Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reiterated in a new letter to Congress that the purpose of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study currently underway in the Pentagon is to examine how to the lift the ban on open service and not “whether” it should be lifted.
In the same letter, dated May 6 and made public by the office Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Gates says that the study — which is due for completion December 1 — is also intended to inform what kind of action Congress should take on the issue.
The Gates letter responds to a May 3 letter from Levin in which the senator asks for clarification on the purpose of the study.
“Is the purpose of this comprehensive review to determine ‘whether’ to repeal the statute or is it to assess the issue related to ‘how’ to implement a repeal of the statute?” Levin asks.
In response, Gates recalls previous testimony in which he said the study is focused on preparing for repeal.
“In testimony before the Congress on February 2, 2010, I stated: ‘The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we … best prepare for it,’” Gates says. “This remains my position and that of the Department of Defense.”
Gates says in accordance with his testimony, the working group is charged with assessing the impact of ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and “developing a plan to implement such a repeal in the most informed and effective manner possible.”
In addition to clarifying the focus of the study, Gates says he intends the outcome of the working group’s effort to inform action taken by Congress.
“The outcome of this review is also intended to fully inform both Presidential and Congressional decision making to ensure a change in this law properly and fully addresses the various and complex considerations involved,” Gates says.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the new Gates letter leaves open the opportunity to pass this year delayed implementation legislation, or a bill that Congress would pass now and stop discharges only after the Pentagon completes its study.
“If the study is a ‘how’ study, there should be no problem with delayed repeal this year,” Nicholson said. ”When he says it’s a ‘how’ study, but he doesn’t support repeal this year, that’s a blatant contradiction.”
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization remains focused on work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.
“We are still working closely with Chairman Levin and all committee members for full repeal this year,” Sarvis said. “We are not going to comment further on this exchange between Secretary Gates and Chairman Levin.”