Is There Nothing Sacred?
By Paul M. Rodriguez
(c) Insight Magazine, 1997
|Burial plots in
the national war cemeteries, including Arlington, allegedly have been 'bought'
by fat-cat donors to Clinton's reelection committee and the DNC who aren't
ressure from political bigwigs at the White House and within the Democratic Party apparently helped gain coveted waivers from top brass at the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs for dozens of big-time political donors or friends of the Clintons -- civilians who wanted themselves or family members buried in America's most precious grounds, the national war cemeteries including Arlington National, Insight has learned. . . . . Such waivers for unqualified people wishing to be interred at U.S. national cemeteries were approved by Clinton officials, including Secretary of the Army Togo West, who now wants to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA. Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of the nation's greatest military heroes, is controlled by the Army, while 114 other national cemeteries located in 38 states are operated by the National Cemetery System, or NCS, under the authority of the VA. . . . . Burial in the national cemeteries is open to members of the armed forces and veterans discharged under honorable or higher conditions. Their spouses, unremarried widows or widowers, minor children and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children also are eligible for such burial. Also eligible are members of reserve components and the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, public health service officers, World War II merchant marines and certain "others" designated by the secretaries of the Army, VA or Air Force. . . . . An Insight investigation of "waivers" needed for an otherwise ineligible person to be buried at any of these cemeteries, especially Arlington National, reveals that even eligible individuals often have a difficult time being placed. For example, a U.S. Marine with three Bronze Stars including a "V" denoting combat action could not be buried at Arlington because of new rules requiring a minimum of a Silver Star or a Purple Heart. "It's very tough to get buried at Arlington, even for those who seemingly qualify or qualified without a doubt in earlier years," says an official at the cemetery. "We are overcrowded and therefore we are forced to select only the most decorated or the most service-qualified." . . . . But a review of confidential waiver lists held by Department of Defense, or DoD, sources suggests that far more than Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers and presidential kaffeeklatsches were exchanged for large donations to the Clinton-Gore campaign or DNC. In fact, Clinton & Co. may have "sold" not only burial plots for recently deceased but also future rights to those hallowed grounds without regard for the deceased's status as a veteran. . . . . "The numbers right now are small [estimated to be about a dozen or 20], but what price can you place on such ground?" asks one of several senior military, legal and VA officials familiar with this brewing scandal. "Look at the roll call of the men and women who lay buried at these cemeteries. This does more than cheapen their sacrifice -- it cheapens the honor of what it means to be granted rights to such hallowed ground," says a high-level source speaking on condition of anonymity. . . . . "If nothing else, this is corruption of the worst kind and it ought to be prosecuted because it is against the law to sell 'public lands' in any fashion," says the same source. "It is an outrage if even one plot was 'waived' for political money." . . . . A DoD source who works with the Army says the "sale" of burial plots came to light amid nervousness of senior Clinton administration officials about the ongoing fund-raising scandals. "They didn't want this information coming out," the official said. "There are not many [political waivers] with respect to Arlington [of the percentage of total requests], but there are a few and some of them clearly do not qualify." . . . . Waiver requests, which the Army says number in the thousands and come from high-ranking officials in both political parties, are granted only after careful consideration of an individual's background and service to the country. Apparently the White House has cleared at least half a dozen and West about a dozen or so, according to documents held by Arlington National Cemetery officials. Lists at other national cemeteries suggest similar incidents, say sources. In some cases, West overruled cemetery administrators for what some believe were political considerations. Repeated calls to West and Army spokesmen able to discuss the issue were ignored. . . . . "The requirements are very difficult, and most requests are denied," says an Arlington source. Beyond the fact that most veterans can't even qualify, the requirements for nonveterans is substantially higher, according to other cemetery sources. "You're talking about an elder statesman or somebody of tremendous personal stature -- for example, a senior ambassador or a speaker of the House or a first lady." . . . . "It doesn't happen often that requests for waivers of completely unqualified people are granted," says one former political/military officer. "You'd have to be a real jerk to try and get somebody in who has no veteran status and doesn't fit the exceptions rule concerning status," this source says. When asked what criteria might be cited to explain why some or all of the waivers were requested and approved, one military source said: "Some gave money to Clinton" -- in a few cases, tens of thousands of dollars. . . . . A well-placed DNC official confirms that military brass quietly have been making inquiries to determine whether recent burials -- or those approved for future burials -- may have received waivers as a result of political pressure by the White House or by West. Sources tell Insight that answers have angered career military personnel and, in turn, their politically appointed civilian superiors are in full panic. "We've had some people crawling around here lately asking us to put together our lists," a source at Arlington says, identifying the visitors initially as "low-levels" working for West -- then identifying them as "very senior DoD people" after press inquiries began. . . . . Attempts to reach Defense Secretary William Cohen and the White House were unsuccessful. All these offices and others, including offices of national cemetery directors, failed to honor repeated requests for official comments. . . . . Insight's queries were prompted by military families who had heard rumors of alleged sales of burial plots. The Army Times reported in mid-June that West had granted an unusual number of waivers since 1993, whereupon the Army secretary denied his motives were political. Following further investigation by this magazine, a hush-hush review began at the highest levels of the Army. This led to "field orders" asking for the names of any reporter or news organization seeking access to the waiver lists. "I was to inform [Togo West's office] immediately if any of [the press] asked for a copy of these lists," says one of the cemetery officials who refused to comply with what they believe is a political coverup. . . . . "It is a huge honor to be buried at one of our sites," says a national cemetery official -- especially to be buried at Arlington. "It is also a huge dishonor to bury anyone there who has not rightly earned it. It'd be a big scandal if the country were to learn that this hallowed ground was being sold for political contributions." . . . . This source and Arlington National sources talked to Insight because, they say, they are outraged that the Clinton White House has applied pressure to gain waivers for fat-cat political donors. "This has been going on for years," one of the sources says. But while past administrations have done it, they granted waivers only to civilians who had served in the military and were pillars in private sector. This could not be confirmed immediately but is generally believed, military sources say. Under West and Clinton, the number of such waivers has quadrupled to approximately 60 to 75 in the last four to five years. . . . . "It's a disgrace what's happened lately," says one of the military sources. "And now with all these [Clinton fund-raising] investigations going on, they're trying to keep it out of the press." . . . . A review of some names on the waiver lists does, in fact, show that some individuals approved for burial at the national cemeteries -- including Arlington National -- gave large sums of money to the Clinton-Gore campaign and to the DNC. But based on an ongoing review of these lists, the number of political moneybags remains small compared with the full roster of names. "That doesn't make any difference," says an Army official familiar with the issue. "If there's even one person on there only because he gave Clinton money, that's one person too many. It's disgraceful."A disgruntled national cemetery official adds, "Congress ought to look into this." Another source says, "There are names that clearly don't belong.... These plots are sacred. They belong to the men and women who died or risked their lives bravely for their country. They don't belong to the politicians." . . . . "If [former Rep. Dan] Rostenkowski can go to jail over the selling of a few office chairs, then somebody over at the White House and Pentagon ought to be convicted for selling America's most sacred public property," says a high-ranking administration official briefed on the situation. Indeed.