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Dont Ask Dont Tell The Begininng of the End

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* Watch video of the hearing at the bottom of the page.

Department of Defense secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will announce during a Tuesday hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee steps they intend to take toward altering the way "don't ask, don't tell" regulations are enforced.

The joint appearance is the first of its kind in the 17 years since the gay ban was initiated, but it's not clear if the Obama administration's strategy will also include pressing for congressional repeal even as the Pentagon makes internal adjustments.

During the White House press briefing Monday, The Advocate asked if President Obama envisioned "a dual track" where DOD reworks the policy as legislation is moving through Congress.

"I think you'll see efforts on a number of fronts over the course of the next many months that will be outlined by Secretary Gates, outlined by Admiral Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, to address what the president promised -- again, dating back to his Senate campaign in 2003 and 2004 -- to seek the overturning of "don't ask, don't tell" a number of different ways," said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Meanwhile, Gates was asked at Monday's DOD briefing if the policy was addressed in the budget.

"The budget doesn't address it," he said. "Stay tuned 'til tomorrow."

Representatives of the Palm Center, a California-based think tank that studies sexual minorities in the military, released a statement saying they expect one of the Pentagon's regulatory changes to include what type of information triggers an investigation into someone's sexuality.

The change would "protect some service members from investigations based on third-party allegations and set a new standard for what constitutes reliable sources and credible information that trigger a 'don't ask, don't tell' investigation," read the statement.

Eliminating third-party investigations would solve a "small slice" of the problem, according to Dixon Osburn, who cofounded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and served as executive director for 13 years. But Osburn said third-party outings account for only about 5% of SLDN's clients.

But if, for instance, DOD also excluded what Osburn referred to as "a zone of privacy statements" that people sometimes make to family, friends, and counselors, that would help solve "a big problem," he added.

Changing the investigation procedure is something SLDN recommended in several reports dating back to the mid '90s.

Specifically, in SLDN's 1996 annual report, the organization recommended doing the following:

-Issue clear guidance that inquiries and investigations can only be started with good cause. Not all information is credible, such as retaliatory accusations.

-Require commanders to not intrude into private conversations between gay service members and their families, doctors, and other health care professionals and not use such statements as the basis for retribution, investigation and discharge.

-Exclude evidence that has been wrongfully obtained from being used at an administrative discharge board against the service member, as suggested by a 1995 Advisory Board on DOD Investigative Capability report.

But one of the biggest concerns of advocates who want to see the policy overturned is that implementation will take too long -- Pentagon officials have suggested it may be a several-year process.

"As has always been the case, the strongest opposition is on moral grounds and comes from pockets of social conservatives -- it's not about military readiness," said Nathaniel Frank, a senior fellow at the Palm Center and author of a book about the policy called Unfriendly Fire.

Frank hoped whatever action was taken would be quick and decisive.

"How effective this is and what impact it has will depend on what the officers in charge do and what signal they have been given from the top," he said.

Social conservatives who oppose changing the policy have also started rallying their troops.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, published an editorial Monday in the National Review titled "Misusing the Military."

"Contrary to the president's statement, there is no national desire to 'finally' repeal the 1993 law," Donnelly wrote. "Only the well-funded LGBT Left is pushing this issue, and they expect a political payoff regardless of the consequences."

A USA Today/Gallup poll last year found that 69% of Americans favor open service by lesbian and gay soldiers.

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