Policy Perspectives

All sides recognize the hurdle just passed toward DADT repeal, but different cautions highlight the delicate balance of compromise

by Chris Geidner
Published on June 3, 2010, 12:26am | Comments

When contrasted, two urgent messages sent regarding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" illustrate the delicate nature of the repeal compromise reached last week. The compromise puts all parties on the path toward repeal, but those parties may still have different views on how to reach the destination.

To one camp goes the message:

''It is being widely reported that Congress is acting on legislation that would repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' … [I]t is important to remember that the legislation being considered, if and when it passes, will NOT go into effect immediately.''

And to the other:

''Please get this information to your soldiers and Families and ask them to resist that urge to think that this is a 'done deal.' … Also remind them that the current law remains in effect.''

The first statement, a supportive ''alert'' from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) legal director Aaron Tax, was sent out on May 26 in anticipation of the coming votes that took place on May 27. The concern was reflected in most of SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis's statements surrounding the congressional votes as well.

The second statement, an e-mail addressed to the troops by Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. and sent on May 29, is far less supportive of the congressional votes, opening by telling the troops that they ''know many of you were disappointed'' in the votes. The Bilerico Project first reported the contents of the e-mail over the weekend.

SLDN's Tax told Metro Weekly that his group's alert was e-mailed to their 80,000 supporters and that SLDN was working on other ways of spreading the word.

''Our concern is for the servicemember … currently serving in Iraq, who has heard simply something about 'Congress is repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"'" Tax said. ''We don't want servicemembers to get a false sense of comfort from what's happening in Congress. Being out to anyone at any time is still a risk under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'''

The Army leaders expressed that concern, too. But, their e-mail took an almost apologetic tone in addressing those servicemembers and their families who want to share their opinions about the repeal of the law.

''Understandably, such an action taken before the men and women of the Armed Forces were consulted could be seen as a reversal of our commitment to hear the views of our Soldiers and Families before the law was repealed,'' McHugh and Casey write. ''It should not be.''

Despite the language, Tax said that – for a group like SLDN whose aim is to help those servicemembers currently serving under DADT – the bottom line about the continued existence and enforcement of DADT is the same.

''It really reinforces the message that we're trying to get out there. Who better to say that then the military leadership?'' Tax said. ''We don't disagree with that [that the DADT policy is still in effect]. They are still at risk.

''We have people now who are currently being investigated and face discharge,'' he said. ''The law will continue to be enforced arbitrarily. We will hear stories of people serving openly, and then we will hear stories of people who tell the wrong person and face discharge.''