BREAKING: Pentagon to certify DADT repeal

Secretary Panetta

Reports are coming in from sources including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen are going to announce Friday that they are ready to certify repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Once they have signed off on repeal, the measure goes to President BarackObama for his signature, and he will send it back to Congress. Then there is a 60-day waiting period before repeal is officially implemented.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, issued a statement shortly after 6 p.m. Central time today saying the Pentagon’s certification of repeal is “is welcomed by gay and lesbian service members who have had to serve their country in silence for far too long.”

Sarvis added: “The troops and their commanders are ready. Our nation’s top military leaders have testified that commanders see no significant challenges ahead. The official certification to Congress that the armed forces are prepared for the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’  should go to Capitol Hill tomorrow with the President’s signature.”

But Sarvis also warned closeted servicemembers that it’s not safe to come out yet. SLDN has posted a warning to lesbian and gay servicemembers here. He also advised LGBT servicemembers with questions to call the SLDN hotline at 202-328-3244, ext. 100, to speak to a staff attorney.

—  admin

House committee adopts anti-gay amendments

Aubrey Sarvis

Amendments not likely to pass in the Senate, but could resurface in conference committee

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The full U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved three amendments late Wednesday night, May 11, that seek to delay implementation of repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to reiterate Congress’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The votes were largely along partisan lines and are unlikely to be sustained in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even if they are approved by the Republican-dominated House.

But the question is whether they might survive a Senate-House conference committee, when compromises have to be hammered out between two increasingly contentious parties.

None of the proposed amendments sought to undo what Congress did last December when it passed legislation to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay people, but each provided yet another forum for debate over repeal.

The committee debated for more than 40 minutes on an amendment over whether to require that each of the chiefs of the four combat branches of the military provide written certification to Congress before repeal can be implemented. The amendment passed 33-27.

Committee members then debated for less than 20 minutes on an amendment to reiterate that the Defense of Marriage Act applies to the military. The amendment passed 39-22.

And they debated for 13 minutes on an amendment to reiterate that decisions concerning use of military facilities and personnel for conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies are governed by DOMA. That amendment passed 38-23.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the amendments “an assault on our nation’s senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully.

“These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the [budget authorization legislation] where they have no place,” said Sarvis.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the amendments were intended “to slow down open service and perpetuate scare tactics about the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

Three different Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee proposed the amendments during the full House Armed Services Committee consideration of the annual bill authorizing how the Department of Defense can spend its funding. The overall bill is known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (or bill Number H.R. 1540). Fiscal Year 2012 begins Oct. 1.

San Diego Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter first introduced his measure, called the “Restore Military Readiness Act,” as a stand-alone bill, in January. It has 25 co-sponsors.

It seeks to require that certification of military readiness to implement repeal of the ban on gays in the military be done by the chiefs of the four branches of the military, in addition to the certifications already required from the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hunter, in debate, claimed that “60 to 70 percent” of Navy Seals oppose repeal of DADT. The Seals have been the subject of enormous public attention and praise recently, after successfully capturing and killing terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

San Diego Democrat Rep. Susan Davis, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee which received Hunter’s original measure, reminded the full committee that the four service branch chiefs testified at Congressional hearings that they believe their views are heard and respected by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, lamented that the House continues to debate DADT repeal.

“Having openly gay people serve in our military is not apocalypse,” said Johnson, “it’s a sign of progress.”

He also reminded committee members that when President Truman moved to integrate the military, there were some who opposed it.

“I think it’s a similar situation here with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Johnson.

Ohio Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan read a letter from a gay veteran from World War II, supporting repeal of DADT.

Currently, President Obama, Gates and Mullen are expected to certify the military as ready to implement repeal of DADT this summer. The repeal would then take effect 60 days later.

Given how difficult it has been for the Senate and House to agree on budget matters in recent months, it seems possible that the 60-day waiting period will expire and DADT will be repealed long before a Senate-House conference committee will have a chance to tackle the issues.

The second amendment came from Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler. It seeks to emphasize that DOMA still applies to DOD regulations and policies.

Hartzler said the amendment would address situations such as the recent conflict over whether Navy chaplains could preside over same-sex marriages and allow such ceremonies to take place on military bases.

Rep. Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, and others claimed the amendment was necessary because the Obama administration was “not enforcing” DOMA, so it is necessary to reiterate Congress’s support for the law. No one spoke to correct that claim.

The Obama administration made clear it would continue enforcing DOMA until such time as the courts may find it unconstitutional. But it did say it would no longer defend DOMA as passing all constitutional levels of scrutiny in all federal courts.

The third amendment, from Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin, would prevent the use of military facilities or personnel for marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples.

Akin’s amendment, like that of Hartzler, was in reaction to an April 13 memo from the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains recommending military facilities be available for use at same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where marriage licenses are available to same-sex couples. The chief also recommended military chaplains be allowed to participate in such ceremonies, if their religious beliefs allow them to.

But on Tuesday, May 10, Navy Chaplain Chief Mark Tidd “suspended” his earlier recommendations, saying they needed to undergo “additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination.”

ABC News reported that a group of 63 Republicans had sent a letter to the Secretary of Navy, expressing objections to Tidd’s initial recommendations.

“Make no mistake,” said SLDN’s Sarvis, “these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican, was reportedly ready to introduce an amendment to delay implementation of DADT repeal in order to develop and issue new regulations concerning how to handle service members who have religious or moral objections to openly gay people in the military. He did not do so.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Chick-fil-A downplays anti-gay sponsorship; Gates on DADT repeal; Lady Gaga

1. Chick-fil-A is attempting to downplay its sponsorship of two upcoming events hosted by the anti-gay Pennsylvania Family Institute, releasing a statement Thursday on Facebook saying a “local operator” had simply agreed to provide greasy-ass food. In the meantime, however, LGBT blogs have uncovered several additional connections between the company and anti-gay groups. Fool me once …

2. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon is moving fast to end “don’t ask don’t tell,” with military leaders expected to begin training troops on the change “in a very few weeks.” The troop training is part of a three-step process outlined by Gates on Wednesday in his first public comments about DADT since President Barack Obama signed the bill repealing the policy.

3. Lady Gaga unveils Polaroid sunglasses that take photos, video (video above).

—  John Wright

House OKs standalone bill to repeal DADT

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 15 to approve a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The vote was 250-175. It was the second time this year the House approved such a measure. In May, the vote was 232 to 180.

The measure will now go to the Senate where it is expected to reach the floor sometime next week.

“Today’s vote by the House of Representatives provides another resounding indication that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can and should be repealed legislatively this year,” said a statement issued by several pro-repeal groups. “With this second vote in favor of repeal, the House joins our top military leaders, a super-majority of Americans, the President, and a 60-vote majority in the Senate in agreeing that it is time to give the Pentagon the power to carry out its carefully crafted plans for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With the Pentagon Working Group report in hand and the Secretary of Defense pleading for Congressional action, there is no more time for excuses — the Senate must follow the lead of the House and pass the bipartisan repeal legislation championed by Senators Lieberman and Collins before the end of the 111th Congress.”

Groups issuing the joint statement were the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, Stonewall Democrats, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United and Third Way.

The House vote may have confused someone just tuning in to the debate because it appeared, on the surface, to be a debate about a small business bill. But that bill, which has been approved by both houses but not sent to conference, was gutted and language from a DADT repeal bill was inserted. This new language was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., as a standalone repeal bill Tuesday, as a way of encouraging and speeding up the passage of a similar standalone bill in the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to the floor early in the debate to urge passage of the measure and cite polling data released Wednesday showing 8 out of 10 Americans support repeal.

“It is my hope to encourage the Senate to take this long overdue action,” said Pelosi.

Rep. Murphy, urging support for repeal, said, “Enough of the games. Enough of the politics. … This vote is about whether we’re going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so.”

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., controlled debate for Democrats and led with remarks saying, “The time to act is here.” Davis is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Change is never easy but it rarely is as necessary as it is today,” said Davis. “If we miss this opportunity to repeal this law, history will judge us poorly.”

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who will be the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee beginning in January, expressed “strong opposition” to the repeal measure. He lamented the committee was not being given an opportunity to hold its own hearing on the Dec. 1 report submitted by the Pentagon. The Senate Armed Services Committee held such a hearing on Dec. 2 and 3.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., urged voting against the repeal measure to provide the military with more time to “deal with this in their own way.”

Many of the Republicans who spoke lamented the fact that Congress has yet to pass the annual Defense Authorization bill, suggesting that debating the DADT repeal was somehow interfering with that bill. The irony, of course, was that Republicans in the Senate blocked consideration of the Defense Authorization bill, in large part because it included DADT repeal.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called Republicans out on that, saying they’ve repeatedly blocked consideration of the defense bill. He also argued that it’s not servicemembers who are uneasy with the change, but Republican members of Congress.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., also spoke in favor of repeal, saying the current policy is un-American.

The Senate last week fell just three votes short of moving to consideration of the issue through the Defense Authorization bill, which includes repeal language. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to bring it to the floor of the Senate in the next few days, it will still need 60 votes.

West Virginia activists and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network delivered 800 petitions to the offices of West Virginia’s new Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, on Wednesday, hoping to reverse his recent vote against consideration of DADT repeal. Manchin, the only Democrat to vote with Republicans to keep a filibuster going last week, said he voted no because he hadn’t had enough time to review the issue.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said last week she would have voted for cloture on the defense bill had she been in the chamber during the vote. And Sen. Scott Brown. R-Mass., has said he would vote for cloture after the Senate completes passage of a bill to extend tax cuts. Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, also announced her support for DADT repeal on Wednesday.

The Senate on Wednesday passed the tax cut extension bill and then moved immediately to consideration of a new arms control treaty (START). Some are predicting the House will soon pass the tax cut bill, too, fulfilling a Republican Party demand that has prevented consideration of DADT repeal and other issues.

One troubling development for repeal — though not one that is expected to deliver much punch — was a statement Tuesday from U.S. Marine Corps Commandant James Amos. Amos told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that he thinks repeal threatens the lives of Marines in combat because a soldier’s being gay presents a “distraction” to Marines and “distractions cost Marines’ lives.”

“I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction,” said Amos. “I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [Army Hospital] with no legs.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement Wednesday night applauding the standalone repeal bill’s passage.

“Legislative repeal is supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Obama said. “The process contained in this legislation allows for a smooth and responsible repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a way that maintains good order and discipline in our military ranks. Indeed, all of the Service Chiefs have said that when this law is changed , they will implement an orderly transition effectively and efficiently. As the comprehensive study by the Department of Defense clearly shows, we can move to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and our national security.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Hutchison to vote against DADT repeal because ‘FORMER leaders’ of military oppose it

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office sent over the following statement this afternoon in response to our inquiry about her position on a standalone measure to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“I will not support a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” Hutchison said. “After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness — especially during a time of war.”

It’s interesting that Hutchison doesn’t identify the “military personnel” or “former leaders” with whom she claims to have spoken. We know, for example, that she’s repeatedly refused to meet with Dave Guy-Gainer, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County. According to a recently released Pentagon study, the “military personnel” who spoke to Hutchison are in the minority. Furthermore, why would she speak with “former leaders of our armed services” instead of current ones? The top two current military leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, both support DADT repeal. And all of the current service chiefs say repeal would be no problem.

So can someone please explain WTF she’s talking about?

UPDATE: Maybe she’s been spending too much time with homophobic Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos.

—  John Wright

Despite opposition from some, service chiefs all say they can make DADT repeal work

We haven’t had a chance to tune in for day two of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings on “don’t ask don’t tell.” We’ll have a full story coming later today from correspondent Lisa Keen, but for now here’s a response to developments thus far that just came across from the Human Rights Campaign:

Service Chiefs Pledge to Faithfully Implement DADT Repeal
Repeal language gives military control of timing for which they’ve asked

WASHINGTON – Speaking today before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chiefs of the military services all expressed that they would successfully implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal should Congress change the law. Testifying were General James Cartwright, General George Casey, Admiral Gary Roughead, General James Amos, General Norton Schwartz and Admiral Robert Papp.

Among the six testifying, three expressed that the law should be repealed and three gave a mixed reaction, expressing some opposition to repeal at this time. Only one – Marine Commandant General James Amos — expressed his opinion that there could be strong disruption. In contrast his fellow Marine, General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made clear that not only could Marines carry out successful repeal but also there was “benefit derived from being a force identified by honesty & inclusivity.” General Amos did however express that he and his Marines would “faithfully support the law.”

“Not only do a majority of senior military leaders support repeal, they are unanimous that they will faithfully carry out any repeal passed by Congress,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The vast majority of the American people are looking for action as are the thousands of men and women currently serving in silence.”

The witnesses were unanimous in their opinion that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed eventually and that it was just a question of timing. The language of the legislation being considered by the Congress would in fact give the military exactly the control of the timing of implementation for which they’ve asked.

“A failure of Congress to act now will tie the hands of military leaders who have asked for the power to implement the changes that their research lays out,” said Solmonese. “The time to vote for repeal is now.”

Today’s testimony comes after senior uniformed and civilian military leaders made an ironclad case for DADT repeal yesterday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, General Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson all made clear that they saw few hurdles to implementation of open service by gays and lesbians and that they were confident that the military would execute such a repeal without long-term consequences.

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese.“The working group found clearly that military effectiveness will not be compromised by removing this stain on our service members’ integrity.”

In contrast to Committee Ranking Member John McCain, all of the service chiefs expressed confidence in the report of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group. It is one of more than twenty studies from both the military and outside organizations that make an ironclad case for repeal.

—  John Wright

Military leaders urge Senate committee to pass DADT repeal

Most Republicans on Armed Services Committee appear resistant to passing DOD authorization that includes repeal of anti-gay ban in place since 1993

Lisa Keen  |  lisakeen@mac.com

Sen. John McClain and Sen. Susan Collins

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 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 1993 law that keeps lesbians and gays from serving openly in the U.S. military.

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.

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 Adm. 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 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 Truman signed an executive order requiring integration, and again in the 1960s when Congress repealed a 2 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 of sexual assaults.

McCain pointed out that, in 1993, Gen. 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, Nov. 30, 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 suggested 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 agree to provide the 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, Dec. 3, are moot.

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,” Mullen said. “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.” 

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 03, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

Reax to Pentagon report on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

Here are some reactions to the Pentagon study on “don’t ask don’t tell” released this afternoon. We’ve posted the full text of the study below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“This issue has been studied for fifty years, including by the military itself, and the results from over twenty-two studies are uniform: open service does not harm effectiveness. The small handful of Senators blocking repeal no longer have any fig leaves behind which to hide. The time for repeal is now. …

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese. “Senators who said they want to hear from military leaders and troops now have their answers.  Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will allow every qualified man and woman to serve without sacrificing the high standards that have made our military great.”

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson:

“This thorough and comprehensive report makes clear to lawmakers and the American people once and for all that the U.S. military is capable of handling the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The questions are now answered and the debate is now settled. It’s now up to the Senate to bring the defense authorization bill back to the floor, allow 10 to 20 amendments to be debated on each side, and get this bill passed. We have the votes now if the process is fair.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive. The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade. Still, some initial resistance may come from one or more of the service chiefs — the very leaders who will be charged with  implementing this change. Those chiefs will need to salute and lead in bringing about this needed change. Fortunately, the chiefs have already made it clear they will do precisely that if Congress acts. Now, it’s up to the Senate to make repeal happen this year.”

—  John Wright