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DADT Survey Released; Gates, Mullen Discuss Repeal

After literally asking reporters to go into a closet to read the results, the Pentagon survey on the attitudes of hundreds of thousands of service members and their families about gay and lesbian colleagues serving openly has finally been released. You can find it here. Gen. Carter Ham, one of the co-authors of the report, believes that the Pentagon can change the law, and repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Ham and Defense Department counsel Jeh Johnson led the review team on the survey.

A change in the law that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military can be implemented without irreparable harm, the co-chair of a Pentagon working group that studied the matter said yesterday.

“It’s my belief, having now looked this matter extensively over nine months, that the leaders of our services — all services, all components — are so good today, so experienced today, that they can effectively implement this change, maintain unit cohesion, and a strong focus on mission accomplishment,” Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, said.

55% of those surveyed said that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would have no effect, and another 15-20% said it would only have positive effects. Among the combat arms units, there was more opposition – 50% of Army combat units were opposed, and 60% in the Marines – but Defense Secretary Robert Gates mentioned in a press conference that, among those who believed they had served with a gay service member before, “the level of comfort was above 90%.” He said, and the report backs him up, that resistance is based on unfamiliarity, stereotypes, and inherent resistance to change.

The report acknowledges a “low” potential risk from repeal to things like unit cohesion and force retention and military readiness, but Ham believes that the military can get through it with leadership, and that ultimately any disruption from repeal will not be widespread or long-lasting. Gates said that the military may need time subsequent to implementing repeal, should Congress vote in that fashion, to minimize this risk. He said the President would be watching to “ensure we don’t slow-roll this,” but that he didn’t know how long it would take. “If court made us do this tomorrow, the risk would be high. If we have effective time for preparation, the risk lowers,” Gates said. Admiral Mike Mullen agreed that the risk was minimal, given the proper time. Gates added that the possibility of court action to take down the DADT policy as unconstitutional added renewed urgency to changing the policy in Congress, allowing for a lead time of implementation. “Now that we have completed this review, I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year,” he said.

Some more results, via the Wonk Room:

70% of Service members said they would be able to “work together to get the job done” with a gay servicemember in their immediate units.

69% said they worked in a unit with a co-worker that they believed to be homosexual.

92% stated that their unit’s “ability to work together,” with a gay person was “very good, “good” or “neither good nor poor.” (89% for those in Army combat arms units, 84% for those in Marine combat arms units.)

74% of spouses of military service-members say repeal of DADT would have no impact on their view of whether their husbands or wives should continue to serve.

The recommendations of the report for implementation included: strong leadership at the top; education and training tools for the forces; no exemptions for religious objections; benefits to include same-sex partners; and re-enlistment for service members previously discharged under DADT.

Gates spoke personally about DADT, saying that “A policy that requires people to lie about themselves seems to me fundamentally flawed.” He said it ran counter to the principles in the military of integrity, honor and values.

Gates and Mullen will get to expand upon this, as well as the chiefs of all the armed services, at Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Thursday and Friday. But Gates was firm. “If Congress repeals, this is the will of the American people. We will do this, and we will do it right.”

The report is available in PDF form here. At the end of the press event, Secretary Gates said there would be no separate facilities for gays and lesbians.

UPDATE: Joe Lieberman, Kirsten Gillibrand and Mark Udall have a pretty happy statement out about the report:

“The Pentagon report makes it unambiguously clear that the risk of repeal on military effectiveness is minimal, that any risks can be addressed by implementing the report’s recommendations, and that a clear majority of active duty servicemen and women have no problem with repeal. The military has spoken and now is the time to repeal this policy that is damaging to our national security.

“The report is the product of one of the most, if not the most, extensive studies on a military personnel issue that has ever been conducted and its findings demonstrate that we can proceed with repeal of this discriminatory policy in a way that ensures that the U.S. military continues to be the best fighting force in the world. Men and women, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, who are willing to fight and defend our country should be allowed to do so without fear of discrimination.

“We will continue to work with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year. We look forward to the hearings scheduled for later this week where Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chairmen of the Pentagon’s working group, General Counsel Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham, will present the report to Congress.”

UPDATE II: The interesting part of Gates’ call for repeal today is that he seemed to assume that the courts would eventually overturn the policy, and that it would be preferable for all involved to have a leisurely implementation rather than the immediate one which would likely be demanded by the courts. Basically, Gates makes it a given that repeal will happen, and gives the politicians two choices – a more manageable, in his view, repeal, or one that could cause an initial shock to the military.

UPDATE III: Reps. Buck McKeon and Joe “You Lie” Wilson, who will hold the major chairmanships overseeing this policy in the House next year, have called for “comprehensive oversight” in response to the report. In other words, they want to spend years failing to act on the recommendations until they lose their meaning.

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David Dayen

David Dayen