News: 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Review Process Vital, Mullen Says
WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's of vital importance that the Pentagon gain input from service members and military families on their views about the repeal of the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" law, the top U.S. military officer said today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the proposed repeal of the law, upcoming operations in Afghanistan and the military's support role in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during CNN's "State of the Union" news program.
The House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill May 27 that would allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly. The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a similar amendment that same night.
Mullen noted that he has said he thinks the law and the policy should change. He also said that both he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates believe it is "critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change."
The current "don't ask, don't tell" law, enacted in 1993, provides only partial protection for gay and lesbian service members, in that commanders may not question military members about their sexual orientation. Under current law, service members may be discharged from the service, if by their actions they're determined to be gay or lesbian.
Gates has directed a military-wide review of the impact of the repeal, including town hall meetings with service members and their families. The review is to be completed by the end of December.
Recent congressional activity to change the law, if completed, would be "legislation involved in a deferred repeal," Gates said in a May 28 message to military members.
"In other words," Gates continued, "it would repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' but only after - I repeat after - the ongoing Department of Defense high-level review is completed, and only after the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and I all can certify that we are ready to make this change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness and recruiting and retention."
Mullen said today on "State of the Union" that he would have "preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review." Meanwhile, he said, the review is progressing.
"So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes," Mullen said.
The admiral also addressed Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the CNN news program.
Iraq trends "are moving in the right direction," Mullen said. The U.S. military in Iraq is on track to drawdown to 50,000 troops by the end of August. The Iraqi election recount has "come out very well," he added, while a recent spate of insurgent-inspired violence hasn't produced sectarian bloodshed.
Meanwhile, it's expected that 100,000 U.S. troops will be deployed in Afghanistan by the fall, Mullen said. Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, will be a focus of the coming campaign.
"So, what we're doing in Kandahar, what we will do with our Afghan partners and in many cases with them in the lead and our coalition partners over the next several months will really be critical," Mullen said. "And I think by the end of the year, we'll certainly from a trend standpoint know whether this thing is headed in the right direction, or not."
Meanwhile, Mullen said, the U.S. military continues in a support role as part of the response to the ruptured BP oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico. About 1,400 National Guard members have been deployed to the Gulf to assist in the effort, he noted.
Also, "we have brought thousands of feet of booms in terms of being able to try to contain this," Mullen said. The U.S. military, however, isn't the proper organization to take charge of the oil spill response "because of the technical challenges, quite frankly," the admiral said.
"And, as best as I've been able to understand, the technical lead for this in our country really is the industry," Mullen said. "You can see, obviously, the challenges that they are going through to try to figure out how to stop this."