Study by Senior Military Officers: DADT Harms Military Effectiveness
July 8th, 2008
A new report (PDF: 1.39MB/16 pages) written by four high-ranking retired military officers and issued by the Palm Center of the University of California lends significant support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the military’s ban on gays and lesbians serving openly. The report by Brigadier General Hugh Aitkin (USMC), Lieutenant General Minter Alexander (USAF), Lieutenant General Robert Gard (USA), and Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN) concludes that the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly actually diminished military effectiveness and unit cohesion, and calls for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
One additional interesting fact stood out in the Study Group’s assessment: Those who oppose gays and lesbians serving in the military refused to participate or provide any information. It appears they simply don’t want the issue looked at calmly and rationally:
The Study Group was saddened that not a single expert who opposes gays in the military was willing to meet or talk with us in person. For each expert, the group offered to take written, and/or in-person testimony, and offered to arrange and subsidize transportation to Washington, D.C. or to arrange videoconferencing or teleconferencing facilities. The group also asked experts who oppose gays in the military to provide additional names of experts who might participate. Because not a single one of these experts was willing to participate in person or to provide additional names of people who would, therefore the group devoted particular and extensive effort to the study of their published work and any written comments they were willing to submit for consideration.
Among those who were invited to participate but declined were Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, the leading opponent of efforts to repeal DADT. Others who declined to participate in this study include Peter Sprigg, Robert Maginnis, and Melissa Wells-Petry of the Family “Research” Council.
The study’s authors list ten findings:
Finding one: “The law locks the military’s position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances.” Because the ban is written into law, the authors contend that it restricts the Defense Department from adjusting its policy to meet military needs or readiness. They say that because the military officially can’t change its policy, it is up to individual commanders to exhibit flexibility in deciding on their own whether to ignore or violate the policy, which leaves the false impression that DADT is working.
Finding two: “Existing military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct.” The authors note that existing law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and other Pentagon regulations provide commanding officers with all the tools they need to “disciplin[e] inappropriate public displays of affection, fraternization, adultery, or any other conduct which is prejudicial to the maintenance of good order, discipline, morale and unit cohesion.”
Finding three: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell” has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining the cohesion of their units.” The authors hinted at this in their first finding. Here, they explored the problem more fully:
The Study Group heard from a heterosexual officer who returned recently from a tour of duty in Iraq. He told the group that one of his best non-commissioned officers was probably a lesbian, and that if he had been presented with credible evidence of her homosexuality, he would have been forced to choose between following the law and keeping his unit intact. For this officer, unit cohesion was marked by the need to retain a qualified, meritorious lesbian service member. When asked which choice he would have made, he said that he would have opted to break the law. Experts in military law attested, “The statute makes it mandatory to follow up if told.” Yet, a former non-commissioned officer confirmed, “There were times I should have said something. I didn’t. I helped people manage their career.” He acknowledged, “I was breaking the law myself.”
The authors also noted that “no commanding officer has been admonished for not following up” on learning of a subordinate’s homosexuality.
Finding four: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell” has prevented some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling.” People should be able to expect a degree of confidentiality when talking with doctors, chaplains, counselors, and other professionals. LGBT servicemembers however aren’t afforded that confidentiality. They have been discharged after confiding in chaplains, and doctors and therapists are under orders to report clients who discuss their homosexuality during treatment. One commanding officer discussed the bind this caused:
As an E-6, I had become a leader, and as a leader, troops came to me for advice and guidance. I had many gay troops working for me, and some of them I saw suffer a great deal because of this policy. One gay troop had a sexually transmitted disease and he asked what he should do about it. I advised him, of course, to see a doctor, but he called it to my attention that if he did, he could be kicked out of the Navy. Another troop was having a relationship problem with her girlfriend — she threatened committing suicide — and I told her to see a counselor or chaplain, but then I realized that wasn’t a good idea because talking about her girlfriend would violate the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. No matter what I told these troops, nothing was the right answer and I felt like a hypocrite.
This can affect straight personnel as well:
In one remarkable incident in 2001, an Air Force airman sought the assistance of a military psychiatrist after a civilian raped him. The psychiatrist announced that the airman must be gay if he allowed himself to be raped, and he threatened to out the soldier to his command if he spoke about being gay during their therapy session.
Finding five: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has caused the military to lose some talented service members.” Between 2003 and 2006, more than 800 people with mission-critical skills have been dismissed under DADT. During the same period, the military recruited 4,230 convicted felons under the “moral waivers” program. They cited a UCLA study which found that 4,000 people would have retained each year since DADT was established in 1994 — about 1,000 on average were discharged each year, and 3,000 more left on their own who would have stayed if they could serve openly. In contrast, only 2% of servicemembers said they wouldn’t have joined the military if gays and lesbians were permitted to serve openly, which also amounts to about 4,000 per year. This means that repealing DADT would be a wash, recruitment-wise.
Finding six: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has compelled some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to lie about their identity.” This means that the policy “puts some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in a quandary and undermines the personal integrity essential to honor and trust.”
Finding seven: “Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving openly.” According to one estimate, some 65,000 GLBT personnel are currently serving in the armed forces. And according to a recent Zogby poll, 23% of personnel already know that they are serving alongside someone who is gay.
Finding eight: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has made it harder for some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to perform their duties.” One non-commissioned officer described the problem this way:
I had two gay friends while I was stationed in Spain. One man, E., was very open [about being gay], like me. The other one, T., followed the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy nearly to the letter of the law. T. told me that he was gay, but to his co-workers he lied about having girlfriends. But everyone hated him. I asked the guys at work why they harassed T. when none of them harassed E. or me. They said the problem wasn’t the fact T. was gay, the problem was he was a liar. And to them, that meant he was a coward. They were personally insulted that he lied to them. In this case, DADT is a dual-edged sword: if you follow it, you’re mistrusted; if you don’t, you play Russian roulette every day with your career.
This goes back to the issue of personal integrity. When someone is permitted to show integrity, they garner the respect that is essential to unit cohesiveness. But when fellow servicemembers know someone is lying about one thing, they will find it difficult to trust that person in other matters. And this issue of trust goes to the very heart of unit cohesiveness.
Finding nine: “Military attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing.” According to the study’s authors, poll results show that between 58% and 79% of the public believe that gays and lesbians should be permitted to serve openly. Interestingly, the study’s authors didn’t note in this section a Zogby survey from last year among returning military veterans which found that only 37% felt that the ban should continue.
Finding ten: “Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.” This is actually the most exhaustively supported finding, perhaps reflecting the importance the authors place on this finding. They poured over several studies and polls among U.S. military personnel, and could find no correlation between having a gay or lesbian unit member and that unit’s cohesiveness or effectiveness. The study group also solicited input from British and Israeli military experts, where gays and lesbians have been permitted to serve openly with no impact to military readiness.
The study group issued these four recommendations based on their findings:
Recommendation 1.Congress should repeal 10 USC § 654 and return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.
Recommendation 2. The Department of Defense should eliminate “don’t tell” while maintaining current authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and service regulations to preclude misconduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and unit cohesion. The prerogative to disclose sexual orientation should be considered a personal and private matter.
Recommendation 3. Remove from Department of Defense directives all references to “bisexual,” “homosexual,” “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual acts,” and “propensity.” Establish in their place uniform standards that are neutral with respect to sexual orientation, such as prohibitions against any inappropriate public bodily contact for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires.
Recommendation 4. Immediately establish and reinforce safeguards for the confidentiality of all conversations between service members and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.