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Joint Chiefs chair: Congress should delay Don’t Ask repeal

WASHINGTON (BP)–The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said May 30 that Congress should not pass a bill repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law until the military finishes its review, which will be complete in December.

Admiral Michael Mullen made the comments two days after the House passed a bill that contains an amendment that essentially would repeal the 1993 law, which prevents homosexuals from serving openly. The Pentagon is in the middle of a 10-month study of the beliefs of military personnel and their families about the law.

CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Mullen — who supports a repeal — what the point of the military review is if the law is “going to be repealed anyway.”

“I still think, and so does the secretary of defense, it is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change,” Mullen said. “Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review.”

Mullen’s comments mean that five of the six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now are on record as saying Congress should have waited. The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — all members of the Joint Chiefs — sent letters to Congress saying they believed the review should be complete before Congress acts. The only member of the Joint Chiefs who has not spoken publicly about the issue is Vice Chairman James E. Cartwright. Mullen made similar comments on “Fox News Sunday.”

Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, appearing on CNN, was highly critical of Congress’ move. Webb is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which passed the repeal by a vote of 16-12. Webb was the lone Democrat to oppose it.

“I was really disappointed in the way that this process was accelerated,” Webb said. “… I believe we had a process in place and to preempt it in some ways showed a disrespect for the people in the military.”

Asked whether he personally supports repealing the law, Webb said, “I think we should listen to the military. We should hear from the military.”

The Associated Press paraphrased a senior Defense Department official as saying troops in the review “were less willing to speak freely because the [House] vote made the outcome clear.” Some troops, the official said, “feel double-crossed.”

The language passed by the House and the Senate committee would repeal the bill only if Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama OK’d a repeal. All three, though, are on record as supporting a repeal. Gates also has expressed opposition to acting before the review is finished. In April he sent a letter to House leaders saying he believes “in the strongest possible terms” that the review should be complete prior to any legislative action. Doing otherwise, he wrote, “would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter.”

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” oppose a repeal because they say it will undermine military readiness, cohesion, privacy, recruitment and retention, as well as the religious freedom of many service members and chaplains.

Congress is moving at a rapid pace because Democratic leaders fear their party will lose enough seats in November to render a repeal next year impossible.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has urged the Senate to filibuster the Department of Defense authorization bill, which includes the repeal language.

“I’ve never known of a better excuse for a filibuster than to stop the Congress of the United States from essentially destroying the greatest military force our nation has ever known.” Land said.

The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines made their views known in letters to Congress prior to the House vote. Following are some highlights:

— Gen. George Casey, Army: “I remain convinced that it is critically important to get a better understanding of where our Soldiers and Families are on this issue, and what the impacts on readiness and unit cohesion might be, so that I can provide informed military advice to the President and Congress. I also believe that repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward.”

— Adm. Gary Roughead, Navy: “My concern is that legislative changes at this point, regardless of the precise language used, may cause confusion on the status of the law in the Fleet and disrupt the review process itself by leading Sailors to question whether their input matters.”

— Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force: “I believe it is important, a matter of keeping faith with those currently serving in the Armed Forces, that the Secretary of Defense commissioned review be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the DA/DT law…. To do otherwise, in my view, would be presumptive and would reflect an intent to act before all relevant factors are assessed, digested and understood.”

— Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps: “I encourage the Congress to let the process the Secretary of Defense created to run its course. Collectively, we must make logical and pragmatic decisions about the long-term policies of our Armed Forces — which so effectively defend this great nation.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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