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Army Secretary Puts Foot in Mouth Over New DADT Rules

By L.K. Regan

The changes to Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) announced last week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates are leading to some confusion about the law's current status. On Wednesday, the Secretary of the Army declared that dismissals on DADT charges were on hold. By Thursday, he was forced to recant his remarks.

John McHugh is the Secretary of the Army and the highest ranking civilian in that branch of the military. In a press conference earlier this week, he gave his take on the current status of DADT. Responding to Secretary Gates' policy revisions announced last week, McHugh said: "What the secretary has placed a moratorium on is going forward on discharges." And, he added, "It is not so stated, but I think [it is] a reasonable assumption."

Unfortunately (for all of us), McHugh was mistaken in this assumption. While there are new policies on DADT in place—including tighter rules for the gathering of evidence and stricter requirements for overseeing the cases—dismissals are certainly continuing. McHugh was forced to correct the record on Thursday with an unambiguous statement, though the fact of his error signals a more general confusion about the state of the law within the armed services. "There is no moratorium of the law and neither [Secretary Gates] nor I would support one," he said. And, he said, "Until Congress repeals 'don't ask, don't tell,' it remains the law of the land and the Department of the Army and I will fulfil our obligation to uphold it."

But it's not so clear that he would really fulfill that obligation. In the course of giving Wednesday's original, erroneous statement on the current state of the law, McHugh had described three soldiers who had admitted to him that they were gay—a violation of DADT. Not only did he not prosecute them then, but, he made clear in his Thursday remarks, he has no intention of doing so now. "I am unable to identify these soldiers and I am not in a position to formally pursue the matter," he said. And as to his response when they first told him they were gay? "I might better have counseled them that statements about their sexual orientation could not be treated as confidential and could result in their [discharge] under the law."

McHugh's mistake indicates that the twilight days of DADT are likely to be confusing for all concerned, with both commanders and personnel unclear as to their roles and limitations. But that McHugh did not prosecute personnel when he could have, even in the stricter days of the law, gives an indication of the degree to which, even among military brass, there has long been an awareness of gays in uniform.