Three Discharged Service Members Sue Over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates implored Congress to lift the widely unpopular Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before it could be lifted by federal courts. A federal judge has already ordered the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military to be lifted, but her order is on hold while the decision is appealed. Now, the Service Members Legal Defense Network has helped three more former service members discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to sue the government over their firings.

A repeal of the policy failed in a procedural debacle on the Senate floor last week, but Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman have introduced a stand-alone repeal bill in hopes that the Senate will pass it before it leaves for the holidays. Michael Almy, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, told the Guardian he hoped senators would take a good look at their priorities:

Almy, a decorated officer who was in the Senate chambers last week when Republicans refused to let the repeal measure advance, said he still hopes lawmakers can be persuaded to take up the standalone bill, even if it means postponing their holidays.

Almy is the son of an air force officer who did not know he was gay. He was discharged in 2005 after another member of the air force searched his computer files and found a private email Almy had written to another man when he was in Iraq. His 13-year career ended with him being given a police escort off the base.

"I spent four Christmases deployed in the Middle East," he said. "If we can make that kind of sacrifice for our nation, certainly our senators can give up a Christmas to get this done."
 

PFAW

Gates: “Greatest Fear” is that DADT Repeal Will Be Left to Courts

The Republican opposition to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal has focused on a worry that the military will not be able to handle rolling back the policy in a time of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates begs to differ:

"My greatest fear is that we have to be told that this law will be overturned by a court and we will be forced to implement it without any time for information or training, or any of the other efforts that need to be undertaken to prepare us for such a change," he said.

The likelihood of DADT being overturned by courts is high—two federal courts have already declared the discriminatory policy unconstitutional. Supporters of DADT aren’t only putting off the inevitable—they’re making it harder for the military to prepare for the inevitable. DADT supporters claim to be listening to the military’s wishes. But, as Gates makes clear, that is exactly the opposite of what they’re doing.
 

PFAW

Service chiefs testify, Levin closes, McCain persists, Brown declares

The Senate Armed Services Committee closed its two days of hearings on the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report with the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. While there is some disagreement as to when and how, the general consensus was that repeal can and should be implemented. Even General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has expressed his opposition publicly on numerous occasions, “think[s] it will be repealed eventually. I just ask for the -- the opportunity to be able to do it with my forces when they're not singularly focused on combat.”

If the effective date really is the sticking point, that has already been addressed in the proposed legislation, which requires President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting. Secretary Gates has made “absolutely” clear that he “will not certify until [he] feel[s] that the process can move forward without any damage to the safety and security of our men and women that are serving, number one, and that our battle effectiveness will not be jeopardized, number two.” Moreover, “before the certification is signed, everything has to be done to get ready. It's not something that I would start, that I would certify while it was still in process as it were.”

Senator Levin, Chairman of the Committee, was quick to point out that “you have to repeal before the implementation stage comes.” Implementation will take considerable thought and time, but there will be nothing to implement if Congress doesn’t first act on repeal.

Senator McCain is still insisting that he needs more time. He needs to talk to more people. And don’t forget his warning that “the problem with the defense authorization bill isn't confined to the "don't ask/don't tell" issue.” This is another case of putting the cart before the horse. You can’t implement repeal if there is no repeal. And you can’t fix the “problems” with the Defense bill, you can’t even discuss them, if the bill is not allowed to come to the floor. Senator Levin: “The place to address the kind of issues which Senator McCain raises is on the floor of the Senate. There are issues, of course, in any defense authorization bill that come[s] out of committee. And the only way those issues can be addressed is to debate them, resolve them in the Senate.”

Now the final push begins to bring up that Defense bill and ensure that repeal becomes law in 2010. Senator Scott Brown, a target of repeal supporters and opponents alike, removed one stumbling block today with the announcement of his position. Or did he?

I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes. When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.

I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.

Senator Brown’s support is welcome news. But important questions remain, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post (The Plum Line).

One important question: How does this square with Mitch McConnell's letter vowing that the entire GOP caucus would stand in unison against DADT repeal and everything else Dems want until the standoff over the Bush tax cuts and funding the government are resolved? If Brown confirms he will vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing DADT repeal, irrespective of whether a deal is reached on the tax cuts, it makes McConnell's threat look pretty empty.

Keep an eye on the remaining moderates. More when I learn it.

UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: One other quick point. It's one thing for Senator Brown to say he supports repeal in general. What needs to be established is whether Brown's vote for repealing DADT is contingent on Harry Reid jumping through a whole bunch of procedural hoops that some GOPers have demanded. More on that when I get it, but for now, this is clearly a positive step.

Whatever the answers may be, the fight is certainly not over. Click here to contact your Senators.

An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW

DADT hearing concludes, service chiefs testify tomorrow

On November 30, the Pentagon released its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report, including:

 

•    Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

•    Support Plan for Implementation.

•    WESTAT Survey Report: Support to the DOD Comprehensive Review Working Group Analyzing the Impact of Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

o    Volume 1: Findings From the Surveys
o    Volume 1: Appendices A - AL
o    Volume 2: Findings from the Qualitative Research Tasks

•    RAND Report 2010: Sexual Orientation and the U.S. Military Personnel Policy. An Update of RAND's 1993 Study

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded the first of two days of hearings on the report. Perhaps most notable was Senator McCain’s performance. It appears his new “concern” is that Congress hasn’t been given enough time to review the issue. He objected to having been given only a few minutes with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As you can see from the CQ Congressional Transcript, Senator McCain fails to recognize the Secretary’s scheduling conflict; obviously they can’t ask him questions if he’s not in the room. He fails to recognize that he hasn’t just had the 36 hours since the report’s release to review the issue; he’s had almost two years of the Obama Administration, debate during the presidential campaign before that, and a full 17 years since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s original enactment. What exactly is Senator McCain waiting for?

One word: WikiLeaks.

Not one bit of connection to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there. Yet, instead of using every second of his precious first round time with Secretary Gates, Senator McCain took time at the end to question the Secretary on the WikiLeaks controversy. And that wasn’t the last time you heard WikiLeaks mentioned today.

Serious? Yes.

Ripe for oversight? Yes.

Topic of today’s hearing? No.

But let’s not end on a sour note.

Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen (who were joined by the Honorable Jeh C. Johnson and General Carter F. Ham, USA, the co-chairs of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group) were strong in their resolve for repeal.

Mullen -- who said he believes personally and professionally that repealing the law is the right thing to do -- said the repeal would be the only change the military services would experience as a result.

“Nothing will change about our standards of conduct,” the chairman said. “Nothing will change about the dignity and the fairness and the equality with which we treat our people. And nothing will change about the manner in which we deal with those who cannot abide by these standards.”

For some, Mullen told the senators, the debate on the issue is all about gray areas.

“There is no gray area here,” he said. “We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period.”

Well said, Admiral Mullen.

Tomorrow brings the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. If you’d like to watch, check out C-SPAN 3 or the Committee’s own webcast. An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW

Desperate GOP Now Attacks DADT Report

With top leaders of the military and the majority of Americans all calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Right is desperately trying to find ways to maintain the ban on gays from serving openly.

After months of emphasizing the need to wait for the Pentagon’s comprehensive report on the impact of allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces, now conservative opponents of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have dismissed the report altogether. The Right’s rejection of the Pentagon study is not surprising since the report found that repealing DADT won’t have negative consequences on military effectiveness or cohesion, and that the vast majority of soldiers do not oppose its repeal. According to the report, “69 percent of respondents believe they have already served alongside a gay person” and among “those who believed that, 92 percent said their units were able to work together and 8 percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.”

But the support for repealing DADT by military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and most Americans can’t overcome the doggedly anti-gay and anti-equality views of many conservative politicians and groups. Instead of considering and evaluating the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Pentagon study, defenders of DADT decided to target the report itself: rather than studying and assessing the impact on military cohesion and effectiveness, many Republicans say, the report should have been a referendum on the policy.

John McCain, the Senate GOP’s point person on opposition to repealing DADT, essentially asked for an unprecedented referendum to see if the policy should be repealed or not:

“How best are you going to assess the effect on morale and battle effectiveness and retention unless you consult and find out what the view of the troops is?” McCain said in a brief interview on Monday.



"It is not part of the working group's mandate to ask service members the broad question of whether they think DADT should be repealed, which, in effect, would amount to a referendum," Gates said in an October letter to McCain. "I do not believe that military policy decisions ... should be made through a referendum of service members."

McCain went on to attack Gates as a “political appointee who’s never been in the military,” even though Gates is a veteran of the US Air Force and also served in the CIA.

McCain’s support for what would effectively be a referendum also contradicts his previous claim that military leaders should be the ones deciding the future of DADT, telling Chris Matthews: “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says ‘Senator we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sent a similar message, saying that the troops should participate in a referendum on the policy decision:

Graham, who opposes repeal of the ban on gays in uniform, agreed with McCain that the survey “asked the wrong question” of the troops. “The question that needs to be asked of our military is: Do you support repeal? Not how do you repeal, how do you implement repeal,” Graham said.

The Family Research Council also rejected the report outright because it wasn’t a referendum on DADT in a statement:

“Media reports to the effect that a majority of servicemembers ‘would not have a problem’ with homosexuals in the military overlook the fact that the surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law. If most servicemembers say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force. And if even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic.”

Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy also commented that asking service members’ opinions of serving with openly gay and lesbian members was not enough, and that they should have been polled on DADT itself:

The question occurs: How many of our servicemen and -women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?

Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week - after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin. After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.

With little left to stand on, the Right’s new demand that the repeal of DADT be determined by a poll of the troops, rather than a decision by military and legislative leaders, only demonstrates the desperation of their attacks. Judging by their reaction to the comprehensive report, it is doubtful that they would even accept the results of a hypothetical and unprecedented poll of the troops if it doesn’t conform to their staunchly anti-gay beliefs.

PFAW

DADT repeal approaches critical turning point

With the House and Senate set to reconvene next week, we’re hearing a lot of talk about what will or won’t be considered, especially when it comes to the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill. PFAW and AAMIA have both supported the inclusion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which passed as an amendment on the House floor and in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now is the time – likely the only time for the foreseeable future – to close the deal on the Senate floor and send repeal to the President’s desk.

Senator McCain, who was behind the bill’s filibuster back in September, is waging a very public campaign to convince Chairman Levin to water down his proposal and drop repeal. Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, put the rumors in perspective.

Sarvis told Roll Call that he expects Levin to bring the defense bill to a vote with the repeal in it, and he called it “premature” to speculate on whether Levin will yield to McCain’s pressure. The most important thing for now, he said, is for proponents of the repeal to take the reins in framing the message on the issue.

“There’s no doubt McCain is trying to frame the debate early, even before Senators return for the lame duck,” Sarvis said. “We’re trying to counter where McCain is out there saying the only bill that can move out there is a watered-down bill. That assertion needs to be pushed back on.”

Senators Lieberman, Udall (Mark), and Gillibrand added their own call to action.

The Senate should act immediately to debate and pass a defense authorization bill and repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ during the lame duck session. The Senate has passed a defense bill for forty-eight consecutive years. We should not fail to meet that responsibility now, especially while our nation is at war. We must also act to put an end to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that not only discriminates against but also dishonors the service of gay and lesbian service members.

The National Defense Authorization Act is essential to the safety and well-being of our service members and their families, as well as for the success of military operations around the world. The bill will increase the pay of all service members, authorize needed benefits for our veterans and wounded warriors, and launch military construction projects at bases throughout the country.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates did the same in a recent interview.

I would say that the leaving "don't ask, don't tell" behind us is inevitable. The question is whether it is done by legislation that allows us to do it in a thoughtful and careful way, or whether it is struck down by the courts. Because recent court decisions are certainly pointing in that direction. And we went through a period of two weeks in October where we had four different policy changes in the space of, as I say, two weeks, from striking it down totally, to a stay, to appeal, and so on. So I I think we have the least flexibility. We have the least opportunity to do this intelligently and carefully and with the kind of preparation that is necessary, if the courts take this action as opposed to there being legislation.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal is still very much within our reach. Contact your Senators and Majority Leader Reid, the Department of Defense, and the White House. Thank our supporters and urge them to stand up and speak out. Urge the opposition to change course.

Note that the long-awaited Pentagon study is set to be released on December 1. We have every reason to believe that good news is coming. We must keep fighting.

Click here for more information on the path forward.

PFAW

DOD puts breaks on DADT repeal, veterans to lobby Congress

Late Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen urged Congress to hold off on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the Pentagon completes its policy review. This was followed by a White House statement (cited by Washington Post and other media outlets) deferring to Secretary Gates.

Alexander Nicholson, a former Army interrogator discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and current Executive Director of Servicemembers United, believes that the push for repeal is not the real problem.

This letter from Secretary Gates is a significant cause for concern for those who truly respect and support the gay military community.

PFAW agrees that careful thought must be given to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But like Alexander Nicholson, we believe just as strongly that legislative action does not depend on the actions of the DOD Working Group. The Working Group was commissioned to study how to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – not whether it should be repealed. That’s the point on which Congress wants to act. They could do so as early as this month when work begins on the DOD Authorization bill. Congress should proceed now so that we are ready for implementation by December 1 – the deadline for completion of the Working Group report.

Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, described this “fierce urgency of now” in his response.

As a result of the Commander in Chief's decision to defer to Secretary Gates' wishes and timeline, gay service members will continue to be treated as second class citizens, and any sense of fairness may well have been delayed for yet another year, perhaps for another decade.

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, continues.

[F]ailure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief.

Advocates will not rest in their push for an end to LGBT discrimination and muzzled military service. In fact, we’re just one week away from the National Veterans Lobby Day. Hundreds of veterans will come to Capitol Hill to stand up and speak out for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

PFAW