Panel will study how to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell

During his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama promised, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.” Today the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing today on the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made headlines by saying he believes “the right thing to do” is to let gays serve openly:

Adm. Mike Mullen’s statement was the strongest yet from the uniformed military on this volatile issue, although he stressed that he was “speaking for myself and myself only.”

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday he is deeply troubled by a policy that forces people to “lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate committee he also supports ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. However, he is appointing a panel to study how to lift the ban for a full year, meaning that hundreds more men and women are likely to be discharged under the policy before it goes away. The Obama administration is expected to implement new rules on purging troops under this policy, but it’s not yet clear how much that will reduce the number of discharges while Gates’ panel studies the issue. According to MSNBC, “more than 10,900 troops have been fired under the policy” since 1993, but “The 2009 figure – 428 – was dramatically lower than the 2008 total of 619.”

Meanwhile, at today’s hearing Senator John McCain argued against reviewing the policy at this time, saying it boosts “cohesion” and “unit morale.” He also presented a letter signed by 1000 officers who support Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Come on, McCain. Even a jerk like Joe Lieberman understands why this policy is stupid.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin made the case for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in this piece for the Politico, but it doesn’t sound like he’s in a big hurry:

So there is little reason to continue this policy. But as we proceed, it is vital that we are sensitive to any complications of this policy shift. Change is always hard, especially when it involves social issues or personal beliefs. Lack of care as we proceed might spark opposition from those who could be open to change, and inflame the opposition of those already against it. And I would encourage those who favor change not to mistake deliberation for undue delay.

Point taken, but I am concerned by the timetable Gates is setting with a yearlong study. I hope Congress will act this year, because if Republicans retake the House or the Senate this November, there will be no chance of ditching Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the forseeable future.

Daily Kos user TennesseeGurl notes that even if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, LGBT Veterans will still get a raw deal. Unfortunately, I see no realistic path to fixing that problem.

UPDATE: Levin “said an amendment could be added to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill which outlines military policy for the year.” Taking that path would allow the Senate to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with a simple majority (as opposed to the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster).

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