Senator John McCain’s remarks to two reporters after he had voted to block the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Tuesday have already drawn widespread attention for their rambling and almost incoherent nature.
Now an officer who says he was discharged from the Air Force even though he was never asked and never told is suggesting that McCain may have been “deliberately deceptive” when he insisted that the military is “not seeking out people who are gay.”
“Regulations are we do not go out and seek to find out someone’s sexual orientation,” McCain asserted flatly. “I know the military very well and I know what’s being done, and what is being done is that they’re not seeking out people who are gay. And I don’t care what you say. I know it’s a fact. I don’t care what you say.”
As the reporters insisted that there are “documented cases” of soldiers whose private emails were searched, McCain simply repeated over and over, “It is not the policy, it is not the policy, it is not the policy. It’s not the policy. It’s not the policy. It’s not the policy.”
Columnist Andrew Sullivan was quick to describe McCain as “flat out wrong” when he denied that the military “actively seeks out gay people in order persecute and expel them.”
Sullivan quoted from Nathaniel Frank’s book, Unfriendly Fire, which noted that “The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a watchdog and legal aid organization that has monitored the effects of the policy since its inception, reported 340 command violations (perpetrated by the military) in the first year alone, including fifteen actual or attempted “witch hunts” and ten death threats to service members for perceived homosexuality. For the first three years, SLDN documented 1146 violations, with the number increasing each of those years. The abuses of ‘don’t ask’ have ranged from the purposeful to the neglectful to the vicious.”
Major Mike Almy, whose name had been mentioned by the reporters interviewing McCain as an example of someone whose private emails had been read by the military, appeared with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Tuesday evening to say that he was “shocked” by McCain’s denials.
“I was literally quite stunned when I first heard it,” he told Maddow. “As you know, I testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March and told my story. Senator McCain was there. He sat twenty feet away from me and he listened to every word of my testimony.”
“For him to make that statement today, that the military does not search private emails,” Almy continued, “tells me that he either didn’t listen to my testimony this past March, he forgot what I said, or he’s being deliberately deceptive with the American public about the true nature of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and using partisan politics over the interests of national security.”
“The simple truth is the Air Force searched my private emails in 2005 in Iraq,” Almy asserted. “During the height of the insurgency, they launched an investigation … solely to determine if I had violated Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and to find whatever evidence they could use against me. And those emails, searched in Iraq, were the sole basis of my discharge from the Air Force.”
According to Servicemembers United, “Mike Almy was a distinguished Air Force cadet who came from a long line of military service. When he was discharged in 2006 he had attained the rank of Major, was named one of the top officers in his career field in the Air Force, and was in charge of leading 200 airmen in Iraq. None of this mattered however when his emails were illegally read and he was relieved of his duties after he refused to make a statement about his sexuality without the presence of his lawyers. His replacement was a junior officer with very little leadership experience.”
Almy explained in an open letter to President Obama last spring, “In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work email accounts for ‘personal or morale purposes’ because private email accounts were blocked for security. Shortly after I left Iraq — during a routine search of my computer files — someone found that my ‘morale’ was supported by the person I loved — a man. … I was relieved of my duties, my security clearance was suspended. … I was given a police escort off the base as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security. The severance pay I received was half of what it would have been had I been separated for any other reason.”
Despite the way he was treated, Almy told the president, “If you end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT), I’d re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law.”
Ed O’Keefe at the Washington Post, who described McCain as “scolding” the reporters, noted that McCain could be considered half right. “So-called “third-party outings” were banned earlier this year by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates,” he wrote, “unless they’re instituted by top military brass, so McCain’s statements are only kind of correct that the military does not currently ‘seek out’ gay troops.”
But those kind of fine distinctions are not likely to satisfy Major Almy. “I’m very angry at his statement today,” he told Maddow in conclusion. “I would love to visit Senator McCain in person. I would love to shake his hand and I would love him to look me directly in the eye and tell me that the military does not search private emails. Because I know for a fact that that’s not true.”
This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Sept. 21, 2010.