Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Lt. Daniel Choi, who recently came out as gay, wrote a letter to Barack Obama, citing the values of honesty and integrity that he learned at West Point, and asking: “Please do not wait to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please do not fire me.” He also makes some very good points about the effect of DADT on the Army itself:

“I have personally served for a decade under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: an immoral law and policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation. Worse, it forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to anything I learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.

As an infantry officer, an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic, I refuse to lie to my commanders. I refuse to lie to my peers. I refuse to lie to my subordinates. I demand honesty and courage from my soldiers. They should demand the same from me. (…)

The Department of the Army sent a letter discharging me on April 23rd. I will not lie to you; the letter is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

My subordinates know I’m gay. They don’t care. They are professional.

Further, they are respectable infantrymen who work as a team. Many told me that they respect me even more because I trusted them enough to let them know the truth. Trust is the foundation of unit cohesion. (…)

Do not fire me because my soldiers are more than a unit or a fighting force — we are a family and we support each other. We should not learn that honesty and courage leads to punishment and insult. Their professionalism should not be rewarded with losing their leader. I understand if you must fire me, but please do not discredit and insult my soldiers for their professionalism.”

It has always seemed obvious to me that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is immoral and discriminatory. But I’ve never understood why it isn’t clear that it’s also an insult to the professionalism of the military. The very idea that our soldiers should not be quite capable of subordinating their personal beliefs to the needs of their unit is as insulting. The idea that if some of them can’t, we should fire the people they object to rather than the ones who cannot be counted on to put their jobs first is just bizarre.

That said, I am wary of asking Obama to simply set aside a law, however misguided. I didn’t like it when Bush did that, and I don’t like it now. The idea of suspending it while the administration “studies” it seems like a disingenuous way to get around the law. The Palm Center (pdf) has a better idea:

“The President has the authority to issue an executive order halting the operation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Under 10 U.S.C. § 12305 (“Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Laws Relating to Promotion, Retirement, and Separation”), Congress grants the President authority to suspend the separation of military members during any period of national emergency in which members of a reserve component are serving involuntarily on active duty.”

I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know whether this would work, but if it could, Obama should use it. (Unlike the idea of studying DADT, this would not be a dodge: we do need, for instance, Arabic linguists like Lt. Choi.)

Whether or not Obama can legally suspend DADT, though, Congress plainly can. HR 1283, which would repeal DADT, is still in committee. Nancy Pelosi should move it as quickly as possible. While Congress dawdles, people’s careers are being ended. And that’s not right.

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