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February 02, 2010

DADT Review to Take a Year; Prospects for Repeal Slim

The Senate Armed Services Committee heard from Defense Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen this morning on the issue of the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The pair laid out their plan for determining whether an appeal is appropriate and how best to implement an appeal if Congress were to pass one. I livetweeted the hearing and if you want to see that contemporaneous recounting, without editing or editorial comment, go here, scroll to the bottom and hit "more" a few times.

Here's my summary:

First, both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen noted that they had been ordered by the President to begin a review of how best to minimize the impact of DADT within the current law and to review what effect a repeal of the law would have on the armed forces.

To that end, they are instituting two review periods: one to last 45 days, during which they will examine whether they can alter current regulations insofar as the DADT law allows to reduce separations owing to DADT. The reports that DoD would halt separations during this review period for gay soldiers and sailors outed by third parties turned out to be false. This review period will only look at altering the regs. However, if that occurs, it will be sometime after the 45-day review. Admiral Mullen suggested raising the rank of those allowed to begin the investigation process and raising the bar for what counts as "credible information" to start a DADT inquiry might be legally permissible, but they needed time to find out.

The second review will take place over the rest of calendar year 2010. The DoD is establishing a working group to do the first study by the military itself on the effects of DADT and the effect of a repeal. Both Gates and Mullen emphasized repeatedly that they wanted to put accurate numbers to the many changes required. Both emphasized that they must have a chance to talk to serving members of the armed forces and their family members. Both stated that this working group must be insulated from political influence because it is better to go slow and get the right answer than move fast and disrupt the armed forces during two wars.

Admiral Mullen expressed strong feelings about repealing DADT. He said:

Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity: theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.

I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt. But I do not know this for a fact. Nor do I know for a fact how we would best make such a major policy change in a time of two wars.

That there will be some disruption in the force, I cannot deny. That there will be legal, social, and perhaps even infrastructure changes to be made certainly seems plausible. We would all like to have a better handle on these types of concerns and this is what our review will offer.

Admiral Mullen reiterated his statement via his twitter feed a few hours after the hearing:

Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.

The questions and statements by the senators were as usual for hearings: some helpful, some very much just a chance for them to spout talking points. Most of the Democrats supporting repeal did not press Gates or Mullen. I'm not going to recount them all, I'll just point out the more probing exchanges.

Senator McCain had a very forceful statement. He didn't so much question Gates and Mullen as accuse them of usurping Congress' right to decide whether to change the law. He said that the policy was not perfect, but that it has been effective and that numerous military leaders have told him that it should not be changed. He finished by saying to Secretary Gates: "I'm glad we've got a Congress to stand in the way of your clear efforts to repeal the law."

Senator McCain's position has changed over the years. In 1993 he voted against DADT, preferring a flat ban on gays in the military. In 2003 he said "the day the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' he would consider changing it." Now he says that Admiral Mullen is biased. He asked that the other Joint Chiefs publicly state their personal beliefs about DADT like Mullen did.

Senator Sessions also noted that the people at the top, including Gates, Mullen, and the President all support repeal and so could bias the year-long review. He stated "We need an independent assessment of the effects on the military of repeal." He also said, somewhat ridiculously to refute Mullen's repeated emphasis on personal integrity, that gays are not "required" to lie about who they are. He suggested, "That's an overstatement" of the DADT policy."

Senator Chambliss noted that military life is not like civilian life for good reason and compared DADT with military prohibitions on alcohol, adultery, and tattoos. He asked Gates if they were planning to do away with those prohibitions too. Chambliss told the pair that the presence in the armed forces of open homosexuals is an unacceptable risk to standards of good order and discipline. He characterized DADT as "live and let live" and suggested it should not be changed. (I don't think he's waiting on the year-long review.)

Senator Collins wanted to know if there had been any impact on our forces working with coalition partners in Iraq and Afghanistan who allow gays to serve. Mullen said that his counterparts had not reported any. She also wanted to know if there was any evidence that out gays had a negative impact on unit cohesiveness or morale. Mullen replied that he knew of none and that a study by Rand had not found any. Gates jumped in to note that the year-long study would be looking at that question among others. He emphasized that they want to give service members and their families a chance to think about the change.

Senator McCaskill had an interesting question. She wondered if there was any way they could get the input of gays currently serving in the military. Mullen noted that, for obvious reasons, they cannot make that inquiry, nor can gays currently serving step forward. Gates suggested one possibility is talking to gays who have already been discharged under DADT.

In any case, it looks like a repeal this year is not going to happen. The military needs time to assess and Congress isn't going to deny them that. I suspect that this means repeal isn't going to happen for some time, given the expectation that the 2010 elections are going to change the math on Capitol Hill. This, despite the finding last year that 69% of the public support repeal, including 58% of self-identified conservatives. After the hearing Senator Levin suggested that rather than a repeal, he would seek a moratorium on DADT separations during the review period.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:41 PM

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