At a second day of hearings on the Pentagon’s working study of “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, the respective heads of the military’s service branches presented split testimony that neither decisively doomed nor wholeheartedly endorsed repeal.
The vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, the Navy chief, and the commandant of the Coast Guard recommended repeal, while the chiefs of the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps all expressed a varying degree of reservation about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” at this time.
Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, provided the most nuanced testimony of the day. He concluded that implementing repeal would pose only a “moderate risk” to both “effectiveness in the short term” and the “ability to recruit and retain our all-volunteer force over time,” but warned against immediate action.
“I would not recommend going forward at this time with everything the Army has on its plate at this point,” Casey said.
However, he added, the report had led him to believe that “the presumption that underpins the law — that the presence of a gay or lesbian service member in a unit causes an unacceptable risk to good order and discipline” — is a fallacy.
“After reading the report, I don’t believe that’s true anymore, and I don’t believe a substantial majority of our soldiers believe that’s true,” Casey said.
Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the Air Force, disagreed with the study’s assessment that “the short-term risk to military effectiveness is low” and recommended “deferring implementation until 2012.”
In later testimony Schwartz refined his point after Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called that time line “totally arbitrary.”
Schwartz clarified that he was more focused on not executing “full implementation” until 2012. “We could begin education and training soon after you acted to repeal,” he told Levin.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, gave the most
negative assessment of repeal, noting that “45% of Marines surveyed
viewed repeal negatively” in terms of unit effectiveness, readiness, and
But Amos, who has been the most outspoken of the
chiefs in his opposition to repeal, added, “Should Congress change the
law, then our nation's Marine Corps will faithfully support the law.”
witnesses were unified on that point — that the respective branches could
indeed implement a repeal — and they all agreed that they were
comfortable with the amount of input they would have into the timing of
certification of repeal in the event Congress does vote to change the
policy. As the law is written, the secretary of Defense, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs, and the president would have to sign off on repeal before
the policy is actually lifted.
Senator Levin highlighted the fact
that Defense secretary Robert Gates told the committee a day earlier that he
would not proceed with certification until the chiefs had given him the
“We heard Secretary Gates testify that ‘I would not
sign any certification until I was satisfied, with the advice of the
service chiefs, that we had in fact mitigated, if not eliminated to the
extent possible, risks to combat readiness, to unit cohesion and
effectiveness,’” Levin said.
Several senators discussed the possibility of a “phased-in” approach, as Sen. Joe Lieberman put it, to changing the policy.
I read the plan, the opportunity is there to structure the
implementation phase,” Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, told the committee. “Where the opinion probably varies
is in the how — whether it’s by time, whether it’s by service, whether
it’s by unit, whether it’s by deployment cycle?”
So “it’s on the table,” affirmed Sen. Jim Webb.
at present, Adm. Robert Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard,
worried that the leadership of the military is giving “ambiguous
signals” that is leading different military leaders to be “selectively
obedient” in enforcing the policy.
“When you allow selective obedience, that’s an insidious thing which hurts our overall military effectiveness,” Papp warned.
chiefs also unanimously shot down one common GOP criticism — that the
survey never directly asked service members whether they believed the
law should be repealed.
“I don’t think that we need a referendum-type question,” Amos told Republican senator James Inhofe. “I got the
information I needed,” he added.
senators emphasized the point that the combat units, whose members
expressed the most trepidation about repeal, also said they didn’t
believe they knew or had served with anyone who was gay.
is to say, predictions of negative effects are higher among troops in
war-fighting units, but the actual experience of troops in combat units
who have fought alongside gays is that their units were largely
unaffected,” Levin said, quoting from the working group report.
To reinforce the point, Democratic senators repeatedly referenced one anonymous quote from the report.
“We have a gay guy. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay,” one soldier said of a gay man who served in his unit.
said and done, pro-repeal advocates indicated their worst fears had
been averted and the collective testimony had been less negative and
perhaps even more positive than expected.
After the hearing concluded, Lieberman told The Advocate it was “a very encouraging day.”
know there was a lot of feeling that the chiefs of the various services
were going to come in and say that they were unalterably opposed to
repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Lieberman said. “The fact is, every
one of them said they were for repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ — a few
of them would like not to have it happen now.”
Shortly after the
hearing, Sen. Scott Brown — a key Republican who sits on the committee
and joined Sen. John McCain’s filibuster of the defense bill in
September — pledged his support for repeal.
“I accept the findings
of the report and support repeal based on the [Defense] secretary’s
recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle
effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been
completed,” Brown said in a statement.