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Retired Military Officers Call for Repeal of Anti-Gay 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy

By L.K. Regan

An independent investigation conducted by four retired military officers has reached the conclusion that the armed services' anti-gay and lesbian policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) should be repealed, the AP reports. The study was funded by the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and was conducted by retired officers from each of the branches of the armed services: Army Lt. General Robert Gard, Marine Corps General Hugh Aitken, Air Force Lt. General Robert Minter Alexander, and Navy Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan. The four officers span the political spectrum, and were chosen to represent a diversity of political opinions. The officers stipulated that their conclusions be reached completely independently, and published regardless of content.

The officers' report was the result of comprehensive study of the political and legislative history of DADT, and of discussions held with military personnel and experts over the course of a year. Active service personnel, military scholars, and Clinton and Bush administration officials all spoke with the group. Opponents of gays and lesbians serving in the military were invited to testify, but all declined to appear in person, submitting only written comments. The outcome was a unanimous agreement that gays present no threat to "unit cohesion"—that is, to the military unit's ability to function as a unified group.

Unit cohesion has been the legal basis of DADT since its inception, based on the idea that gays and lesbians represent an "unacceptable risk" because they cause discomfort within the unit and between personnel. But, according to the panel of officers, unit cohesion suffers no threat from the presence of gays and lesbians. In fact, one member of the study group suggested that DADT presented its own threat to military personnel—that of loss of integrity. Navy Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan commented on the price paid by those trying to conform to DADT: "Everyone was living a big lie—the homosexuals were trying to hide their sexual orientation and the commanders were looking the other way because they didn't want to disrupt operations by trying to enforce the law."

The panel's report is made up of 10 findings and four recommendations. The recommendations call for a repeal to DADT, a relegation of sexual orientation to the private realm, a removal of all language pertaining to sexual orientation from Department of Defense directives, and the implementation of safeguards to protect personnel's interactions with chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.

The panel's findings cover a broad range of negative implications of DADT. These are:

  1. The law locks the military's position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances.
  2. Existing military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct.
  3. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining the cohesion of their units.
  4. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has prevented some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling.
  5. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has caused the military to lose some talented service members.
  6. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has compelled some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to lie about their identity.
  7. Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving openly.
  8. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has made it harder for some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to perform their duties.
  9. Military attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing.
  10. Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.