As a House Armed Services subcommittee surely will discuss this afternoon, Pentagon officials evidently trust military inductees with felony rap sheets more than they do law-abiding gay GIs. Having relaxed academic, age, and weight restrictions to achieve recruitment goals, the Defense Department has granted “moral waivers” to criminal convicts. Simultaneously, it uses the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to jettison gays in uniform, usually for merely disclosing their sexuality. This policy deserves a dishonorable discharge.
Between 2006 and 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently revealed, convicted felons accepted by the Marine Corps rose 68 percent, from 208 to 350. Equivalent Army admissions rocketed 105 percent, from 249 to 511. Between 2003 and 2006, U.C. Santa Barbara’s Michael D. Palm Center calculates, “106,768 individuals with serious criminal histories were admitted” to the armed forces.
Last year, the Army gave moral waivers to 106 applicants convicted of burglary, 15 of felonious break-ins, 11 of grand-theft-auto, and eight of arson. It also admitted five rape/sexual-assault convicts, two felony child molesters, two manslaughter convicts, and two felons condemned for “terrorist threats including bomb threats.”
“The Army seems to be lowering standards in training to accommodate lower-quality recruits,” RAND Corporation researcher Beth Asch observed at a May 12 Heritage Foundation defense-policy seminar in Colorado Springs.
Conversely, expelled military personnel include Arabic linguists and intelligence specialists who help crush America’s foes in the War on Terror. “Don’t Ask” has ousted at least 58 soldiers who speak Arabic, 50 Korean, 42 Russian, 20 Chinese, nine Farsi, and eight Serbo-Croatian — all trained at the prestigious Defense Language Institute. Al-Qaeda intercepts need translation, and Uncle Sam may need people who can walk around Tehran with open ears. Yet these dedicated gay citizens now are ex-GIs.
Under “Don’t Ask,” the Pentagon reported in February 2005, only 1 percent of gays were sacked for pursuing or achieving same-sex marriage. Just 16 percent were dismissed for seeking or performing gay sex. Fully 83 percent of those fired between 1994 and 2003 merely stated their gay or bisexual status.
In March 2007, the Navy discharged Petty Officer Stephen Benjamin, an Arabic cryptologic interpreter. Supervisors investigated him when a message he transmitted said, “That was so gay — the good gay, not the bad one.” He also mentioned his social life, thus exposing his homosexuality.
His captain previously graded him an “EXCEPTIONAL LEADER. Extremely focused on mission accomplishment. Dedicated to his personal development and that of his sailors. Takes pride in his work and promotes professionalism in his subordinates.”
Never mind. Out he went. U.S. soldiers in Iraq now have one less colleague to give them translated, real-time, operational intelligence.
Meanwhile, Benjamin’s straight co-workers, whose instant messages were profane and sexually explicit, remain in uniform. Similarly, 28 straight soldiers who had sex in Afghanistan were reprimanded, but not axed, Drew Brown reported in the May 28 Stars and Stripes. Under an updated General Order No. 1, sex among single, straight GIs is now “highly discouraged,” but not prohibited.
“The bottom line is that the troops are responsible for their own behavior,” said Lt. Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green, a military spokeswoman for Regional Command East. Call this double standard “Don’t Tell, Don’t Get Caught.”
Of course, the Pentagon says it just enforces “Don’t Ask,” a law that a Democratic Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in March 1994. Dismissals of gay GIs, which had waned under Presidents Reagan and G. H. W. Bush, soared from 597 in Fiscal Year 1994 to 1,227 in FY 2001. These numbers dropped 48.9 percent to 627 in 2007, as President G.W. Bush battled in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Don’t Ask” terminations continued, but more slowly during wartime. The 105.5 percent spike in “Don’t Ask” firings under President Clinton exposes the lie that he was some kind of Martin Luther King Jr. to gay people. (For a statistical history of these discharges see the chart here.)
“Don’t Ask” recently lost two key proponents. One of its architects, Northwestern University’s military sociologist Charles Moskos, died in May. Former Senator Sam Nunn (D., Ga.), who led “Don’t Ask”’s enactment, now says “times change.” He remarked June 3, after “15 years go by on any personnel policy…it’s appropriate to take another look at it.”
As “Don’t Ask” expert Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center notes, among the policy’s top boosters, only Colin Powell remains.
“We went from a three-legged to a one-legged dog in the same week,” Frank said. “At this point, nothing but political inertia is propping this animal up.”
That canine uniped is wobblier, thanks to a statement signed by two retired vice admirals and 26 retired generals. “We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” their communiqué reads. They argue that “As is the case in Britain, Israel,” and other countries where gays may serve truthfully, “our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.”
Since 1994, attitudes have changed. A December 18, 2006 Zogby poll of 545 GIs who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent considered themselves comfortable among gays. Also, 23 percent said they knew gay people in their units, while 45 percent believed they did. So, 68 percent of GIs confirmed or imagined that they worked with gay colleagues, with no evident clamor for their ejection. If there is a gay-fueled crisis in unit morale and cohesion, it appears to have gone undetected.
The battle-cry “Think of the children” also applies to this issue.
While gay couples and same-sex parents might disagree, gay service members generally are less likely to have spouses and kids awaiting them stateside. Therefore, pro-family conservatives should decry a policy that strips a childless gay soldier of his uniform, but keeps a straight GI in his body armor, far from his wife and kids, on multiple combat tours in Baghdad. Since 2003, NBC News reports, the Pentagon involuntarily has redeployed 58,000 such “stop-lossed” servicemen and women.
“We are asking for the responsibilities of citizenship,” says Victor Maldonado, spokesman for the Service Members Legal Defense Network, which opposes “Don’t Ask.” “We are being denied the responsibilities of citizenship, and then we are being pilloried for not being responsible citizens.”
Today’s hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel will consider what to do about this policy. Here is a simple idea.
“Don’t Ask” should yield to equality: Sexual orientation should be irrelevant while inappropriate sexual conduct — gay, straight, or otherwise — should be punished. Our enemies are Islamofascists who murder Americans, not gay patriots who unravel terrorist plots and introduce jihadists to Allah.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Clinton-era relic. It belongs in the Museum of the 1990s, wedged between the Nirvana CDs and shares of WorldCom stock.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.
© 2008 Scripps Howard News Service