Gates, Mullen Urge Congress to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask’ Law

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 — Con­gress must act soon to repeal the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law to ensure a sys­tem­at­ic and order­ly imple­men­ta­tion of gays being per­mit­ted to serve open­ly in the mil­i­tary, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this morn­ing.
In tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, Gates and Mullen said now is the time to repeal the law.

“I believe this is a mat­ter of some urgency because, as we have seen this past year, the judi­cial branch is becom­ing involved in this issue, and it is only a mat­ter of time before the fed­er­al courts are drawn once more into the fray,” Gates said. 

“Should this hap­pen,” he con­tin­ued, “there is the very real pos­si­bil­i­ty that this change would be imposed imme­di­ate­ly by judi­cial fiat -– by far the most dis­rup­tive and dam­ag­ing sce­nario I can imag­ine, and the one most haz­ardous to mil­i­tary morale, readi­ness and bat­tle­field per­for­mance.” Mullen also expressed con­cerns about judi­cial han­dling of the matter. 

“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,” he added. “War does not sti­fle change; it demands it.” 

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed leg­is­la­tion in May that calls for the pres­i­dent, defense sec­re­tary and Joint Chiefs chair­man to cer­ti­fy that the mil­i­tary can han­dle repeal with­out affect­ing com­bat effec­tive­ness before a repeal takes effect. On Nov. 30, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials released the report of a work­ing group that reviewed issues asso­ci­at­ed with a poten­tial repeal of the law. 

Gates said the work­ing group reached out to the force to bet­ter under­stand their views. Out­reach includ­ed a sur­vey sent to hun­dreds of thou­sands of troops and their fam­i­lies. “A strong major­i­ty of those who answered the sur­vey –- more than two thirds –- do not object to gays and les­bians serv­ing open­ly in uni­form,” Gates said. “The find­ings sug­gest that for large seg­ments of the mil­i­tary -– with the excep­tion of some com­bat spe­cial­ties -– the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, though poten­tial­ly dis­rup­tive in the short term, would not be the wrench­ing, trau­mat­ic change that many have feared and predicted.” 

The work­ing group’s plan, with a strong empha­sis on edu­ca­tion, train­ing and leader devel­op­ment, offers a road map for imple­ment­ing the repeal that will be suc­cess­ful if the mil­i­tary has enough time to pre­pare for the pol­i­cy change, the sec­re­tary added. 

Mullen said the expe­ri­ence of oth­er mil­i­taries that allow gays to serve open­ly is a good indi­ca­tion that the end of the U.S. ban will pass with less tur­bu­lence than some pre­dict. “Our study looked at 35 oth­er mil­i­taries that chose to per­mit open ser­vice, includ­ing those of our staunchest allies,” he said. “In no instance was there wide­spread pan­ic or mass res­ig­na­tions or whole­sale dis­re­gard for dis­ci­pline and restraint.” 

Many of those troops from oth­er nations “fight along­side us in Afghanistan today and they fought with us in Iraq,” Mullen said. 

“Gay or straight, their troops patrolled with ours and bled with ours,” he said. “They have cer­tain­ly shared with ours the fear and lone­li­ness and the hor­ror of com­bat. I don’t recall a sin­gle instance where the fact that one of them might be open­ly gay ever led to poor per­for­mance on the field of battle.” 

Gates said that in advance of the poten­tial repeal, the Defense Depart­ment already has made sev­er­al changes to reg­u­la­tions that with­in exist­ing law “applied more exact­ing stan­dards to pro­ce­dures inves­ti­gat­ing or sep­a­rat­ing troops for sus­pect­ed homo­sex­u­al con­duct.” The changes, he added, “have added a mea­sure of com­mon sense and decen­cy to a legal­ly and moral­ly fraught process.” 

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.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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