Pentagon Says 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal Unlikely to Hurt Military Effectiveness

Allowing gays, lesbians to serve openly unlikely to hurt military effectiveness.

November 29, 2010, 6:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2010 — -- Repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military is unlikely to hurt the effectiveness of troops engaged in combat, according to a Pentagon review released today.

"The risk of repeal of don't ask, don't tell to overall military effectiveness is low," the report says. "We conclude that while a repeal of DADT will likely in the short term bring out some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed.

"Widespread attitude among a solid majority of service members is that repeal ... will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their military mission," it says.

The report, based on responses from 115,000 service members and 44,266 spouses, includes interviews with former gay or lesbian service members, some of whom were discharged from the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Of those surveyed, 69 percent said they had served with a gay service member and 92 percent of those respondents said they were able to work together.

Fifty to 55 percent of those surveyed said the repeal won't have any effect, 15 to 20 percent said it would have a positive effect and 30 percent said the effect would be negative.

The report also concluded that encounters with gay service members are common.

"The reality is that there are gay men and lesbians already serving in today's U.S. military and most service members recognize this," the report states. "Much of the concern about open service is driven by misperceptions and stereotypes about what it would mean."

View the report here.

The survey was conducted by Westat, a well-regarded firm that does large-scale surveys for the government and other clients.

President Obama said the Pentagon review confirms the military is ready and able to end "don't ask don't tell" -- a policy which he has called divisive.

"This report also confirms that, by every measure—from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness—we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security," he said in a statement. "As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law because it weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness and equality by preventing patriotic Americans who are gay from serving openly in our armed forces."

Gay and lesbian advocacy groups also praised the working group's findings, saying they confirmed what many social scientists have been saying for decades.

"The only remaining rationale for 'don't ask, don't tell' is prejudice," a group of 30 scholars and professors affiliated with the Palm Center, a University of California think tank that has advocated for repeal, said in a statement. "In light of the report's findings, this month's debate in Congress is about one thing and one thing only: will prejudice continue to determine military policy or not?"

Still, some supporters of the ban on openly gay troops insist it is essential to preserve unit cohesion and combat effectiveness at a time when the U.S. is engaged in two wars.

"The survey did not even ask the question of whether the law should be repealed or retained," said Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, which supports "don't ask don't tell." She called the Pentagon's study "a show" and an "orchestration."

"There's no doubt there's some good information in the report, but it should all be evaluated professionally, not by some private group hired by the Pentagon," she said, adding that the report's conclusion that 44 percent of troops fear unit effectiveness would be adversely affected by a repeal is not receiving sufficient emphasis.

Twenty-five countries, including the Untied Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in their militaries.

Gates Urges Congress to Repeal DADT

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today the military will need some time to prepare for a repeal, but he said that a majority of concerns related to the repeal would be addressed through training and education.

Benefits such as those for spouses and housing should also be provided to gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, he said.

Gates convened the Comprehensive Review Working Group earlier this year to determine how the Defense Department might implement a repeal of the 1993 law.

The controversial law has been reconsidered politically, by legislation in Congress, as well as constitutionally, by federal courts, in recent months.

Some information contained in the report was leaked to the press earlier this month, including the results of the military's first survey of the attitudes of military members and their families about "don't ask, don't tell."

Surveys were sent to 400,000 service members and 150,000 spouses. Each survey had close to a 30 percent response rate.

The group also held town hall meetings at U.S. military bases around the world and looked at what changes needed to be made to implement a repeal of the law.

Earlier this month, the 370-page draft report was distributed on a close-hold basis to the military service chiefs and a small number of their staffers. They were to provide comments and responses that were to be included as part of the final report.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will push for a vote on repeal of "don't ask don't tell" before the end of the year despite threats from some Republicans to block such a move.

The House has already approved a conditional repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

More than 75 percent of Americans believe gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, a support rate higher than at any other time since the policy took effect in 1993, according to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.

ABC News' Huma Khan and Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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