Pentagon: Allegations of bias in survey are 'absolutely, unequivocally, nonsense'


America's largest group of gay and lesbian troops and veterans on Friday harshly criticized a Pentagon survey asking soldiers about the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, charging that the survey "stokes the fires of homophobia." It prompted a forceful response from the Pentagon.

The 32-page survey, sent to 400,000 active troops at a reported cost of $4.4 million, was crafted and administered in tandem by the research group Westat and the Comprehensive Review Working Group.

"While it remains safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey, it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.

The survey opens with several pages of innocuous questions about soldiers' backgrounds, their favorite aspects of the military, and the impacts of service duty on their lives. Most of its questions, however, probe the perceived impacts of serving with gay and lesbian soldiers on the military's effectiveness.

"In your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a coworker you believed to be homosexual?" read one question, which was followed by an assessment of the unit's "morale," "performance," and "ability to work together."

Nicholson claimed the use of the word "homosexual" was "known to be inflammatory and bias-inducing in social science research," and said the survey overemphasizes the potentially negative consequences of overturning the DADT law while downplaying the benefits of doing so.

A later question asked soldiers how they believed repealing the law -- which forbids gay and lesbian members from serving openly -- would impact trust, leadership and camaraderie within their units and the military at large.

On a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon, a Department of Defense spokesman pushed back against some of the criticism the survey has received, calling it "inflammatory in the worst case, misleading in the best case."

"Do I reject out of hand that the survey is biased? Absolutely, unequivocally, I reject it as nonsense," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "This is the work of an incredibly respectable, professional survey organization. We would not be disseminating it to our forces in the numbers we are unless we believed it to be the best vehicle possible to get a scientific sample of the attitudes of the force."

"The intent of the survey is not in anyway to develop a referendum on whether or not there should be a repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Morrell said, adding that its purpose was to determine "how you go about implementing a repeal, if it were to take place."

Nicholson, a former US Army interrogator, was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which the Obama administration has promised to repeal. Senior military officials have also voiced their support for the repeal, contingent on a Pentagon review of the policy, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

This article has been updated to include a late comment from the Pentagon.