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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

House DADT Repeal Vote on Wednesday; Gays Furious Over Marine General’s Insubordination

By Karen Ocamb -

The standalone bill repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t’ Tell introduced in the House on Tuesday is expected to come up for a vote – and pass – Wednesday. The bill – which was stripped out of the National Defense Authorization Act and has therefore been vetted, including the infamous Pentagon survey – still needs to get past another Senate procedural vote and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is expected to once again filibuster or do whatever it takes to kill the bill.
Additionally, the Senate is expected to adjourn for the holidays on Dec. 17 – which is why gay repeal advocates have been pleading with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep the Senate in session in order to get the necessary 60 votes to overcome McCain’s filibuster.
Focus has also shifted back to President Obama to help Reid get those votes. According to the Huffington Post, however, Obama is apparently making no effort to round up or secure votes, including the one Democratic holdout – newly-elected Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The HuffPo reported:
“[W]hile Hill aides are convinced that Manchin won’t change his mind with respect to the policy, one Democrat close to the senator said it remains a possibility.
“I think the only one who could make the difference in this is the White House … this is not a Senate game,” the Democrat said. “This is really the dynamics and the strategy coming out of the White House … and right now they are not out there lobbying this hard.”
On the other hand, Capitol Hill observers told the Washington Blade that chances of passing the standalone repeal bill are “looking better and better each day.” The anonymous source said: “Based on what I’m hearing, I think there is a very keen interest by Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House to make a standalone bill a big priority,” the aide said. “I think that they are taking steps to ensure that chances are good for passage.”
An anonymous Senate Republican aide, told the Blade that there are still “so many variables” to passage. “I think if the omnibus, the continuing resolution, all that stuff stretches past Thursday night, Friday, then it gets real difficult,” the aide said. “Those things are already set in motion. It could happen, but there’s just a lot of minefields.”
Marine Gen. James Amos
One of those minefields might be the latest robust denunciation of DADT repeal by Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos, who already expressed his anti-repeal sentiments testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 3. But, Amos added, if repeal passed, his branch of the military stood ready to implement the law. “We are Marines,” he said as if putting an end to the debate.
But Stars and Stripes reported that when Amos spoke with reporters at the Pentagon today, he suggested that repealing DADT could cost lives:
“Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives. That’s the currency of this fight.  I take that very, very seriously,” Amos said,. “I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.”
The military paper said Amos told reporters he read the Pentagon survey very carefully and without prejudice, but was concerned about “unit cohesion” after frontline Marines said they would have a problem with gays serving openly. The paper reported:
“But with so many Marines engaged in Afghanistan, he thought about what could happen to small units like those in Sangin, where fighting is the heaviest by many accounts. When a firefight breaks out, he said, lives depend on “intuitive behavior” free from distraction.
“I don’t want to permit that opportunity [for distraction] to happen,” he said.”
What would the Marines do if Congress repealed the law? “That’s easy. I’m going to get in step and do it smartly,” the paper reported he said, leading the effort with public messages, videos, and personally visiting with commanders.
That’s not the message LGBT repeal advocates received, with some stunned that the Obama appointee would suggest that repeal would lead to the death or loss of limb of “distracted” Marines. Additionally, to many, Amos’ comments bordered on insubordination since he continued speaking publicly against repeal despite a rebuke last month from his boss – Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – after Amos violated parameters about what could be said.  On Nov. 8, Amos told reporters there was a “risk” for Marines in repealing DADT.
A central tenant of the military’s effectiveness is civilian oversight, good order and discipline and unit cohesion – all predicated upon following orders in a chain of command. Amos seems to have repeated violated those tenants, despite being the one responsible for carrying them out – and serving as a role model – for the Marines.
This was duly noted by Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who said in a statement:
“General Amos needs to fall in line and salute or resign now.  He implied that repeal will lead to Marines losing their legs in combat.  Those fear tactics are not in the interest of any service member. The General’s goal is to kill repeal no matter the consequences, perhaps at the dereliction of his other duties.  He had his say before the Senate and House. General Amos needs to stop lobbying against his Commander-in-Chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  If he cannot do that, the President should ask for his resignation.”

Alex Nicholson
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said in a statement:
“General Amos’s comments about the inevitable repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ are getting worse and worse. His commentary is moving from the realm of reasonable disagreement in the provision of professional military advice to hysteria-inducing absurdity on this topic that reflects very poorly on DOD and on the administration.”
Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a gays-in-the-military think tank at the University of California in Santa Barbara, said:
“General Amos’ statement on the impact of openly gay service embraces stereotypes over the evidence, plain and simple. General Amos arrived at his conclusions by interpreting the Pentagon Working Group’s report through the lens of personal bias. The report has conclusively demonstrated that the only rationale for retaining ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is prejudice.  Amos is listening to troops who anticipate problems, yet ignoring those Marines who actually serve alongside gay troops and report that it is no big deal. Unfortunately, General Amos has chosen not to talk with any of his foreign counterparts, for whom the evidence has shown openly gay service to be a non-event.”
Retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 when the DADT “compromise” was passed by Congress, also commented. “General Amos has acknowledged that he is the only Service Chief who has not spoken to colleagues in foreign militaries about their experiences with gay and lesbian service members,” Shalikashvili said in a statement to POLITICO. “Based on conversations with our overseas allies and openly gay U.S. Marines, as well my reading of the extensive research on the topic, I can say definitively that along with Admiral Mullen, I believe that repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ will improve the military rather than posing additional risk to the troops.”
But the kicker to the whole episode was White House spokesperson Robert Gibb’s weak-kneed response when pressed by The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld during Tuesday’s briefing. As reported by Igor Volsky at Wonkroom, Elelveld asked whether the president was concerned about his own appointee “constantly raising opposition to his own stated belief the policy needed to be changed.”
GIBBS: I think the President’s views and the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s views and the Secretary of Defense’s views are fairly well known. I think the President as Commander in Chief has a strong viewpoint. I think backed up by the survey conducted by the Pentagon as to the attitude of the men and women in our military that this can be done in a way that strengthens our national security, preserves the best fighting force in the world, and most importantly, does away with a policy that he doesn’t think is just.
ELEVELD: I mean, the Commandant is continually challenging the assumptions of the Commander in Chief…
GIBBS: No, I mean, look, I think their views are very well known, just as the Commander in Chief’s views are very well known. I think if you look at the Commander in Chief, the head of the Pentagon, and the head of the Joint Chiefs, you’ll find unanimity in the belief that it’s time to do away with this policy and that’s exactly what the President is working to do.
Gibbs didn’t say how or what Obama is “working to do” to make DADT repeal happen. From this perspective, if DADT repeal fails in the Senate because of a McCain filibuster, it will look like Obama may have won the presidential election against the Arizona senator – but McCain won the war.
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