in a letter signed by 10 other senators.

″Further, provision should be made for changes in death certificates and all related documents in those cases where the evidence does not conclusively prove a self-inflicted death,″ the letter said.

Lt. Commander Brian Cullin, a Pentagon spokesman, had no immediate response, saying ″We’re not aware of the letter.″

The letter reiterated a request some of the senators made to Aspin in June, after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the families of 14 servicemen whose deaths were ruled suicide or accidentally self-inflicted believe their sons were murdered and want the cases reopened.

The families also told their stories to a House Armed Services subcommittee probing military investigative agencies in the wake of the Navy’s Tailhook sex scandal

Frank Coleman, a D’Amato spokesman, said the initial letter was answered by the Defense Department’s inspector general, who said he would not conduct an investigation while the subcommittee staff was looking into the matter.

Since the report on the 14 families, Coleman said more have come forward with similar allegations.

Some of the families contend their sons died after witnessing drug sales or use by other soldiers and sailors, the Inquirer reported. Others said the deaths came after their sons complained of lax conditions or thefts aboard ships or on bases.

The families accused the military of lying to them, covering up evidence, losing blood samples or other evidence, and failing to interview key witnesses or perform basic forensic tests. They said the military ruled the deaths suicides to try to avoid embarrassing allegations.

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