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Richard Klass Headshot

A Time to Ask. A Time to Tell

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July 19, 2008 will mark the 15th anniversary of the Clinton Administration's announcement of the "Don't Ask. Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy. What is often overlooked is that this policy was supposed to be a way station on the road to full acceptance of homosexuals in the military. Instead, Congress codified the policy into law (10USC654) with important differences such as dropping "Don't Pursue" and asserting that homosexuality was incompatible with military service. The Congress also gave the Secretary of Defense authority to reinstate asking.

The result of Congressional action and Defense Department regulations was to create a "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" (DADT) policy frozen in law and essentially unchanged and unchallenged for 15 years. Until now there has been no serious review of the effects and effectiveness of this policy from the military point of view. In short, there has been a reluctance to ask if this policy is working or to tell the truth about its uneven application.

Just in time for the 15th anniversary of the policy, a remarkable new study has been published by the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara (http://www.palmcenter.org/press/dadt/releases/new_report_by_senior_military_leaders_urges_end_to_gay_ban) What is remarkable is that the study was conducted by four retired officers, one from each service, three who had achieved 3 star rank and one brigadier general. The criteria they used was to examine the impact of the policy on the readiness and combat effectiveness of our forces as well as criteria of good order and discipline.

The Study Group clearly states that it does not propose to offer a new policy but rather to examine the effects of DADT over time and to judge its impact on the armed forces. The tightly written study then makes a number of findings and well thought out recommendations.

A primary recommendation is that 10USC654 be repealed and that personnel policy on these issues be returned to the Department of Defense (DOD). As former senior military leaders, they believe that commanders have sufficient and more flexible disciplinary tools to deal with sexual issues be they heterosexual or homosexual. Likewise, the Study Group suggests eliminating "don't tell" as sexual orientation should be considered a private matter. This leads to a third recommendation that all DOD rules. Policies and recommendations be written in gender neutral language.

The most disturbing finding is handled in the final recommendation. Under current rules, a service member has no confidentiality protection for conversations with a military doctor, lawyer, chaplain or counselor where homosexual orientation may arise. The professional consulted is obligated to turn in the service member under the "don't tell" provision.

At its base the study shows the inconsistency, even hypocrisy of the current policy. Read strictly, 10USC654 bans homosexuals from military service. The DOD policy is more liberal and the implementation is more liberal and uneven. The Study Group heard numerous stories from service men and women who served openly but were protected by their commanders because they were "good soldiers." Yet this very action made commanders chose between obeying the law and regulations and maintaining unit effectiveness. Likewise, homosexual service members lived in constant fear that their next commander would not be so lenient. This led to the loss of many qualified personnel although others served a full career to retirement. Thus it is clear that the policy "works" only because it is often ignored.

The basis for 10USC654 was that homosexuals serving posed an "unacceptable risk" to military good order and discipline. But as the study points out, that judgment was based on attitudes of those serving in the military at the time. Yet only some 20% of those on active duty in 1993 remain in the service and society's attitude toward homosexuality has changed markedly in the past 15 years. Until the law is repealed, however, DOD is unable to adjust its policies to meet the new realities.

There will be many who will reject the findings and recommendations of this study. Before doing so, however, they should read it and carefully consider its content. It is likely that DADT will be an issue in the new Congress and for the next president. The authors of this study have done the nation and the military a great service by taking a professional and objective look at DADT on its 15th anniversary and making some suggestions for the policy's future.