Gay rights groups are fuming over remarks that the Marine Corps’ top general made on Tuesday suggesting that open service in the military would lead to lost lives on the battlefield.
On Tuesday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos reiterated his opposition to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and suggested the presence of openly gay people in the U.S. military could be a distraction that would result in additional fatalities.
“When your life hangs on the line, you don’t want anything distracting … Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives,” Amos said, according to the Washington Post.
The general cited the recently released Pentagon study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which found that discontent over open service is higher in the Marine Corps than in other services.
According to the report, while only 30 percent of service members generally thought serving alongside openly gay people would have a negative impact on performance, the percentage jumped to 43 percent for responders in the Marine Corps and 58 percent for responders in the Marine combat arms units.
Amos reportedly continued that Marines don’t want a “distraction” that “may have an effect on cohesion” and said he doesn’t want to “permit that opportunity to happen.”
“I’ll tell you why,” Amos was quoted as saying. “If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] hospital . . . Marines are up there with no legs, none. We’ve got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs.”
Amos reportedly continued: “I don’t need a staff study. I don’t need to hire three PhDs to tell me what to interpret it. I’ve got Marines that came back to me as their commandant and said, we have concerns. So if they have concerns, I do, too. It’s as simple as that.”
In Senate testimony earlier this month, Amos recommended that Congress not act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” although he said at the time the Marine Corps could implement a change in law if so ordered.
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, chided Amos for his remarks and said he needs to “fall in line and salute or resign now.”
“Those fear tactics are not in the interest of any service member,” Sarvis said. “The General’s goal is to kill repeal no matter the consequences, perhaps at the dereliction of his other duties.”
Sarvis said Amos needs to stop lobbying against the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — who have called on Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If not, Sarvis said the president should “ask for his resignation.”
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of programs, also blasted Amos for his remarks and said he should fall in line with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who favor repeal.
“General Amos should be listening to his two bosses, the defense secretary and the joint chiefs chairman,” Sainz said. “Both have made it clear that a gradual and orderly process carried about by the Pentagon as a result of legislative repeal is a far better alternative than a judge’s decision that could bring about repeal overnight.”
On Tuesday, when asked by The Advocate to respond to Amos’ remarks, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated his talking points that President Obama and Gates’ positions on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are “fairly well known.”
“I think the president, as the commander-in-chief, has a strong viewpoint, I think backed up by the survey conducted by the Pentagon as to the attitude of the men and women in our military, that this can be done in a way that strengthens our national security, preserves the best fighting force in the world, and most importantly does away with a policy that he doesn’t think is just,” Gibbs said.