Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brody's Notes... Gates, Mullen Urge Congress to Repeal DADT GOP Senators Question Wisdom Of Repealing Law

Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testify before Senate Armed Services Committee on repeal of DADT  Photo By Getty Images
By Brody Levesque & Mark Singer (Washington DC) DEC 2 | In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today, U. S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified that now is the time to repeal the 'Don't ask-Don't tell' law.
Secretary Gates told the committee's Senators:
“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.
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.”
Admiral Mullens concurred adding:
 “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.”
It appeared that the principal resistance to changing the current law despite the results from the Pentagon's Work Group Report released to Congress Tuesday, came from Arizona Republican John McCain, who at one point asked another member of the panel, General Carter Ham, Commander of U. S. Forces Germany:
Is it your personal opinion that this law should be repealed? 
General Ham told him bluntly yes. 
McCain then directed questions to Secretary Gates asking;
How are concerns about repeal exaggerated? 
Gates replied:
"I believe with proper time for prep, training, before deployments or after, if we are allowed to do this on our terms, I believe those concerns can be mitigated."
He reiterated Mullen's comments on the experiences of those who have served with openly gay and lesbian service members.
McCain retorted: I couldn't disagree more. 12.6% of the overall military force said they'll leave earlier than planned [if DADT is repealed]. Overall numbers- he estimates 265K troops to leave. You think that's a good idea when we're fighting two wars? 
Gates fired back: Yes, and our military allies had large numbers who said they would leave, and in the end, those numbers were far smaller than what surveys indicated. While there are concerns you'll probably hear tomorrow about special ops forces where there are limited numbers of people, I don't think any of us think the numbers would be anything like what the survey suggests, based on experience. Also, they can't just up and leave. They have enlistment contracts. It isn't like they can just say, well, I'm outta here. And I believe their concerns can be mitigated.
Earler, Admiral Mullen flatly stated:
"What was my personal opinion is now my professional opinion. Unit cohesion will not suffer, families will not encourage their loved ones to leave the service. I don't discount for a moment the results of the survey... whatever risk there is, it is thoroughly mitigated by the [recommendations] in this study. These are the things I know for a fact, these are the things the study tells us. Now let me tell you what I believe- Our troops are ready for this. Most are serving or have served alongside gays and lesbians."
Republican committee members taking cue from McCain's earlier lines of questioning hammered away at why the study group did not ask the service members if DADT should be repealed. Senator McCain himself revisited that question several times not only with the Defence Secretary but the other members of the panel- Defence Department Counsel Jeh Johnson, General Ham, and Admiral Mullen.
Secretary Gates at one point irritated at those questions said that although the military’s opinions were important, it did not get a vote.
"I can’t think of a single precedent in American history of doing a referendum of the American armed forces on a policy issue,” Mr. Gates told Senators. "Are you going to ask them if they want 15-month tours? Are you going to ask them if they want to be part of the surge in Iraq? That’s not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history. The ‘should’ question is to be decided by the Congress.”
When Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) kept pushing that particular issue, Secretary Gates bluntly told him:
"I think that in effect doing a referendum of the armed forces on a policy matter is a very dangerous path.”
Praising the work group's efforts, the independent U. S. Senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman called the present law,  "a stain on the honor" of the U.S. military.
Sen. Jim Webb, (D-VA), noted that he voted against moving forward on DADT legislation before the survey was released because he thought the study results should be carefully considered.
"I believe you have really done the job here," he tells the report's writers. Calls it "the most crucial piece of information we have" in objectively addressing this law.
Webb then queried  General Ham, " whether we have any idea what % of U.S. military is gay/lesbian."
Ham: We do, and it's imprecise. Estimate is about the same as general population- somewhere in 2-3%. RAND's assessment that gay men are lower, and lesbians higher, than in general population. [ The Rand Corporation had done the initial study for implementation of the DADT law in 1993, and updated the results according to the general. ]
Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo), remarked that she was "disappointed" with some of the rhetoric around the debate, but she then praised on the Defence Secretary;
"I watched you under President Bush and I think you called it balls and strikes," McCaskill said. The Missouri Democrat also told Gates that he "set a great example" serving under two presidents of two different parties."
McCaskill remarked on President Harry S. Truman's integration in 1948 and how only a decade later did Congress begin to seriously look at the Civil Rights Act. She asked the Defence Department Counsel, Jeh Johnson to compare the two time periods, then and today. 
Johnson replied: 
"I was surprised, Senator, to find there were surveys of the military back then- 3 or 4 thousand surveyed. But the opposition to racial integration was much higher. By the time the military was mostly integrated, Montgomery buses were still not. Opposition was much higher to racial integration then than gay/lesbian integration today."
The Republicans on the committee seemed disturbed by some of the report's finding that show a high percentage of members of both Army & Marine combat units were opposed to lifting the ban. Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates both placed great emphasis on the fact that change must include leadership and training to mitigate the concerns that those servicemembers may have.
Mullen said that new young members of the military may have not encountered homosexual servicemembers before:
"They're 18-24, trying to figure out their own selves," and have a "lack of exposure" to gay and lesbian persons."
Senator Linsey Graham (R-SC) asked Admiral Mullen what led to the change in his thinking. Mullen responded that the mismatch of values/integrity with thousands of men and women willing to die for their country and asking them to lie. Worries that it is corrosive over time and a disrespect to the institution.
As the hearing wound down,  Senator McCain stated that he was "taken aback that we won't have a referendum of men and women in the military, citing again that only 28% of the 400,000 servicemembers surveyed responded.
He then chastised the panel as he noted that leaders should consult subordinates, though that doesn't mean dictated by views of subordinates.
Admiral Mullen replied to the Senator by saying what the report did ask and takes good stock of where they are. He reiterated how it would be an "incredibly bad precedent" to ask them to vote. McCain argued it's asking their views, not voting. Mullen fired back with "we've gotten their views in great part of this survey."
Senator Lieberman asked about margin of error. Jeh Johnson responded that it is less than 1%, far lower than any normal survey.
Also in the final round of questioning, Johnson told the committee that he wasn't there to comment on the constitutionality of the law. But he added that the timing of the courts' actions is uncertain. When a lower court previously issued a ruling on a case involving the policy, it prompted a flurry of questions about the legal ramifications for servicemembers, Johnson said. "That was a very uncertain action which I hope to never repeat."
From MSNBC: McCain said "The report is flawed because it never asks them (soldiers) directly if the policy should be repealed."