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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Survey leak could alter ‘don’t ask’ debate

By Jeanette Steele and Gretel C. Kovach -

Until the Pentagon began its survey, momentum had been building against the ban on openly gay military service members.Until the Pentagon began its survey, momentum had been building against the ban on openly gay military service members.
A leaked Pentagon survey that says most troops support openly gay service members is altering the “don’t ask don’t tell” debate at a critical point — just before Tuesday’s elections that could change control of Congress.
The anonymous leak, first reported by NBC News on Thursday night, may provide ammunition for those trying to repeal the military’s 1993 ban on openly gay troops, even if the issue rolls into a new, more-Republican Congress next year, a San Diego congresswoman said Friday.
Meanwhile, the camps of San Diego County’s Republican contingent are grumbling about the leak, saying they will reserve their comments until the full survey is released in December.
President Barack Obama promised to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” in his 2008 campaign for the White House. Backed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, it looked like the change was in motion in February when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was time to let gays serve openly.
But momentum slowed when the Pentagon embarked on a 550,000-person survey of the troops and their families, part of a year-long effort by a Defense Department working group to prepare for the repeal.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said she thinks the bill that would end “don’t ask don’t tell” might even be passed this year — though it would be in a “lame duck” session following Tuesday’s elections that are expected to net Republicans control of the House of Representatives and more seats in the Senate.
“If the survey shows by and large, with exceptions of course, that it’s not a big deal for people, then I would hope ... that perhaps people would have a greater readiness,” she said.
If it goes to the new Congress, Davis acknowledged that a repeal could be troubled, as many Republicans have opposed it.
But, she added, “I would hope that what they’ve been saying is that they care what the troops think. If they care about what the troops think, I think you’d want to respect the majority of that opinion.”
The survey, according to news reports, also found that a minority of troops objected strongly to the idea of serving with gays and said they would quit the military if the policy changed
A spokesman for Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Alpine, called the timing of the Pentagon survey leak “questionable.”
“It’s hard not to view the timing of the leaked survey as an obvious political calculation,” said Joe Kasper, press secretary for Hunter, a Marine reservist and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who has opposed repeal.
“There’s no other explanation, when the Pentagon’s working group is due to release its findings in December, something the Joint Chiefs have said should happen before there is any further consideration given to the issue,” Kasper said.
“It’s the weekend before the midterm elections and overturning DADT, despite the position of the Joint Chiefs, is something this White House believes is good for its political base and will likely generate some level of enthusiasm before Tuesday,” he said.
October has brought a flurry of rapid-fire changes to the nation’s 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in uniform.
A Riverside federal judge’s ruling on Oct. 12 briefly lifted the ban on the open service of gays, apparently taking the White House and the military by surprise.
Two days later, the Justice Department appealed the ruling, with Obama repeating his position that Congress — not a judge — should change the law.
The next day, the Pentagon put a hold on discharging openly gay troops, but then changed its mind after a Oct. 20 decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that keeps the ban in place while the appeal in being settled.
Out on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the Marines from Camp Pendleton are not engaged in the debate that’s raging at home in their name.
When asked whether the flip-flop of rulings had caused any disruption or confusion in the war zone, Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman said “down on the ground level here in Afghanistan, there is no impact at all.”
Osterman, the Camp Pendleton general in command of the 1st Marine Division Forward and Task Force Leatherneck, spoke about the policy during a briefing to reporters Tuesday before the survey results were leaked to the media.
“There’s not that much information that’s coming down to them,” Osterman said, explaining his Marines are living in austere conditions where they are lucky to have fresh water and a tent.
He added that his troops will follow whatever rules are settled on, and “move on.”
“They understand that, as Marines, we’ll follow whatever laws are in place, and also whatever policies are promulgated by the Secretary of Defense,” he said.


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