Gates Repeats Call for Senate to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask’
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 10, 2010 Repeating his warning that the Defense Department would be unable to prepare properly if a court strikes down the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he hopes the Senate repeals the law before its session ends next week.
Speaking with reporters on the homeward leg of an overseas trip, Gates said he’s disappointed that the Senate has not acted on legislation that would repeal the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law once the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready to implement the change.
“There’s still roughly a week left in that session, so I would hope that Congress would act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the secretary said. “If they are unable to do that, then – as I’ve indicated in testimony and talking with you all – my greatest worry would be that we are at the mercy of the courts, and all of the lack of predictability that entails.”
Gates cited what he called a “wake-up call” when a 9th Circuit Court judge struck the law down globally in October. The Justice Department filed an appeal and obtained a stay, but not without turmoil in the meantime.
“So for all practical purposes, from that moment forward, the law was no longer in effect,” he said. “We’d had no training, no preparation, and we weren’t 100 percent certain that the 9th Circuit would give us a stay. And so there was a two-week period there where there was an enormous amount of uncertainty as the courts went back and forth.”
Another problem with the law’s fate being in the hands of the courts, Gates added, is the possibility that an invalidation of the law by one court would apply only within that court’s jurisdiction, resulting in different sets of criteria between that jurisdiction and the rest of the country.
A working group Gates appointed to investigate the potential impact of the law’s repeal and recommend how to implement a change released its report Nov. 30. But the secretary said he doesn’t want to move forward with the training and other measures the group recommended while the law is still on the books. The secretary and other officials have said repeatedly that legislative repeal would give the department time to implement a change properly, while a sudden invalidation of the law by a court decision would not.
“The way we get that time is most assuredly with the legislation that’s before the Congress,” Gates said today. “We do now have a roadmap in terms of implementation in the paper that was prepared by the working group. But I think it would be a serious mistake to start training and preparing before the law is changed, because I feel this confuses the troops. What is the law and what’s not the law? You’re being trained in both directions. So while we have a blueprint and we have a plan, I think it would be a mistake to begin that process until there is action with respect to the law.”