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Gates reaffirms position on 'don't ask...'
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As Justice Department officials consider the implications of a federal court order for the Defense Department to stop enforcing the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that whether the law is repealed is a matter for Congress to decide.
While en route to Brussels, Belgium, from Hanoi, Vietnam, Gates told reporters traveling with him that much remains to be worked out before the DoD effectively could implement a change allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
A review panel, led by Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, still is researching the issue and input from service members and their families remains to be compiled and evaluated, Gates said.
“I feel very strongly that this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress,” the secretary said, “and that it is an action that requires careful preparation and a lot of training. We have a lot of revision of regulations that has to be done.”
The review also will determine what other kinds of changes would be necessary if the law is repealed, including benefits and adjustments to facilities, he added.
“This is a very complex business,” Gates said. “It has enormous consequences for our troops. And as I have said from the very beginning, I think there should be legislation, and that legislation should be informed by the review we have under way.”
The review panel is considering results of an extensive survey of active duty and reserve-component service members, and Johnson and Ham conducted numerous town-hall meetings to get face-to-face input, Gates said. Tens of thousands of comments have been submitted to a special e-mail address set up to gather additional input, he added, and hundreds of gay and lesbian service members took advantage of a chance to share their views anonymously. In addition, the final responses from a survey of spouses and family members assessing their views on the impact of a repeal of the law have just been received, the secretary noted.
“I think we had a very strong return on those,” he said. “My recollection is that we sent out 150,000 surveys and got back somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000. Those all still have to be collated and analyzed. The surveys are an important piece of this.”
When all that feedback is compiled, Gates said, the panel will put together its recommendations. Then everything, including the raw data, will go to the services for their individual analyses.
“I think there’s a lot going on here,” the secretary said. “Frankly, to try and accelerate it would be difficult. There are a lot of moving parts as we’re trying to get as thorough a view of all of this as possible.”
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