Defense secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that they support President Barack Obama’s aspiration to repeal a discriminatory policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“I fully support the president’s policy,” Gates said in his opening statement. “The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare for it.”
Secretary Gates said the Pentagon would “immediately” initiate a one-year study of how to implement a change in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as it simultaneously undertakes a 45-day review of how discharges can be eased under the current law.
“I have also directed the department to quickly review the regulations used to implement the current ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law and, within 45 days, present to me the recommended changes to those regulations that, within existing law, will enforce this policy in a more humane and fair manner,” said Gates.
But in what was perhaps the strongest and most defining moment of the hearing, Admiral Mullen stated his personal support for repealing the discriminatory ban.
“Mr. Chairman, 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,” Mullen said. “For me personally it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
Gates’s and Mullen’s remarks prompted an apparent rebuke from GOP senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking member on the committee, who has noted repeatedly that he opposes changing the policy.
McCain told Gates that he was “deeply disappointed” by his comments and called them “clearly biased.”
"I'm happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that will have to pass a law to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' despite your efforts to repeal in a number of respects by fiat," he said.
Republican senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama seemed equally dismayed by the fact that Gates and Mullen were lining up with the president.
president, the commander in chief, has announced a decision, and the secretary of Defense apparently supports that decision; Admiral Mullen
[says] that he personally believes in that decision,” Sessions noted.
But both Gates and Mullen took pains to convey that the investigation does not presuppose any specific outcome.
think the purpose of the examination that we're undertaking, frankly, is
to inform the decision-making of the Congress,” Gates said. “We
obviously recognize that this is up to Congress, and my view is,
frankly, it is critical that this matter be settled by a vote of
The acknowledgment by Gates prompted Sen. Joseph
Lieberman of Connecticut, who supports repeal, to observe that the
Senate “must find 60 votes” to overturn the policy.
Levin, the committee chair, who also supports repeal, then corrected
Lieberman, saying, “Unless there's a provision inside the DOD
authorization bill.” After the hearing, Levin explained that he doubted
60 senators would line up to filibuster the entire Defense funding bill
if repeal language was folded into the bill.
But Levin also told
reporters he thought it was “a more likely prospect” that some sort of
“moratorium” would be placed on discharges using the Defense
authorization bill as a vehicle.
“I haven’t ruled anything out,”
Levin said, referring to full repeal. “Given the direction that the
administration wants to take, given the fact that apparently most of
the American public thinks that the discriminatory policy should end,
assuming the kind of leadership we saw this morning by these two
leaders — I think a moratorium during this period is the minimum that
we should seek.”
Levin added that he had not had any further
guidance from the White House about the way forward other than the
president’s proclamation in his State of the Union speech.
The results of the hearing were met with a combination of optimism and trepidation by supporters of repeal.
strongly applaud Secretary Gates supporting the president's view that DADT
needs to go. It's a matter of when and how, he said, not if,” said
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense
“Admiral Mullen’s remarks went far beyond what he
needed to do in this context,” said Alex Nicholson, executive director
of Servicemembers United.
But other repeal
advocates worried about a lengthy time line for the rollout and noted
the policy has already been analyzed thoroughly for years.
issue has been studied for 50 years and the Palm Center released a memo
today footnoting no less 20 studies — including the military’s own
study — which all said openly gay service works,” said Nathaniel
Frank, a senior fellow at the Palm Center, a think tank that studies
sexual minorities in the military. “But they didn’t read the studies,
they buried them, and that’s what they are going to do this time.”
others, the secretary of the Navy commissioned a report in 1957 that became
known as the Crittenden Report; in 1993, Rand Corp. researchers
at the National Defense Research Institute, a think tank founded by the
Air Force, completed a study commissioned by Defense secretary Les
Aspin; a bipartisan panel of retired flag officers released a report in
1998 that Gen. John Shalikashvili called “one of the most comprehensive
evaluations” of the issue since the Rand study; and just last year the
Joint Force Quarterly, a top military journal published for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published a study titled “The
Efficacy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” written by Col. Om Prakash, an
active duty officer in the Air Force.