'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Goes Under The Microscope

A hearing was held yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee to scrutinize the 1993 law known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which regulates eligibility of homosexuals to serve in the military. The statute bars gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

The President pledged in his State of the Union speech to repeal the law this year, but the authority to do so rests with Congress.  The findings in the law state that, “Section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States commits exclusively to the Congress the powers to raise and support armies, provide and maintain a Navy, and make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”

Testifying before the committee were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

In his opening remarks, Gates spoke as if the repeal of the law were a fait accompli, which did not sit well with several Republican Senators.

“The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it,” Gates read from his prepared remarks.  “We have received our orders from the Commander-in-Chief, and we are moving out accordingly.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), senior Republican on the committee, took Gates to task for what he called “clearly biased” testimony.

“I’m deeply disappointed in your statement, Secretary Gates,” McCain said.  “What we did in 1993 is we looked at the issue, we looked at the effect on the military and then we reached a conclusion and we enacted it into law.  Your statement is what’s ‘before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare for it.’  It would be far more appropriate, and I say with great respect, to determine whether the repeal of this law is appropriate and what effect it has on the readiness of and effectiveness of the military before deciding on whether we should repeal the law or not. And fortunately it requires an act of Congress.  It requires the agreement of Congress to repeal it.  And so your statement obviously is one that is clearly biased without the view of Congress being taken into consideration.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as a member of Armed Services, expressed concerns over opening remarks made by both Gates and Mullen.

“The President as Commander-in-Chief has announced a decision and the Secretary of Defense apparently supports that decision,” Sessions said.  “Admiral Mullen has declared that he personally believes in this decision, so then presumably someone below you will do some work on the policy on whether this is a good policy or not.  If it was a trial, we would raise the ‘undue command influence’ defense.  I think we need an open, objective and fair evaluation.”

Mullen stated in his remarks, “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.”

Quoting the U.S. Code , Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), pointed to a few of the findings in the U.S. Code Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces. 

“There is no constitutional right to serve in our armed forces,” Chambliss said.  “The primary purpose of the military is to prepare for and to prevail in combat should the need arise.  Military life is very different than civilian life.  Military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs and traditions including restrictions on personal behaviors.”

Chambliss also pointed out a few of many behaviors regulated in the military that can result in a court martial.

“Examples include alcohol use, adultery, fraternization,” Chambliss said.  “If we change these rules, what are we going to do with these other issues?” 

Again quoting the statute, Chambliss said, “The military must maintain personnel policies that exclude personnel whose presence in the armed forces would present and unacceptable risk to the armed forces’ high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion.” 

“In my opinion, the presence in the armed forces of those who present a propensity and intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk to those high standards of morale, good order and discipline and effective unit cohesion,” Chambliss concluded.

Sen. Roland Burris (R-Ill.), appointed by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat once occupied by Obama, pointed to segregation policies of the past as the equivalent of barring gays from openly serving.

“We go back to President Truman who took the audacity to integrate the services,” Burris said.  “At one time my uncle who is my race couldn’t even serve in the military.”

The obvious problem with that argument is that skin color is not a behavior.  It is a right and a duty of the armed forces to regulate the behavior of all service members. The military is not a social club; it constitutes the very heart of this nation’s defense.

Gates also informed the committee that Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Army forces in Europe, and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson have been appointed to lead the review, setting a deadline for the delivery of an “implementation plan” by the end of the year.

Fox News is reporting that, before the hearing, a senior Pentagon officer “told Fox News it does not appear the votes are there in Congress to actually change the law, but said it is not the Pentagon’s role to get involved in that aspect."