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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t See Much Movement

February 2, 2010

Really quite frustrating.  Before I get to the recap of the day and week, I just want to make one note on the politics and integrity of this issue.

Democrats allow themselves to be cast as weak on security every election cycle.  Sure, Hillary Clinton runs as a hawkish democrat who refuses to set a deadline for withdrawl, but no matter what, we’re all cast as weak on defense simply because we’re not in the NRA and think that maybe we should engage in talks before we engage in bombing (an oversimplification, but not by that much).  Here, once again, we’re casting ourselves as weak on military issues.  This may not be as significant as starting a war, but President Obama is also the Commander in Chief.  So he should command.  And everyone else in the armed forces should follow that lead, just like they promised.  Why are we looking for approval on a policy change that most people agree with?

Do we think some republicans will use this to their advantage come November?  Sure, if swift, just action were taken now and DADT were repealed, some candidates might face the issue in their reelections.  But frankly, punting it a year down the road just means that instead of the campaign attacks asking why did you support this “radical liberal agenda,”  it will be a legitimate issue of future legislative action.  It will be a campaign promise of (and for) the homophobes rather than a settled piece of policy that is just one more vote that has come and gone.

Barring any truly momentous events,  the 2010 election will be about jobs and the economy.  If President Obama were to announce today that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would not be enforced until Congress passed its repeal, soldiers would not stand up and leave the armed forces (and anyone who thinks they’re loyalty is that superficial, please stand up).  Further, there won’t be some mad rush of men and women in the armed forces coming out and putting on their rainbow camo.  They’d continue to do their jobs, and they wouldn’t have to hide.  They could openly talk about what most of their colleagues probably know.  The partners and husbands and wives of those soldiers could finally speak out about what they go through on a day to day basis and get the support that straight husbands and wives receive.  This doesn’t require a lot of political capital–especially if done through the Defense budget.  What it does require is an little bit of courage.

Now, an update for those who haven’t been following closely.

  • Today the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing, featuring Secretary of Defense Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen.  Mullen’s opening remarks that he personally supports the repeal are below.

    “We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals, and ours as institutions

  • Based on the previous remarks of Sen. McCain, he should be open to voting for the repeal.
  • Carl Levin gets a bit weak-kneed, thinking maybe a pause is better than repeal.
  • The Pentagon is starting a year long commission, headed by  Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham to look at how to “safely incorporate” openly gay soldiers into the armed forces.  There is also a 45-day review to look at ways to reduce discharges (citing third-party outings as a situation that could be reduced).  More from the AP here.
  • Republicans are turning on Secretary Gates (that’s right, the Bush appointee), calling him an activist Secretary of Defense?

    Republicans on the panel accused Mr. Gates of usurping Congressional prerogatives by suggesting that the Pentagon commission would study how, not whether, to implement a repeal of the ban.

    “Your statement obviously is one which is clearly biased, without the view of Congress being taken into consideration,” said Sen. McCain, accusing the defense chief of trying to repeal the law “by fiat.”

More to come, but I’ll leave you with a few statements:

Statement from the Service Members Defense League.

We strongly applaud Sec. Gates supporting the President’s view that DADT needs to go. It’s a matter of when and how, he said, not if. We also strongly applaud Chairman Mullen who unambiguously personally supported gays and lesbians serving openly. The top military brass of the United States just laid out a roadmap for full repeal.

The statement of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Contact: Bethany Lesser (202) 224-3873

GILLIBRAND STATEMENT FOR SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HEARING ON “DON’T ASK DON’T TELL”

First Congressional Hearing Since Discriminatory Policy Was Established 17 Years Ago

Gillibrand Helping Lead  the Charge in the Senate to Immediately Repeal the Policy

Washington, D.C. – Today, as the Senate Armed Service Committee holds the first hearing on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy since it was first established 17 years ago, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand issued the following statement. Senator Gillibrand is helping lead  the charge in the Senate to repeal the unjust, harmful policy that undercuts the civil rights of some of America’s bravest men and women, and weakens America’s national security.

Chairman Levin, Senator McCain, distinguished Members of the Committee; I appreciate your leadership in hosting this important hearing today.
James Madison once said, “Equal laws protecting equal rights… the best guarantee of loyalty & love of country.”

Lesbian and Gay servicemen and women have been serving in our armed forces bravely while being denied the full equality they deserve. Since 1993, more than 13,500 American troops have been discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), at an estimated cost of over $400 million. Those discharges include more than 800 specialists with skills deemed mission critical by the U.S. military, including at least 323 linguists, approximately 10% of foreign language speakers, 59 of which specialized in Arabic, and at least nine of which specialized in Farsi, the official language of Iran. Among these specialists were pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and combat medics, all of which the military has faced shortfalls of in recent years.

These brave Americans were not discharged because of poor performance, but rather because of their sexual orientation.

According to a recent study by the Williams Institute, an estimated 66,000 lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are serving in the US military. According to data provided by the Department of Defense, discharges under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps declined to 428 in 2009 from 619 the previous year. This represents a 65% drop since 2001, the highest number on record.

In a time of war, discharges have decreased, even as anecdotal evidence strongly suggests larger numbers of lesbian and gay service members are serving openly. Despite the current law, individual commanders are deciding to retain otherwise qualified personnel.

Why is this the case? Because the Armed Forces is experiencing shortfalls in several types of mission-critical personnel, especially in the midst of fighting ongoing wars, and is losing additional trained and highly qualified personnel under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It has been estimated that the U.S. military loses more than 4,000 gay and lesbian military personnel each year, which it would have otherwise retained, had the service members been able to be open about their sexual orientation, and that more than 40,000 recruits might join if the ban is lifted.  Commanders on the ground believe what many of us strongly believe-it’s time to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

In a January 2007 Op-Ed article published in The New York Times, General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was enacted, stated that his opinion was that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed. He argued that due to the U.S. military being stretched thin by its current deployments in the Middle East, the Armed Forces need to accept every American who is willing and able to serve. Last week I was proud to share another statement from General Shalikashvili, 1 of only 17 people in the country’s history to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling for an end to this failed policy.  In his statement he said:

“When I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my support of the current policy was based on my belief that implementing a change in the rules would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders at the time.

“The concern among many at that time, was that letting people who were openly gay serve would lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was seen as a useful measure that allowed time to pass while our culture continued to evolve. The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration. I believe that it has.”

Twenty-five foreign militaries now let gays serve openly, including our closest ally, Britain.  I sit on the Foreign Relations Committee and I am acutely aware that most of our allies – Israel, Britain, France, 22 of 26 NATO nations in all – allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly and I believe the American military should follow suit. At a time when our nation is fighting two wars, and with increased national security threats, we can ill afford this loss of personnel and talent in our national defense. Our military is the best in the world. Once gay and lesbian service members are allowed to serve openly, our military will still be the best in the world.

As we look at the path that has brought us to this hearing today, regarding how best to repeal the Don’t ask, Don’t Tell policy, I am reminded of several leaders in the fight to allow openly gay service members into the Armed Forces.

One is then West Point Cadet, Lt. Alexander Raggio. In his 2006 award winning thesis he stated:

“The military should abandon the false acceptance of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allow the open service of homosexuals immediately.”

And he added, “Current policy cannot be rationally explained except as a reflection of the personal prejudices of those who create and enforce it and, rationalized by faulty logic and double standards.”

These steps towards equality are our duty.  I strongly believe that equality is an inalienable American right – and should not be ascribed based on gender or race, religion or sexual orientation or gender identity. America must lead by example when it comes to equality and justice.  Freedom from discrimination is a basic right that all Americans should enjoy. Lifting the ban on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not only necessary for realizing equality, but it’s necessary for ensuring that our armed forces remain the best in the world.

Pepe Johnson, a former Sergeant, U.S. Army sums up the moral imperative on why we have to change this policy. Every day this policy remains we ask these soldiers to lie about who they are, Pepe said  “Honesty and integrity are everything in the army.  I felt if I was lying, I didn’t have it.  I wasn’t serving with integrity. I felt trapped. Lying is not the way of the Army — I felt I was violating regulation.

“During the three years I served I only wanted to be all I could be – to borrow the old recruiting slogan – but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forced me to be something other than what I was. And that’s not consistent with the Army’s Values: ‘Leaders are honest to others by not presenting themselves or their actions as anything other than what they are, remaining committed to the truth.’ (FM 6-22, Army Leadership) As long as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell exists, there is a hole in the integrity of the entire military.”

We must recognize that human dignity and respect are part and parcel of who we were as Americans – male or female, African American or Caucasian, Gay or Straight, Bisexual or Transgender.

We must ensure that our armed forces are fully prepared with the best resources we can muster.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a threat to our men and women in uniform and our national security. We cannot afford to handicap our efforts because of ignorance or hatred.

This policy is wrong for our national security and inconsistent with the moral foundation upon which our country was founded. It is critically important for this Congress to take up President Obama’s call to permanently end the ban on LGBT Americans serving in our armed services. We will strengthen America – both militarily and morally — by repealing this discriminatory policy.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. kip permalink
    February 2, 2010 9:57 pm

    DADT needs to be repealed, but why do you take the President to task at the top of you post for being “weak”? As you noted, this is the first hearing on this subject in 17 years!

    • nseaver permalink
      February 3, 2010 1:01 am

      Point well taken that he’s done far more than any other President since ’93. Granted, Clinton was pretty boxed in since it was his own policy, and Bush was Bush.

      My point isn’t so much to take him to task for not acting on a policy (though the very “safe” action is part of it)–he’s made his position clear and he’s right on the goal. My point is that showing a little bit more leadership here would show a) real military leadership and b) real political leadership. I don’t think either is a risk to him or the larger democratic party. He’s deferring to the lowest common denominator in the military (the people that Elaine Donnelly thinks she speaks for)–not the proud, brave traditions of our men and women in uniform.

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