Court refuses to suspend lawsuit challenging DADT

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has denied the government’s request to suspend a lawsuit challenging the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued an order Friday, Jan. 28 requiring the Department of Justice to file papers by Feb. 25 arguing why the court should overturn a Southern California trial judge who declared the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional.

Government lawyers asked the 9th Circuit earlier this month to set aside the case because the Pentagon was moving quickly to satisfy the steps Congress outlined last month when it voted to allow the ban’s repeal. A Justice Department spokeswoman said it had no comment Saturday.

The appeals court did not explain in its order why it rejected the request. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he expected to finalize the repeal and allow openly gay Americans to join the armed forces before the end of the year.

On Friday, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the training of officers and troops the Pentagon has said is a predicate to full repeal would begin in February.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay political group whose lawsuit challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell” persuaded District Court Judge Virginia Phillips in September to enjoin the military from enforcing the policy, had opposed the government’s effort to put the case on hold.

R. Clarke Cooper, the group’s president, said Saturday that while he thinks the Pentagon’s efforts are sincere, the case should proceed as long as gay servicemembers still can be discharged.

“We said all along to the government we would drop our case if they would cease all discharges and remove all barriers to open service,” Cooper said.

Cooper, an Army reserve officer, said he knew of at least one service member facing a discharge hearing next month, even as the Pentagon moves forward with its training plan.

“We are not questioning the implementation process. We recognize the need for a deliberative process for implementing proper training materials and guidances for leadership,” he said. “But when you have a servicemember going before a discharge panel, this is kind of a ‘left hand-right hand’ thing that is happening.”

—  John Wright

Obama: ‘This is a very good day’

President signs bill to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Click here to watch video of Obama’s speech
Click here for more reactions
Related story: Military will write rules on repeal of ban

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

Following a dramatic and eloquent speech, President Barack Obama on Wednesday morning, Dec. 22 signed the legislation that will launch the repeal of a 17-year-old law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.

“This is done,” he said, looking up and slapping his hand on the table, and the crowded auditorium of an Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., erupted with cheers and applause.

The historic ceremony took place less than 24 hours after Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took an 11th-hour action of trying to make implementation of repeal much more difficult and time-consuming.

According to a report on Politico.com, McConnell tried to introduce an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would have required that implementation of DADT repeal not take place until after the four service chiefs certify that it could be done without negative consequences for military readiness. The DADT repeal legislation that passed last week requires certification only by the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to Politico, McConnell attempted to add the amendment by unanimous consent, but Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a champion of the repeal measure, objected. Lieberman’s objection effectively blocked the amendment from being considered.

The president was greeted with a roar of cheers and applause after he was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden at 9:13 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday. As the president greeted many special guests on stage with him, the crowded began to chant, “Yes, we can,” a prominent slogan of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. When the president reached the podium, he smiled and called back, “Yes, we did.”

“I am just overwhelmed,” said President Obama, beginning his prepared remarks. “This is a very good day, and I want to thank all of you, especially the people on this stage.”

He then told a story about a soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Belgian mountains against the Germans in World War II. The soldier, Andy Lee, who put his own life in peril in order to scale a ravine and rescue a fellow soldier, Lloyd Corwin. Forty years later, Lee let Corwin know he was gay.

“He had no idea,” said President Obama of Corwin, “and didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what kept him alive.”

Obama also told the story of a young female servicemember who gave him a hug on a receiving line in Afghanistan several weeks ago, when the president made a visit to the troops. The woman whispered in his ear, “’Get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ done,’” said the president. “And I said to her, ‘I promise you I will.’”

With the signing of the bill today, President Obama has also fulfilled a long-standing promise to the LGBT community overall, a feat that is prompting widespread praise, even from gay Republicans.

“He made this a priority,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans group, who a front row seat during Wednesday’s ceremony. “He was sincere and correct about making this a priority.”

As Obama shook hands with guests on the front row, Cooper said he told the president, “You said get me those [Republican] votes and I got more than you needed.”

In a critical procedural vote to force the repeal measure to the floor in the Senate on Saturday, six Republicans joined Democrats and Independents to provide more than the 60 votes necessary to break the Republican-led filibuster.

Cooper said the ceremony was a “very emotional” one in the auditorium and that “there were definitely many tears of joy” in his eyes and in the eyes of other former servicemembers discharged under the DADT policy during the past 17 years.

The president acknowledged the tenacious work of numerous individuals during Wednesday’s ceremony, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patrick Murphy.

NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker, speaking on MSNBC shortly before the ceremony, said it was House Majority Whip Hoyer whose idea it was to take DADT repeal language out of the annual defense authorization bill — which was being filibustered by McConnell, Sen.  John McCain, R-Ariz., and most Republicans — and put it into a special standalone bill in the House last week.

The House passed that bill on Dec. 15 on a 250-175 vote and sent it immediately to the Senate, which approved it Dec. 18 on a 65 to 31 vote.

The president also singled out Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in the front of the auditorium, for having “kept up the fight” in the House.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Tuesday night, Frank characterized the congressional vote to repeal DADT as being “comparable to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

“It is an enormous move forward,” said Frank. Frank said he was moved by a special ceremony held on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Whip Hoyer to sign the enrollment document for the bill to be sent to the president. The hundreds of people in attendance saying “God Bless America.”

“It was a very moving moment,” said Frank.

Also on stage for Wednesday’s ceremony was Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, an openly gay Marine from San Antonio who was the first servicemember wounded in the Iraq War.

The president used 15 pens to sign the legislation into law. It was not immediately known to whom those pens will be given.

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

Joe Lieberman blocks Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to kill DADT repeal

On the eve of Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Republicans in the Senate reportedly made a last-ditch effort to undercut the measure. Once again, though, it was Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman to the rescue, as he objected to — and blocked — a “poison pill” amendment proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Politico reports:

A last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complicate the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was blocked Tuesday night after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected, Senate aides said.

McConnell attempted to add an amendment to the so-called stripped-down defense authorization bill that would have required the consent of the military service chiefs to proceed with “don’t ask” repeal. Under legislation passed by the Senate last week, certifications are required from the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. All the incumbents in those positions support repeal.

“It was a McConnell proposal,” a GOP aide confirmed. “There was an attempted to get unanimous consent for it to be included in the defense bill and someone objected.”

—  John Wright

Senate vote on DADT repeal just hours away

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” sometime after 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, or 9:30 a.m. Dallas time, on Saturday. With at least four Republicans on board, supporters say they have the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to a final vote, which could come as early as late afternoon. From the Associated Press:

The Senate was headed toward a landmark vote Saturday on legislation that would let gays serve openly in the military, testing waning opposition among Republicans and putting Democrats within striking distance of overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Passage would be a historic victory for President Barack Obama, who made repeal of the 17-year-old law a campaign promise in 2008. It also would be a political win for congressional Democrats who have struggled repeatedly in the final hours of the lame-duck session to overcome Republican objections. …

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in U.S. history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers — the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — are required to certify to Congress that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, 60 days must pass before any changes go into effect.

You can watch the historic proceedings live on the CSPAN website. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

After Senate hearing, DADT repeal still up in air

Service chiefs all say they can implement end to ban on gays

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The second and final day of the Senate hearing on repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” has adjourned, and the battle lines are still very much where they were at the beginning, with one exception.

Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown said he’ll vote for repeal, once it reaches the floor. But Brown didn’t say whether he’d be willing to rebuff Republican Party leaders to help bring the measure to the floor.

And there’s the rub. Unless 60 votes can be mustered to call the Defense Authorization bill to the Senate floor, Brown’s statement of support for repeal is of minimal consequence.

Thursday and Friday’s hearing made clear that the military leadership concedes — if not agrees — that the current ban on gays in the military should be repealed. The service chiefs of all four branches of the armed forces, plus the Coast Guard, believe repeal can be implemented without sacrificing readiness and unit cohesion. They believe the Pentagon report released Nov. 30 provides a solid plan for implementation.

But not everyone agrees on timing, and discussion during the hearings went a long way to muddle exactly which timing everyone doesn’t agree on: Timing for implementation, timing for full implementation, and timing for a Congressional vote on repeal.

This much is clear concerning implementation: Army General George Casey said “not now,” Air Force General Norton Schwartz said “not until 2012,” and Marine General James Amos said it should begin “when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat.”

“At that point,” said Amos, “then I’d be comfortable with implementing repeal.”

Other military leaders are comfortable beginning the process now. That includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Joint Chief Vice Chairman General James Cartwright, Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, and Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp. It includes at least 56 senators, 234 members of the House, and 50 to 70 percent of Americans (depending on which recent poll you look at). And, according to the Pentagon study, at least 70 percent of servicemembers say repeal would have a “positive, mixed, or no effect” on task cohesion.

The sticking point for senators is the timing of the Senate’s vote on whether to repeal. Republicans, led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, are steadfastly against allowing a vote and have vowed to prevent the underlying Defense Authorization bill to the floor. They say it’s because the nation has more urgent matters — taxes, job creation — with which the Senae should concern itself with in the waning days of the 111th Congress. Others say it’s because they want to stall issues they oppose – such as DADT repeal — from reaching the floor until next year, when they take control of the House and have a stronger posture in the Senate.

Most military leaders expressed concern during the hearings that Congress should take a vote now and they expressed enormous and unanimous confidence that Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen would not sign the necessary papers for repeal implementation to begin until they were certain the service chiefs agreed the military’s readiness would not suffer. Their urgency was driven by concern that lawsuits are making their way through the federal court system now that have the potential to force the military to accept openly gay people immediately. Such a sudden demand, they said, would be seriously detrimental to military readiness.

The focus now shifts back to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and whether they will be able to come to an agreement that will allow the defense authorization bill to the floor. Prior to Dec. 1, such an agreement seemed to pivot on whether Reid would allow Republicans to proffer numerous amendments to the bill, including one to strip DADT repeal from the measure. But on Dec.. 1, McConnell and all 41 other Republicans in the Senate signed onto a letter to Reid, saying they would not vote to proceed on consideration of “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase. …”

Rep. Barney Frank says the annual defense authorization bill is not one of those bills that fund the government and that the letter is aimed at killing DADT repeal.

Other Democrats and the White House have tried to downplay the significance of the letter, saying it was nothing new and they weren’t going to get hung up on it.

But supporters of repeal have taken the letter seriously.

“If the 42 GOP senators — including several who support repeal of ‘don’t ask’ — stand with their party on process and procedure, their vote will be an endorsement of the discrimination that has cost 14,000 men and women their jobs and put our country’s national security at risk,” said Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“A clear majority of the service chiefs support repeal this year,” said Sarvis. “Now, it’s up to the Senate. The National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the repeal provisions, must be called up in the Senate early next week under a reasonable approach that insures senators on both sides of the aisle a fair shot at amendments and debate. No debate on the merits of the bill will happen unless a handful of Republicans break off and support funding our troops.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

Military leaders stand firm during 1st day of Senate hearings on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

The Pentagon’s top four leaders stood their ground Thursday, Dec. 2 during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s report concerning “don’t ask don’t tell.” But there was considerable pushback from Republicans on the committee — and not just John McCain.

A lot of important ground was covered — both technically, concerning certification and benefits, and personally, with top military officials making clear that they believe repeal is the right thing to do and that now is the right time to do it.

Important, too, were questions by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — Republicans who, until recently, were considered potential votes to at least allow the Senate to debate the repeal measure.

Collins spent her time for questions laying out arguments to rebut criticisms made of the Pentagon’s report by McCain and others; and Graham seemed to have backed off his complaint last week that the study failed to investigate “whether” DADT should be repealed.

What is the question?

One of the chief criticisms hurled at the report by McCain and several other Republicans was that the Pentagon did not ask a direct question of the 400,000 troops surveyed to determine whether they would like Congress to repeal DADT. Collins noted that the Pentagon does not ask troops whether they want to go to Iraq either and that, while troops were not asked about DADT repeal directly, their thinking was certainly conveyed by their responses to less direct questions.

The insistence, by McCain and others, that troops should have been polled on whether to keep DADT elicited the strongest rebuke from the military leaders themselves. Both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen repeatedly rejected the idea as “dangerous.”

Gates said that conducting a “referendum” on a matter of military policy “is a very dangerous path.” Mullen agreed, saying it would be an “incredibly bad precedent to essentially vote on a policy.”

McCain persisted, saying it was “not voting” on a policy, it was “asking their views.” He was not alone. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said he, too, felt the Pentagon should have asked a direct question.

Both McCain and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., seemed to flirt with the use of some inflammatory tactics during the hearing. McCain twice raised the issue of who was responsible for the current public release of classified documents by a website called Wikileaks — an act that is considered to be one of the most damaging breaches in intelligence confidentiality in American history. It has been widely reported that the 22-year-old Army private first-class who has been arrested for enabling the leaks, Bradley Manning, has identified himself as gay.

Chambliss noted that Admiral Mullen, in his opening statement both Thursday and at a previous hearing in February, indicated he had served alongside gay people and had gay people under his command. Chambliss asked questions to suggest that Mullen had failed to seek the discharge of these gay servicemembers as required by existing military policy at the time. (Mullen, however, noted that military law and policy has changed during the course of his career in the service and that, in fact, “every single one” of the gays he knew of were discharged. “I did this, and I saw this,” said Mullen.)

What is the difference?

There was considerable discussion of how the repeal of DADT might mirror the changes that took place in the late 1940s and 1950s after then President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order requiring integration and again in the 1960s when Congress repealed a two-percent cap on the number of women who could serve.

“Social changes in the military have not been particularly easy,” said Gates. He said that “serious racial problems” plagued the military “at least through” the Vietnam War years and that women in the military still face the very real problem with sexual assaults.

McCain pointed out that, in 1993, General Colin Powell had opposed gays in the military and rebuffed attempts to compare discrimination based on race and that based on sexual orientation.

Jeh Johnson, the co-chair of the Pentagon study group, said he would agree that “issues of race and sexual orientation are fundamentally different.” But he said that, in his study of integration issues for the DADT report, he found that some of the nation’s greatest heroes in World War II “predicted negative consequences for unit cohesion if there was racial integration” of the troops.

Johnson, who is African-American, also noted that surveys of 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the 1940s found that opposition to racial integration ran as high as 80 percent — and that was at a time when there were only about 700,000 black soldiers in a force of 8 million troops. It was also a time, said Johnson, when integration was not accepted by society at large.

“But we did it. It took some time. It was not without incident,” said Johnson, “but we did it and, I think the chairman said, the military was stronger as a result.”

In fact, Johnson said the opposition to racial integration then was “much more intense than the opposition to gays serving openly today in the military.”

What are the bottom lines?

Thursday’s hearing came across as a vigorous debate between Republicans on the Committee, most of whom seem to oppose repeal, and Democrats and the Defense Department’s top brass, who appear to support it. But it took place against the backdrop of a political gaming of the Senate’s parliamentary procedures. All 42 Republicans in the Senate signed onto a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday saying they would not agree to vote on “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase.” Although the language of “fund the government” might provide some wiggle room for the defense authorization bill (because it authorizes the expenditure of funds for the government), the letter is being widely characterized as an obstacle to consideration of DADT repeal, which is contained inside the defense authorization bill.

Maine Republican Collins’ questions Thursday suggest she is still for repealing DADT — a position she took in the Committee’s original vote on the defense authorization bill in September. Unless she and a few other Republicans provide Democrats with the votes they need to reach 60 — to allow the defense authorization bill to the floor— Thursday’s debate and debate that will take place during Day Two of the hearing, Friday, are moot.

Collins has been ridiculed by a number of pundits in recent days for saying she didn’t know how to vote on another contentious piece of legislation — the START treaty — and that she would appreciate getting some direction from two former Republican presidents — the two Bushes. Such negative publicity may have inspired Collins to ask the pro-repeal oriented questions she asked at Thursday’s hearings.

The hope of convincing some Republicans to wiggle themselves around the Republican drop dead letter could well have been behind Secretary Gates’ repeated assurances Thursday that he would not sign the necessary document to “certify” the troops are ready to implement repeal until “everything has been done” to ensure the troops are ready and that the chiefs of each of the service branches “are comfortable” that any risks to combat readiness had been “mitigated if not eliminated.”

Neither Gates nor Mullen suggested how long it might take to certify such readiness after Congress votes to repeal the law. But both also sought to impress upon the Committee another issue with regard to timing: The courts.

“Whatever risk there may be to repeal of this law, it is greatly mitigated by the thorough implementation plan included in this study, the time to carry out that plan, and effective, inspirational leadership,” said Mullen in his opening statement.

“Now, let me tell you what I believe,” continued Mullen. “I believe our troops and their families are ready for this. Most of them believe they serve, or have served, alongside gays and lesbians, and knowing matters a lot….

“I believe now is the time to act. I worry that unpredictable actions in the court could strike down the law at any time, precluding the orderly implementation plan we believe is necessary to mitigate risk,” said Mullen. “I also have no expectation that challenges to our national security are going to diminish in the near future, such that a more convenient time will appear.”

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

Pentagon study on repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to be released at 1 p.m. Dallas time

Sen. John Cornyn

A Pentagon study on the impacts of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” will be released at 1 p.m. today Dallas time, according to a press advisory from the Department of Defense:

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen will conduct a press briefing at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 30, in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973) to discuss the public release of the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) report.

They will be followed by Gen. Carter F. Ham and Jeh Johnson, co-chairs of the CRWG.

The Associated Press has a story up about the findings of the study and what they mean for the repeal effort:

The Pentagon study that argues that gay troops could serve openly without hurting the military’s ability to fight is expected to re-ignite debate this month on Capitol Hill over repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Officials familiar with the 10-month study’s results have said a clear majority of respondents don’t care if gays serve openly, with 70 percent predicting that lifting the ban would have positive, mixed or no results. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings hadn’t been released.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who have both said they support repealing the law, were scheduled to discuss the findings with Congress Tuesday morning and with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have mostly opposed repealing the law because they say efforts to do so are politically driven and dangerous at a time of two wars.

Needless to say, neither of Texas two Republican senators are on the list of “key Senators that need to hear from repeal supporters” put out by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We’ve made inquiries to both Texas senators’ offices about whether the Pentagon study results affect their position on DADT. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who likes to accept awards from LGBT groups in his spare time, is among many GOP senators who’ve said they didn’t want to act on DADT repeal until the study is released:

“Sen. Cornyn believes that readiness must remain the highest priority of our military,” Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said in June. “Right now, the Pentagon is studying how repealing DADT would affect military readiness, and this careful review is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Sen. Cornyn believes Congress should not to act on a possible repeal until that review has been completed.”

—  John Wright

Pentagon study, Senate hearings on DADT coming this week

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service

The Pentagon’s study on how to best implement the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be released Tuesday, Nov. 30, and the Senate Armed Services Committee announced this week it will hold two days of hearings on that report beginning on Thursday, Dec. 2.

The back-to-back hearings will include an all-star line-up of the military’s highest-ranking officials to discuss the report’s findings. Day One will lead off with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and the two co-chairmen of the study group —Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham.

Day Two — Friday, Dec. 3 — will showcase four generals and one admiral who head up each of the five branches of the military. Both days are almost certain to provoke tough questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has taken a lead in opposing repeal of DADT.
The hearings begin at 9 a.m. each day.

Secretary Gates told reporters Sunday, Nov. 21 that he will release the Pentagon’s study on DADT one day early, adding that, “if this law is going to change, it’s better that it be changed by legislation than it simply be struck down …by the courts with the potential for us having to implement it immediately.”

Meanwhile, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs told mentioned DADT repeal Monday while ticking off a list of what President Barack Obama hopes to accomplish in the lame-duck session — behind taxes, unemployment compensation, and the new START treaty.

“Everything is on schedule and my current intention is to release the report to Congress and to the public on Nov. 30th,” said Gates.

Just last Friday, Nov. 18, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the report would not be sent to Congress or made public before Dec. 1 — “not before Dec. 1 to anyone.”

Gibbs said Monday the president has not seen the report and dodged a question about whether the president had persuaded DOD to release the report early. But, clearly, something has persuaded the Defense department to budge a little on its hardened deadline. And the latest comments from Gates, in response to questions during a press availability in Bolivia, suggest the Pentagon is preparing for some “change” in the law which currently bans openly gay people from serving in the military. It also indicates that Gates believes a federal court might well strike down DADT if Congress fails to repeal it during the lame-duck session.

In response to a follow-up question about what chances he thinks repeal would have if the vote is carried over into the next session of Congress, Gates did not offer an assessment but expressed “concern” that decisions by federal courts in lawsuits challenging DADT had forced the military to carry out “four different policies” concerning gays in the military “in the space of two weeks … including, at one point, a directive immediately to suspend the law.”

“Having to implement this immediately and without preparation and without taking the steps to mitigate whatever risks there are,” said Gates, “I think, is the worst of all possible outcomes …”

“All I know is,” he added, “if this law is going to change, it’s better that it be changed by legislation than simply be struck down — rather than have it struck down by the courts with the potential for us having to implement it immediately.”

The vote on DADT repeal is not likely to be carried over into the next session of Congress. After prodding from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to try to bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor in the lame-duck session with the DADT repeal amendment attached.

Interestingly, Howard Dean, the founder of the progressive Democracy for America political action committee, told MSNBC “there’s no reason for Congress not to” repeal DADT, but that President Obama “has an ace in the hole,” if it doesn’t.

“He can withdraw his appeal” in the lawsuits challenging DADT in federal court. Prime among those lawsuits is Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., which will be argued before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February. A federal district court judge ruled in July that DADT unconstitutional but the Obama Department of Justice has appealed the decision.

“If he can’t do it through Congress, he should do it through the judicial process,” said Dean. “This is a critical issue. For people under 35, the president’s base, they elected the president, believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. You’ve got to do this in order to get the young people back to the polls.”

The Associated Press’s Lisa Neff reported Monday that there were no discharges executed under DADT during the past month. Starting Oct. 21, Secretary Gates — responding to various court orders related to the Log Cabin lawsuit — issued a memo requiring that any discharges under DADT must now be approved by three of five senior Defense officials. Approximately 35 servicemembers per month were discharged in 2009.

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

Leaked study results support DADT repeal

FUTURE MILITARY | Members of a Dallas-area Jr. ROTC group march in formation, carrying U.S. flags, during Dallas’ annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday morning, Nov. 11. According to information leaked to The Washington Post earlier this week, a Pentagon report studying attitudes of current members of the military, a large majority don’t believe repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would harm military readiness. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” poses only minimal risk to current war efforts, according to results from a 370-page Pentagon study that were leaked to the Washington Post.

According to an article published on the Post’s website late Wednesday, sources said the study results indicate more than 70 percent of 400,000 servicemembers and 150,000 military spouses surveyed said the effect of DADT repeal would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. The survey found that a majority had no strong objections, though a significant minority is opposed. But the study’s authors reportedly concluded that objections to serving alongside openly gay colleagues would drop over time. And it says that servicemembers who object to sharing a room or shower with openly gay troops should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Openly gay Air Force veteran David Guy-Gainer of Forest Hill called the report “a Veterans Day gift” for LGBT current and former servicemembers.

Guy-Gainer is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He had just returned from a Veterans Day breakfast in Tarrant County when he spoke to Dallas Voice on Thursday, Nov. 11.

“I am thrilled. It’s wonderful. I can’t think of a better gift for Veterans Day,” he said.

The story was published just hours after the Obama administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the military be allowed to continue enforcing DADT while a lower court ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional makes its way through the appeals process.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal argued that the stay is necessary because the injunction would cause “the government the kind of irreparable injury that routinely forms the basis for a stay pending appeal.”

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction against enforcement of DADT last month in the wake of her earlier ruling, in a case brought by Log Cabin Republicans, that DADT is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of Phillips’ injunction, and Log Cabin Republicans appealed that stay to the Supreme Court.

The Post article is based on information provided to the newspaper from two people “familiar with a draft of the report,” according to reporters Ed O’Keefe and Greg Jaffe. The sources are not identified in the article. Asked if the reporters could convey a request from Keen News for follow-up, O’Keefe said Thursday morning that the sources “insisted we not contact them again.”

The report will almost certainly affect the momentum for repealing DADT during the lame-duck Congress, as the potential for breaking a Republican-led filibuster hinges largely on 10 senators who said in September that they did not want to vote on the issue until the Pentagon study was available. The study is due to President Barack Obama by Dec. 1.

“These results confirm what those of us who actually know the modern military, especially the rank and file troops, have said all along: The men and women of America’s armed forces are professionals who are capable of handling this policy change,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under the law in 2002. “In light of these findings, as well as the Secretary of Defense’s recent call for Senate action on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ during the lame duck session, there is no longer any excuse for failing to bring the defense authorization bill back up during the first week of the post-election legislative session.”

Aubrey Sarvis, exeutive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said servicemembers who were polled for the study reflect how most Americans feel about open service — ”It’s no big deal, let’s move on and get the job done.”

“The military has a proud tradition of adjusting to change and becoming stronger for it. Ending ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ will be no different,” Sarvis said. “It’s clear a majority of Americans in both the military and civilian spheres agree that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is outdated and should go. Congress needs to catch up and the Senate should immediately act on repeal when it returns to Washington next week. No one should be surprised if a vocal minority, for a short window, might object, as a minority did when segregation in the ranks ended and women were admitted to the service academies. In the military you get over your objections or you get out.”

The Post said its sources provided details about “a draft” of the study that was distributed late last week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and leaders — both civilian and uniformed — of the four military branches.

The study reportedly does not recommend any significant changes to military housing or benefits, saying that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits recognition of same-sex spouses.

Although many political observers have suggested there is little to no chance that the lame-duck Congress will pass a defense authorization bill this year with the DADT repeal language intact, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Washington Blade this week that “Democrats are going to try very hard” to do so.

And in a telephone conference call with reporters Wednesday, Winnie Stachelberg, a key participant in meetings with the White House on the issue, said she thinks the strong statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in recent days have help put the repeal effort “in a solid position” during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Stachelberg, who is a vice president at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said pro-repeal activists need to focus on 10 senators who indicated during debate in September that they wanted to hear from the Pentagon study before taking a position on repeal. Those 10 include Republicans Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio. They also include Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia, as well as two senators who will not take their seats until the new Congress convenes in January — Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois, whose election is still pending, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Human Rights Campaign also launched a grassroots campaign Monday to put pressure on senators from eight key states to support breaking the filibuster on DADT. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

The House passed DADT repeal language in its version of the FY 2011 defense authorization bill last May, but the Senate was unable to take up a similar version of the bill in September when Republicans led a filibuster aimed primarily at DADT repeal.

Some unsourced reports suggested last week that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a supporter of repeal, was discussing with Sen. McCain the possibility of stripping DADT repeal from the bill. But neither senator confirmed that report and, with unsourced reports, it’s hard to know what is really being discussed and what is simply a rumor being spread by one side or the other to create an appearance of inevitability to advance their own interests.

Stachelberg said Wednesday she believes the only real objections surrounding DADT repeal now are ones over procedure — how and when to repeal it, not substance. But she acknowledged that Congress must vote repeal this year because “next year would be very grim.”

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

Groups step up pressure as clock winds down on DADT repeal

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Elated by a major court victory, gay-rights activists are stepping up pressure on Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy this month. They want to avoid potentially lengthy appeals and fear their chances for a legislative fix will fade after Election Day.

The House voted in May to repeal the 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members. Many majority Democrats in the Senate want to take up the matter in the remaining four weeks before the pre-election recess, but face opposition from Republican leaders.

National gay-rights groups, fearing possible Democratic losses on Nov. 2, urged their supporters Friday, Sept. 10 to flood senators’ offices with phone calls and e-mails asking that the Senate vote on the measure during the week of Sept. 20.

“If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Supporters of repeal hope senators heed the ruling issued Thursday in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who said ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.

The policy has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military by hurting recruitment efforts during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members who have critical skills and training, she said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay-rights organization, sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy, and Phillips said she would draft an order within a week doing just that. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t yet said whether it will appeal the ruling; spokesman Charles Miller said attorneys were reviewing it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — both in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — say they prefer that the change wait until the military completes a review of the issue. That study, due in December, includes surveys of troops and their families to get their views and help determine how a change would be implemented.

Gay-rights activists, worried that the election could tilt the balance of power in Congress, don’t want to wait.

“We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years,” said Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has lobbied against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

The House-passed repeal measure is contained in a broader defense policy bill which has yet to be sent to the Senate floor because of an objection by Republican Sen. John McCain during debate in the Armed Services Committee.

McCain said it was “disgraceful” to push for a vote on the repeal before completion of the Pentagon review.

Democrats, who effectively hold 59 Senate seats, will need at least some Republican support to reach the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted for repeal in committee.

The Senate has a packed agenda for the next few weeks before its recess, and Republicans have warned that they might not make time for the defense bill if it contains controversial amendments. Along with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, it includes a proposal that would allow female service members to receive abortions at military facilities.

Among those on the spot is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who must decide how hard to push for a vote on the repeal.

Over the summer, Reid was given the West Point ring of Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the New York Army National Guard because he was open about his homosexuality. Choi said he would take back the ring only when ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, and he was among many activists urging Reid to press hard for a vote.

“The time for accountability has come,” Choi said Friday. “Sen. Reid needs to follow the leadership of Judge Phillips and take immediate action to support the men and women serving in our nation’s military.”

President Barack Obama has said he would like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed, but wants Congress to take the lead in accomplishing that. Republicans on Friday called on the administration to defend the law until the Defense Department had a chance to complete its review.

“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard — and have earned that right,” said California Rep. Buck McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

During the trial before Phillips, government attorneys presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense and called no witnesses.

Justice Department attorney Paul G. Freeborne argued that the issue should be decided by Congress rather than in court. He said the plaintiffs were trying to force a federal court to overstep its bounds and halt the policy as it is being debated by lawmakers.

In 2008, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law itself is constitutional, but the way the military applies it is not. The court said it’s OK to discharge people for being gay — but only if the military proves that the dismissal furthers military readiness.

The Pentagon has ignored that ruling over the past two years, continuing to discharge gays without making such a showing.

The case before the 9th Circuit concerned former Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force flight nurse discharged for having a long-term relationship with a civilian woman in Washington state. Witt continues to seek reinstatement, and a federal trial was scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 13 in Tacoma over whether her firing actually furthered military goals.

Phillips’ decision was the third federal court ruling since July to assert that statutory limits on the rights of gays and lesbians were unconstitutional. Earlier, federal judges ruled against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages even in states such as Massachusetts that allow them.

—  John Wright