The Army Speaks UPDATED

Army leaders tell Congress they oppose a moratorium on DADT enforcement, express tentative support for plans to repeal anti-gay law

In a blow to those seeking a moratorium on enforcement of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, both Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey, Jr., testified on Tuesday that they oppose such a moratorium during the nearly year-long planned repeal implementation review.

Neither McHugh nor Casey even offered the full-throated support to a repeal of the policy that was given to senators earlier this month by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The testimony came as part of Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the Army’s budget request and, specifically, in response to a question by Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and follow-up questioning by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who announced on Monday that he would be taking the lead on the Senate bill to repeal the policy.

Although McHugh said he “can’t see that we would object” to a moratorium “if it were the will of the Congress,” he also said, when pressed further, that his personal “preference would be that we would not enact a moratorium.”

Speaking more strongly against a moratorium, Casey told the senators that a moratorium “would complicate the whole process” of repeal implementation. “Anything that complicates it more, I would oppose that,” he reiterated.

Still calling a moratorium “the most realistic possibility” after the hearing, Levin said, “Obviously there’s complications, but there’s more complications, it seems to me, once you announce the commander-in-chief’s decision to repeal it.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also voiced support for a moratorium, rhetorically asking “Who’s going to be the last gay servicemember discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?”

Outside the hearing, Udall expanded on his remarks, saying, “There are already cases in the courts and I think any judge would say, ‘We’re going to hold this case until … whatever service branch makes a decision about what we’re going to do with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so a moratorium would fit with where the legal process is probably heading.”

The case of Lt. Dan Choi, the West Point graduate and Arab linguist who has become one of the faces of the repeal movement in the past year, was mentioned both by McHugh and Udall as an example of a case in progress that would be impacted – one way or the other – by a repeal and moratorium effort.

Choi, however, reached by Metro Weekly this afternoon, said, “This is just what I’m going through. I just know that it’s not about the added benefit to me – to save my career – but I know that my unit benefits more from this – and the Americans that we’re protecting. They’re the ones hurting most from this law.”

Of the concerns raised by McHugh and Casey, Choi pointed out that they “are thinking of the worst-case scenarios – things completely debunked by my going back into duty.”

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican committee member, said of the moratorium consideration, “It flies in the face of what the Secretary of Defense committed to” when Gates testified before the committee earlier this month.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Levin asked for an assessment from Defense Department lawyers of the complications raised by an eventual repeal of the policy as well as those raised by a moratorium during the review in preparation for such a repeal and “compare for us whether or not one way or the other there are more complications.”

Secretary McHugh, the former Republican congressman from New York who had served on the House Armed Services Committee prior to being nominated to his current post by President Barack Obama, told the senators, “I work for the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense” and that the president “supports the repeal of this policy.”

Hedging on his own views, McHugh said only that his “job is to try and provide … the best possible information from the Army side.”

Casey did not even go that far, saying, “I do have serious concerns about the impact of a repeal of the law. . . . We just don’t know the impact on readiness and military effectiveness.”

Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was at today’s hearing. Of the testimony, he did not focus on the moratorium comments, saying, “Today it sounded like Army Secretary McHugh and Army Chief General Casey fully support what Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen have laid out before the committee earlier this month.”

Pressing on an issue that he had raised earlier this month, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked Casey if he knew of any problems that the U.S. Armed Forces has had with foreign militaries that have eliminated their bans on gay service.

Casey responded that he had “heard nothing from anyone about any conflicts with British or Canadian soldiers or any other countries’ soldiers that have already implemented that policy.”

In his opening remarks, McCain said of repeal efforts that “we will continue to listen to our military leaders.” Noting that “retention and recruitment are at an all-time high,” the senator said, “Changes to a policy that I think is working would need to be extremely carefully considered.”

McCain followed that up, however, by saying that he wants to encourage more service and would like to “open up opportunities to do so.” Though a slight change, McCain’s comments today appeared to be slightly more open to eventual repeal than those he made at the hearing earlier this month, where he forcefully opposed any changes to the 1993 congressional policy.