Guest Blogger

A covert operation at the Pentagon?

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 27, 2007 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Department of Defense, Don't Ask Don't Tell, military, Pentagon, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, SLDN, Steve Ralls

[EDITOR'S NOTE]: The following is a guest post by Steve Ralls, Director of Communications for the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network. In his work with SLDN, Steve has become a recognized authority on the military's gay ban. Steve serves as SLDN spokesperson, liason to members of the press corps, and works in formulating and implementing communications policy. He also serves on the steering committee for OUTfront, the LGBT program of the Nobel Prize-winning organization Amnesty International.

steveralls.jpgIs there a new covert operation underway at the Pentagon? And is it showing some cracks in the Pentagon's support for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?" It seems that way.

The Advocate newsmagazine, while researching its current issue on gays in the military, received a surprising new statement about the ban on open service from DoD spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. The revised statement indicates that Pentagon leaders may be getting tired of having to turn away qualified gay Americans who want to serve our country.

In her statement, Smith reiterates that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is Congressional law... nothing new there. But it's the second paragraph in her remarks that gave all of us at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network reason to pause, and be cautiously optimistic. Referring to the lesbian and gay service members dismissed under the ban, Smith noted that they ""have the opportunity to continue to serve their nation and national security by putting their abilities to use by way of civilian employment with other Federal agencies, the Department of Defense, or in the private sector, such as with a government contractor."

That's been true since day one. Lesbian and gay federal employees not in uniform are covered by a presidential executive order that includes a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Department of Defense, however, has never pointed out the fact... until now. Indeed, up until 2001, the Pentagon often pointed to commanders' assertions that the law was necessary to maintain good order and discipline. Then, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, DoD officials simply punted the ball to Congress, (accurately) pointing out that Congressional leaders could repeal the law if they saw fit. Now, with Smith's statement, they have gone one important step further.

Could it be that Pentagon leaders recognize that losing valuable Arabic linguists to the ban is hindering their ability to do effective intelligence work in the Middle East? Or perhaps they now understand that gay troops like Jason Knight are serving openly without incident, and do not pose a threat to unit cohesion? Or that the two service members dismissed under the law every day are making critical contributions to the country's national security? One can only hope.

Since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was implemented in 1993, more than 11,000 service members have been fired under the law. Nearly 800 of those had skills deemed 'mission-critical' by the Pentagon, including more than 300 language experts, 58 of whom were Arabic linguists. There is no question that their dismissal had a negative impact on military operations, and no evidence that their presence in any way compromised a unit's effectiveness.

Pentagon leaders, it seems, may at last be catching up with the facts.

Now, the question remains: If lesbian and gay civilian employees pose no threat to the military when working side-by-side with their uniformed counterparts, why would it be any different if they, too, had the opportunity to serve as an official member of the armed forces? None of us at SLDN are holding our breath waiting for a statement about that inquiry, but we're confident that military opinion is surely moving in the right direction. And that's a sure sign that the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are numbered.


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A. J. Lopp | June 27, 2007 3:11 PM

The innuendo in DoD spokeswoman Smith's statement is very significant --- troops working with gay/lesbian contractor personnel and troops working with others troops that may be gay/lesbian is essentially an administrative distinction. In fact, it is my understanding that the soldiers and certain contractor personnel often reside and travel together as a unit.

Mr. Ralls fails to mention the fact the American units in Iraq have been working side-by-side with British units, and the British units allow openly gay/lesbian soldiers. Thus, many American soldiers end up working with gay/lesbian soldiers despite the DADT policy. Neither the press nor the military itself has reported even the slightest problem with this arrangement. This is further evidence that the "damage to unit cohesion" argument is merely a contrived justification for a recalcitrant prejudice in military culture. Implications from the Pentagon itself that DADT soon will be gone are welcome news indeed!