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Stars and Stripes: Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t speak?

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010 15:03 EDT
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US Army secretary offers exception on gay ban in military

US troops have been warned for years that “loose lips sink ships,” but apparently openly campaigning against plans being ironed out by Pentagon officials and the Commander-In-Chief isn’t such a big deal if the subject is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

“A high-ranking Army general won’t be fired or formally reprimanded after urging troops to lobby against the repeal of a ban on openly gay military service,” the Associated Press reports.

President Barack Obama supports lifting the ban, and an active attempt to keep it in place could be considered insubordination.

But Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon’s civilian boss says the three-star Army general won’t receive a letter of reprimand or be forced to step down. Army Secretary John McHugh told reporters Wednesday that Mixon has been told by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey that what he did was inappropriate.

“The chief and I believe that he is now prepared to lead in the very distinguished manner in which he has led in the past and that brought him to a very, very high level three-star position,” McHugh said. “So we will consider the matter closed as of today.”

The AP adds, “McHugh said he didn’t think Mixon deserved harsher treatment because he now ‘recognizes it is inappropriate for him to become an advocate and try to shape the opinion of the force, rather than reach out and ascertain the opinion of the force.’”

At Stars and Stripes, the newspaper which published Mixon’s letter, Kevin Baron wonders about the ongoing “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t speak” controversy.

Baron writes,

A three-star Army general writes a letter to the editor opposing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that restricts openly-gay servicemembers and draws a public rebuke from the highest echelons of the Pentagon.

One day later, the four-star commandant of the Marines gives an interview warning of adverse impacts if the law is repealed, and nobody complains.

Other service chiefs have recently expressed their frank opinions of the law in testimony on Capitol Hill. Yet the secretary of the Army said Wednesday he feared repercussions if he answered reporters’ questions about whether gay and straight soldiers should one day share barracks rooms.

When it comes to the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, military leaders are getting conflicting signals about just what, exactly, they are permitted to say.

Baron writes that according to “several military and Defense Department officials interviewed this week, the rules governing who may say what about the debate over the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law are not clear cut.”

But, Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, tells the paper, “The Army is not interested in going after soldiers who are expressing their opinions. The soldiers have First Amendment rights. It’s a little bit different when you’re a three-star and you’re encouraging others to take action.”

Also on Wednesday, the US Army secretary said he would not discharge gay soldiers who reveal their sexual orientation in private conversations with him, despite a law barring homosexuals from serving openly in uniform.

John McHugh, the top civilian in the US Army, said that gay service members should not be punished in the course of discussions designed to assess how troops view plans to change the current law.

“I’ve had men and women in uniform approach me and declare that they were gay and give me their opinion,” McHugh told a gathering of defense reporters.

“I just felt it would be counterproductive” to expel gays under those conditions, he said.

President Barack Obama has called for repealing the 1993 law, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face expulsion from the military.

Last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced measures to relax the enforcement of the ban while a Pentagon review examines the effect of changing the law.

McHugh said he believed there was a de facto suspension on further dismissals under the existing law.

“What the secretary has placed a moratorium on is going forward on discharges,” he said.

“It is not so stated, but I think a reasonable assumption” not to carry out more discharges, he said.

The former Republican lawmaker said Gates had asked for “an open and honest discussion” of the issue in the military as part of a review of current policy.

“What I am trying to do is show the troops it’s OK to talk about this, to encourage them, that we’re serious about discussing it and finding out about how they feel,” McHugh said.

McHugh’s comments went beyond what the Pentagon has described as its official policy.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Wednesday the team carrying out the review of how to lift the ban would look at how gay service members could provide their views without risking expulsion.

Gates issued guidelines last week that will make it more difficult to discharge gay troops, an interim step while Congress debates repealing the law entirely.

Under the guidelines, only higher-ranking officers will be allowed to initiate and oversee discharge cases and information passed on to lawyers, clergy, psychotherapists and medical professionals would be deemed confidential.

The rules also raise the threshold for what is accepted as “credible” information, discouraging the use of hearsay, requiring those providing evidence to take an oath and “special scrutiny” for fellow troops possibly out to harm their comrades.

(with AFP report)

 
 
 
 
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