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

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ injunction now up to judge

JULIE WATSON  |  Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — U.S. government lawyers are trying to stop a federal judge from issuing an injunction that would immediately do what President Obama has yet to accomplish so far in his first term: Halt the military’s ban on openly gay troops.

Now it is up to U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to decide if she is willing to do that.

The White House says the legal filing Thursday, Sept. 23 by the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys in a federal court in Riverside follows government procedure by defending an act of Congress that is being challenged, but it does not detract from the president’s efforts to get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed.

“This filing in no way diminishes the president’s firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT — indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Phillips declared the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional in her ruling Sept. 9 following a three-week, non-jury trial and said she would issue a nationwide order to stop the ban. She asked both sides for input first.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights organization that filed the lawsuit to stop the ban’s enforcement, wants her to issue an order that would stop the policy from being used to discharge any U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world.

Their attorney, Dan Woods, called the Department of Justice’s objections to the possible injunction hypocritical. He said the administration should be seizing the opportunity to let a judge do what politics has not been able to do.

“It’s sad and disappointing that the administration would file such a document days after it urged Congress to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,”’ Woods said.

In their court filing Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued the possible move would be “untenable” and that Phillips would be overstepping her bounds by halting a policy under debate in Congress.

Instead, she should limit any injunction to the 19,000 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes current and former military personnel, the lawyers said.

“A court should not compel the executive to implement an immediate cessation of the 17-year-old policy without regard for any effect such an abrupt change might have on the military’s operations, particularly at a time when the military is engaged in combat operations and other demanding military activities around the globe,” federal attorneys said in their objection.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members. Under the 1993 policy, service men and women who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity, even in the privacy of their own homes off base, are subject to discharge.

In her ruling, Phillips said the policy doesn’t help military readiness and instead has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.

—  John Wright