‘Mission Incomplete’ rally will call on Senate to remain in session until DADT is repealed

A bevvy of pro-repeal groups are teaming up for “Mission Incomplete,” a rally on Capitol Hill on Friday to call on the Senate to remain in session until it can consider the Defense Authorization bill, which includes an amendment that would end “don’t ask don’t tell.” According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is putting together the rally, other organizations who’ve signed on thus far are American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Equality Federation, Get Equal, the Human Rights Campaign, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, Knights Out, MoveOn PAC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, OutServe, PFLAG National, People For The America Way, PROMO Missouri, National Stonewall Democrats, Swish, VoteVets and Young Democrats of America.

Here’s a statement from SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“We call upon the Senate and the President to remain in session and in Washington until the National Defense Authorization Act is passed — which includes the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask.’ The Senate is scheduled to break for holiday vacation; we can’t let them leave. We must show our rage for repeal and insist the Senate stay in Washington until they have finished the job. We implore all who support repeal to join us outside the Senate this Friday. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, ‘If not now, when?’

“The lame-duck vote on repeal was set up and dictated by some of the same Senators — like John McCain and Mitch McConnell — who are now delaying to kill the bill. They wanted the Pentagon report — now they have it. They wanted hearings — now they’re done. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he is determined to pass the defense bill with repeal. Senators must not be allowed to hide any longer behind process, procedure, and tax cuts for the wealthy, while the discrimination continues. We’ve lost 14,000 troops to this antiquated law, and by God, we must not lose another on our watch.

“More Americans than ever are with us in this moment. We have the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a majority of the service chiefs who support repeal. We know that 92 percent of service members are just fine working with their gay, lesbian and bisexual colleagues, according to the Pentagon report. Their attitudes mirror those of nearly 80 percent of Americans.

“With increased pressure — a raised voice — and help from our allies at this key moment, I believe the Senate will stay in session. We will hit 60 votes. We will fight back on attempts to kill repeal. We will send the bill to the President’s desk. The discharges will end. And gays and lesbians will keep serving this nation — but this time with the integrity they so deserve.”

For more info on the rally, go here. If you can’t make the rally but want to take action, go here. And to add your organization to the list of those supporting the rally, e-mail eas@sldn.org.

—  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

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

Tell your senators Marine Cpl. Danny Hernandez from Paradise, Texas, wants his damn job back!

Marine Cpl. Danny Hernandez

We received an e-mail on Wednesday from Cpl. Danny Hernandez, a Marine discharged under “don’t ask don’t tell” who came out to his family earlier this year by, of all things, writing an open letter to President Barack Obama. Hernandez, who’s from the small town of Paradise northwest of Fort Worth and graduated from Texas A&M University last year, now lives in Washington and is working with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Here at Instant Tea we’ve been pretty hard on Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn lately, but Hernandez has a point: He says that although the two “have not been very helpful with this effort, we cannot remain complacent.”

“We cannot give up without having our voices heard,” Hernandez says. “Never in the seventeen years that this law has existed have we been so close to victory. … I hope to be wearing my uniform again soon.”

Below is Hernandez’s full e-mail including contact numbers for Hutchison and Cornyn. So what are you waiting for? You haven’t called yet?

Texas Friends and Allies –
As a Texan, an Aggie and a Marine discharged because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I am asking for your help.

Just two nights ago Senator Harry Reid announced that the vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the repeal of DADT, will be scheduled for next week. The momentum is high, but the fight is not over. We need your support.

Join Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Lady Gaga, Senator Reid, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and all of our supporters across the nation in helping repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Here’s what you can do:

Call Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
DC Office: 202-224-5922
Austin Office: 512-916-5834
San Antonio Office: 210-340-2885
Abilene Office: 325-676-2839
Dallas Office: 214-361-3500
Harlingen Office: 956-425-2253
Houston Office: 713-653-3456

Call Senator John Cornyn
DC Office: 202-224-2934
Austin Office: 512-469-6034
Houston Office: 713-572-3337
Harlingen Office: 956-423-0162
Lubbock Office: 806-472-7533
San Antonio Office: 210-224-7485
Tyler Office: 903-593-0902
Dallas Office: 972-239-1310

Tell them that as a Texan, you urge them to vote with Senator Reid and Senator Carl Levin in opposing the filibuster, defeat amendments to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments that would hinder the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

We cannot give up without having our voices heard. Never in the seventeen years that this law has existed have we been so close to victory.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I hope to be wearing my uniform again soon.

Warmly,
Danny Hernandez (former USMC Lance Corporal)

—  John Wright