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McCain questions study on gays in military
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From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.

McCain questions study on gays in military

Senator says 'Don't ask, don't tell' report is flawed

  • McCain at a hearing of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Comprehensive Working Group report, Thursday.
    Dep't of DefenseMcCain at a hearing of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Comprehensive Working Group report, Thursday.
  • Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.
    Dep't of DefenseAdm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, in a challenge to the Pentagon, said a study on the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is flawed that the military should be "cautious" about allowing gays to openly serve in a time of war.

The study, released Tuesday, showed that an overwhelming majority of troops thought that repealing the law prohibiting "out" gays from serving would not harm their unit's effectiveness.

McCain, in a statement during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, called repeal "question that must be answered carefully, deliberately, and with proper consideration for the complexity of this issue and the gravity of the potential consequences for our military and the wars in which we are engaged."

Democrats in the Senate have promised to push for a vote on repealing DATD in December, but Republicans say they will block a vote until the Senate addresses extending Bush-era tax cuts.

McCain cited the reports' finding that around two-thirds of Marines and Army soldiers in combat units expressed concerns about the effect of ending DADT on their battlefield effectiveness.

"At this time, we should be inherently cautious about making any changes that would affect our military, and what changes we do make should be the product of careful and deliberate consideration," McCain said.

The Arizona Republican was challenged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Repeal of the law will not prove unacceptable risk to military readiness," Mullen said. "Unit cohesion will not suffer if our units are well-led. And families will not encourage their loved ones to leave the service in droves."

Mullen said that changes to the military are natural during wartime.

"War does not stifle change; it demands it," he said. "It does not make it harder; it facilitates it."

The report said that ending the 17-year-old policy would present a low risk, and that 70 percent of U.S. troops believe allowing gay service members to serve openly would have little effect.

The survey of 115,000 troops and 44,000 military spouses found that 50–55% of service members thought that repeal would have mixed or no effect; 15–20% said repeal would have a positive effect; and about 30% said it would have a negative effect.

The study found troops who have worked with a gay servicemember are those who support repeal. 92% of troops who have served with someone they believed to be gay thought that their unit's ability to work together was either very good, good, or neither good nor poor.

The risk to military effectiveness is low, the report said:

Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.

McCain criticized the study for not questioning whether the policy should be repealed.

"What I want to know, and what it is the Congress's duty to determine, is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed. Unfortunately, that key issue was not the focus of this study," he said:

What I can say now, however, is that in addition to my concerns about what questions were not asked by this survey and considered in this report, I am troubled by the fact that this report only represents the input of 28 percent of the force who received the questionnaire. That is only six percent of the force at large. I find it hard to view that as a fully-representative sample set, but I am nonetheless weighing the contents of this report on their merits. What appears clear at this time is that the survey and anecdotal data underlying this report do not lead to one unequivocal conclusion, which is no surprise considering the complex and difficult nature of this issue.

So, for example, I recognize that, of those surveyed who report having worked with a gay service member, 92 percent said their unit's ability to work together was not negatively affected. Among those in Army combat units, 89 percent of respondents felt that way, as did 84 percent of respondents in Marine combat units.

However, we also learned that, of those surveyed, 30 percent of the total, 43 percent of Marines, 48 percent of Army combat units, and 58 percent of Marine combat units believe that a repeal of the law would have a negative or very negative impact on their units' ability to 'work together to get the job done.' Furthermore, 67 percent of Marines and nearly 58 percent of Army soldiers in combat units believe that repeal of the law would have negative consequences on unit cohesion in a field environment or out at sea.

McCain previously was open to ending "Don't ask, don't tell."  In 2006, he said "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."

Study leaders Gen. Carter F. Ham (U.S. Army) and Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson said they are confident the military can change its policies on gays openly serving without harming their mission:

We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war. We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our Nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.

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