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April 9, 2010

New DADT rules make it harder to kick people out

Washington, D.C.--Among the give-and-take that has characterized efforts to end the military’s ban on openly gay personnel over the last few months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a preliminary step on March 25 that would make it harder for service members to be discharged based on other people “telling.”

The changes, which took immediate effect, raise the threshold for evidence required to discharge personnel for violations of the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Investigators will now ignore anonymous claims against service members, and accusations must now be made under oath, which could lead to criminal perjury charges if someone was maliciously filing a claim.

In addition, investigations and discharges must now be overseen by an officer equivalent to a one-star general or admiral, or higher.

The policy changes are the result of Gates’ inquiry to Pentagon lawyers last summer as to whether the policy could be enforced less strictly. The attorneys dragged their feet until President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he again called for the repeal of the discriminatory law.

Obama, Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Admiral Mike Mullen all support ending the 1993 law. The repeal effort is backed by a large number of high-ranking former officers, including former Joint Chiefs chairs John Shalikashvili and Colin Powell.

Not all military leaders favor repeal, of course. Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, leader of Army forces in the Pacific, urged service members who support the policy to contact their senators and representatives and express their opposition to the repeal. His comments were published in the independent military Stars and Stripes newspaper on March 8.

Those words could have cost Mixon his career. Public opposition to the president by a military official can be insubordination, as the president is commander-in-chief of the military.

While Mixon has not been dismissed or given a formal letter of reprimand, “the issue is being addressed with him,” Mullen told the Washington Post.

“As a three-star leader in command, by virtue of just that position alone, he has great influence,” Mullen continued. He said that if officers are opposed to changing the policy, “The answer is not advocacy. It is, in fact, to vote with your feet.”

Another officer’s comments drew criticism. Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told Military.com that he believes it will be necessary to build “bachelor enlisted quarters” with single rooms so Marines won’t have to “live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it.”

His position was opposed by the previous commandant, Gen. Carl Mundy, who supports the DADT policy.

Mundy, however, said that if repeal’s going to happen, “the easiest way to deal with it is to make it as simple as possible. The last thing you even want to think about is creating separate facilities or separate groups or separate meeting places or having four kinds of showers--one of straight women, lesbians, straight men and gay men.”

“That would be absolutely disastrous in the armed forces,” he continued. “It would destroy any sense of cohesion or teamwork or good order and discipline.”

Finally, although Obama has the military and Congress working to repeal DADT, his Justice Department filed a brief supporting it, in response to a lawsuit challenging the policy’s constitutionality.

In that brief, Justice Department attorneys used quotations from Colin Powell back when he was the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 17 years ago. He has disavowed those previous views and now supports repeal.

While the brief does note that Powell’s views have changed, it quotes extensively from his congressional testimony 17 years ago, when President Clinton attempted to end the military’s ban on gay and lesbian service members. The “compromise” that arose out of that effort is the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

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