The Iraq Inquiry continued today in London and they heard from Clare Short, who is a Member of Parliament and was also a member of Tony Blair's Cabinet. Short is familiar to peace and anti-war types. I am noting a section of her testimony.
Clare Short: In the case of Iraq, there was secretiveness and deception on top of that. So I heard Tony Blair talking when he gave evidence to you about an ad hoc committee with a small "a" and small "h". I simply don't accept that. There were no minutes. It is just not a proper way to proceed. If you are discussing things that other departments are supposed to know about and are supposed to be preparing for, and they are completely excluded from the discussion and don't know what the government is planning, I think this is a chaotic way of doing things.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: You don't think that they were really looking at a range of options and at all the possible risks in this course.
RT HON CLARE SHORT MP: I presume you are looking at the leaked documents. The Downing Street memo now tells it all; that Blair had given his word that he was in favour of regime change and would be with Bush.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: We will come back to that, but you could see who the people were around the Prime Minister advising him, although, clearly, you weren't one of
them. But wasn't this a group that was pretty expert and diverse? Did it have expertise in the Middle East?
RT HON CLARE SHORT MP: Well, one, I didn't know they were meeting, two, it is an ingroup. That's the way Number 10 worked. You keep Tony's favour and Alistair
doesn't brief against you, if you do whatever they want, and challenge is the opposite. Indeed, I have a friend who was doing research at the time, and therefore interviewing people at Number 10, and a message came back to me that I shouldn't keep challenging in the Cabinet. I was making myself unpopular.
There is not enough coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. C.I. covers it, I'm not talking about her. I'm talking about the US press -- big and small.
I will note John F. Burns' New York Times report. I called C.I. to check and Burns has covered the Inquiry before (I thought he had but I knew C.I. would know for sure).
Ms. Short, who quit as international development minister two months after the invasion in 2003, repeatedly accused Mr. Blair of “misleading” her and other cabinet ministers about the advice he was getting from government lawyers who questioned the legality of invading Iraq.
On that issue, and on her written warnings of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the invasion’s wake, she said that Mr. Blair had effectively circumvented cabinet debate. Instead, she said, he had relied on an inner circle of “his mates” in government, having “little chats” with outsiders like herself and plying what she called a “poodle-like” relationship with the United States.
She also accused Mr. Blair of deceit in his argument shortly before the invasion that France had said that it would veto a so-called “second resolution” in the United Nations Security Council approving military action against Iraq, and that it would not shift from that position under any circumstances. That allowed Mr. Blair to say he had exhausted the diplomatic possibilities for dealing with Mr. Hussein and cleared the way for fulfilling his pledge to fight at America’s side.
Again, Burns has covered it before and good for him but we really should see more people stepping out. I would not hope to see Amy Goodman cover it since she has consistently refused to do a segment on it. People protest? She's not concerned. Blair's asked some tough questions? She's not interested. She's just not interested.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, February 2, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry continues in England, Clare Short tells the Inquiry, "We have made Iraq more dangerous as well as causing enormous suffering and diminishing our reputation," Iraq's Sunni vice president visits US officials, a US Senate Committee addresses Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and more.
Starting in London, where the Iraq Inquiry continued public hearings today. Appearing before the committee were Clare Short, Hilary Benn and Peter Ricketts (link goes to video and transcript options). As Committee Chair John Chilcot explained at the start of the hearing, Short "was Secretary of State for International Development from 1997 until May 2003, when you resigned over the Iraq question."
Up to this point, one narrative emerging from all the testimony is that Blair portrayed one reality to one group and another to a second group. If you were on the inside, you testified you didn't think a second UN resolution was necessary [1441 only authorized inspections, there was no resoultion autorizing the war]. If you were part of the Cabinet or advisers but not of sufficient War Hawk statutory, you were in the other group. And if you were Peter Goldsmith (Attorney General), you were brow beat and bullied until you changed your legal advice. One group was unconcerned about a second UN resolution because they knew, despite Tony Blair's posturing, he wasn't interested in getting a second resolution.
With that narrative in mind, Clare Short's testimony is even more damning than many might have expected. Asking about "the machinery of government," Committee Member Roderic Lyne noted of the legal issues of war, "You said it wasn't substantive discussion, Mr Blair said it was. It is a Cabinet of which you were a member. Then these decisions were endorsed by the House of Commons, of which you are still a member."
MP Clare Short: The first thing to say is that I noticed Tony Blair in his evidence to you, kept saying "I had to decide, I had to decide", and, indeed, that's how he behaved, but that is not meant to be our system of government. It is meant to be a Cabinet system, because, of course, if you had a presidential system, you would put better checks into the legislature. So we were getting -- his view that he decided, him and his mates around him, the ones that he could trust to do whatever it was he decided, and then the closing down of normal communications and then this sort of drip feed of little chats to the Cabinet. Now, that's a machinery of government question and there is a democratic question, but, also, there is a competence of decision-making question, because I think, if you do things like that, and they are not challenged and they are not thought through, errors are made, and I think we have seen the errors.
Short rejected the idea that the Cabinet endorsed the war and declared, "I think he misled the Cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through."
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Sorry, who misled the Cabinet?
MP Clare Short: The Attorney General. I think now we know everything we know about his doubts and his changes of opinion and what the Foreign Office legal advisers were saying and that he had got this private side deal that Tony Blair said there was a material breach when Blix was saying he needed more time. I think for the Attorney General to come and say there is an unequivocal legal authority to go to war was misleading, and I must say, I never saw myself as a traditionalist, but I was stunned by it, because of what was in the media about the view of international lawyers, but I thought, "This is the Attorney General coming just in the teeth of war to the Cabinet. It must be right", and I think he was misleading us.
Short is also of the opinion that Peter Goldsmith was leaned on.
MP Clare Short: I noticed that Lord Goldsmith [in his testimony to the Inquiry] said he was excluded from lots of meetings. That is a form of pressure. Exclusion is a form of pressure. Then, that he was -- it was suggested to him that he go to the United States to get advice about the legal position. Now we have got the Bush administration, with very low respect for international law. It seems the most extraordinary place in the world to go and get advice about international law. To talk to Jeremy Greenstock, who -- I'm surprised by his advice. I think to interpret 1441 to say you have got to come back to the Security Council for an assessment of whether Saddam Hussein is complying, but there shouldn't be a decision in the Security Council, is extraordinarily Jesuitical. I have never understood it before, and I think that's nonsense, and it wasn't the understanding of the French and so on, because I saw the French Ambassador later. So I think all that was leaning on, sending him to America, excluding him and then including him, and I noticed the chief legal adviser in the Foreign Office said in his evidence that he had sent something and Number 10 wrote, "Why is this in writing?" I think that speaks volumes about the way they were closing down normal communication systems in Whitehall.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: But there was a critical week before the conflict started on 20 March. It was on 13 March that Lord Goldsmith came into his office and told his officials that, on balance, he had come to the view that the better view was that the revival argument could be revived without a further determination by the Security Council. I suppose the question is: in the days before 13 March, specifically, was he subjected to pressure? Was this a decision not reached purely on legal grounds? Now, he said not, Mr Blair effectively has said not. Do you have any evidence that, in that period, pressures were applied of a non-legal kind to the Attorney General? He had legal discussions with the Americans in February, but I'm talking about the period between 7 March, when he gave his formal advice, and 13 March, when he had come to this clear, on balance conclusion.
MP Clare Short: No, I do not have any evidence, but I think him changing his mind three times in a couple of weeks, and then even -- in order to say unequivocally there was legal authority, to require Tony Blair to secretly sign a document saying that Iraq was in material breach, and not to report any of that to the Cabinet, is so extraordinary -- and by the way, I see that both Tony Blair and he said the Cabinet were given the chance to ask questions. That is untrue.
Short went on to describe the meeting when the Cabinet was informed of the sudden decision by Goldsmith that the war would be legal, noting that Robin Cook didn't attend and that Goldsmith sat in Cook's chair.
There was a piece of paper round the table. We normally didn't have any papers, apart from the agenda. It was the PQ answer, which we didn't know was a PQ answer then, and he started reading it out, so everyone said "We can read", you know, we didn't -- and then -- so he -- everyond said, "That's it." I said, "That's extraordinary. Why is it so late? Did you change your mind?" and they all said, "Clare!" Everything was very fraught by then and they didn't want me arguing, and I was kind of jeered at to be quiet. That's what happened.
Committee Roderic Lyne: So you went quiet?
MP Clare Short: If he won't answer and the Prime Minister is saying, "Be quiet", and that's it, no discussion, there is only so much you can do, and on this, because I see the Prime Minister -- the Attorney, the then Attorney, to be fair to him, says he was ready to answer questions but none were put. I did ask him later, because there was then the morning War Cabinet, or whatever you call it, that he did come to and he gave all sorts of later legal advice and I asked him privately, "How come it was so late?" and he said, "Oh, it takes me a long time to make my mind up".
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The argument on this Cabinet meeting we have heard --
MP Clare Short: I would like to ask you to ask for the books -- you know the Cabinet secretary keeps a manuscript note and there is another private secretary that keeps a manuscript note on this. I think you should check the record.
Short noted they were not informed that Goldsmith had voiced objections earlier or that Elizabeth Wilmshurst had resigned over this issue or that the Foreign Office found the war would be illegal without a second UN resolution.
MP Clare Short: I think we should have been told that, and I also think -- because the side documents -- because you can tell he was uncertain. He made Blair write and sign a document saying Saddam Husseinw as not cooperating under the terms of 1441 and was in material breach. When Blix was saying -- do you remember he got rid of the ballistic missiles and he said, "These are not matchsticks", or toothpicks, or something, do you remember? And he was asking for more time. So at the time when Blix was asking for more time, the Prime Minister secretly signed to say there was no cooperation and Blix was saying I'm getting some cooperation. So -- I mean, this is disgraceful.
To Tony Blair's assertion that he had to give up on chasing down a second resolution because the French said they would not approve one, Short called that "a deliberate lie" and explained that a decision was made -- as it had been in the US (she reminded everyone of the "freedom fries") -- to blame the French and use that deceit as an excuse to avoid a second resolution. She notes the French position was not "never" on a second resolution but "not now" while inspections were ongoing.
Short also noted the lie used to deploy the troops to the region, how -- if they weren't deployed -- it wouldn't look like anyone was serious and yet, once they were deployed, the fact that they were there became the reason for "'We've got to go now,' because they can't leave them sweating in the desert? Do you remember the contradiction?" She noted discussions within the Arab world to remove Hussein from Iraq and how possibilities for other avenues or stronger partnerships were repeatedly met with objection that there wasn't time and there must be no waiting.
Short's testimony was strong and consistent throughout and she did a strong job refuting all of Tony Blair's claims before the committee. She also noted that the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, was shut out of the discussions. Today a poll was released. Kylie MacLellan and Michael Roddy (Reuters) report that the poll found Gordon Brown shared the blame with Blair for the Iraq War (60%) -- that may be due to his continuation of it. It also found that 37% believe Tony Blair should be tried for War Crimes. The reporters do not note it but that is a 9% increase since the most recent poll and the poll took place after Blair testified in public.
Nico Hines live blogged Short's testimony for the Times of London, Andrew Sparrow live blogged for the Guardian and Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged at Twitter. Iraq Inquiry Blogger also has a post up that provides an overview of Short's testimony. Chris Ames live blogged and fact checked at Iraq Inquiry Digest.
Turning to some of today's reported violence in Iraq . . .
Reuters notes a Mosul grenade attack which left three people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three Shi'ite pilgrims injured, a Taji sticky bombing which injured a police officer and a Garma roadside bombing which injured five police officers.
Reuters notes Iraq and US forces shot dead 1 'suspect' in a Mosul raid (two more arrested) and unknown assailants shot dead 2 people in Mosul (one in a car, one in front of a home).
Yesterday, a deadly bombing shook Baghdad -- or another deadly bombing yet again shook Baghdad. With at least 54 dead and many more injured, how did TV news play the story?ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer reduced it to a headline late in the show.Diane Sawyer: Violence in Iraq today where a female suicide bomber wearing a vest hidden under her head scarf and shawl -- which is called an abaya -- detonated explosives while she was walking in a group of Shi'ite pilgrims on the northern edge of Baghdad. 54 people were killed, more than 100 were wounded. The pilgrims were on their way to Karbala to visit the holiest shrine in Shi'ite Islam.CBS Evening News with Katie Couric also went with a headline late in the show.Katie Couric: There was an especially brutal attack today in Baghdad a female suicide bomber targeted Shi'ite pilgrims who were about to leave for a religious gathering in Karbala, at least 54 people were killed, more than 100 others wounded. No group has claimed responsibility.NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams couldn't make time for it and was apparently more eager to have Brian gush like Hedda Hopper about Sunday night's Grammys -- if you ever needed to hear Brian dub Elton John and Lady Gaga "over the top," your wish was granted. If you were looking for something resembling actual news, you were left wanting. The NewsHour (PBS) went with a headline in their news wrap:Hari Sreenivasan: A suicide bomber in Baghdad killed at least 54 Iraqis today during a religious procession. At least 117 others were wounded. Many of the victims were Shiite pilgrims on their way to Karbala. Authorities said the bomber was a woman who set off explosives hidden under her cloak. It was the first major strike this year against pilgrims ahead of a major Shiite holy day. The U.S. government is now investigating whether Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi officials with $1 million. Guards with the security firm were involved in a Baghdad shooting in 2007 that killed 17 Iraqis. The New York Times reported today, the Justice Department has focused on whether Blackwater authorized bribes to continue operating in Iraq. The company had no immediate response today.
Also yesterday Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi met with US President Barack Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. al-Hashimi belongs to the National Dialogue Front whose Salih al-Mutlaq is the most high profile candidate known to be banned. Why the White House issued no statement might be puzzling; however, when the press didn't ask yesterday and Robert Gibbs blathered on and didn't mention it . . . Don't worry, while everyone pretended to be in a functioning democracy there was a lot of crap about the Superbowl passed off as 'world issues' in the White House press briefing. We got 'big boned' Robert Gibbs pretending he's ever broken a sweat over anything other than an empty box of Ding Dongs and we've got Brian Williams gossiping on air about the Grammys -- we're a nation bursting with all the information we need to know! There is at least one functioning department of the federal government, the US State Dept issued (link has video and text) a welcoming statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to al-Hashimi before they went into their meeting (despite questions being called out -- yes, the reporters covering the State Dept actually work unlike the bulk of the White House press corps), they took no questions and walked away. Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) was among journalists who spoke with al-Hashemi this morning and he reports of al-Hashemi's conversation with them:
A main topic of discussion, as one might expect, was the upcoming election and the crisis surrounding the disqualification of candidates by Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi's Accountability and Justice (De-Baathification) Committee. Along with the usual complaints, Hashemi singled out the timing of the committee's moves as particularly egregious: why did a committee formed by Parliament two years ago wait until less than two months before the election to act? He wondered if the elections were being targeted by those who did not want them to succeed, though he declined to speculate aloud on who might hold such hidden agendas. He left little doubt that he thought that the disqualifications could significantly depress Sunni turnout and deeply compromise the legitimacy of the election --- and expressed hope that a solution would be found quickly, even as the opening of the campaign season rapidly approaches.
Hashemi argued that the Iraqi people want and need the upcoming elections to deliver fundamental change. Only a new government, he insisted, one selected by fair and transparent and inclusive elections, could meet the challenges which the current government has failed to overcome. He was 100% sure that such a new government would do better at addressing the many structural and political problems facing Iraq. But when pressed by several of us in the room, he seemed loathe to speculate about what would happen if the elections did not produce such change, just another government which looks a lot like the current one. He insisted that this was just not possible given the deep desire among Iraqis for real change. But at the same time, his concerns about the deBaathification disqualifications and worries that some elements might prefer a failed election suggest that in fact he thinks that it's quite possible indeed for the elections to not produce meaningful change. It's not even clear, frankly, what plausible electoral outcomes would count as meaningful change --- would a victory by Maliki's list would be taken as "failure"?
At today's State Dept press conference (where the reporters actually work and do their jobs as opposed to asking about pop singers and athletic games), Iraq was raised. In fairness to the entire White House press corps -- and not just the small number of them that actually do their jobs -- the tone is probably set by the spokesperson and Robert Gibbs always seems to think he's amusing. Philip J. Crowley handled the State Dept briefing and we'll note this section of his response.
I mean, we -- This is an Iraqi process. We are not in any way, shape or form, interfering in the Iraqi political process. We've been steadfastly supporting the Iraqi political process. Obviously, as Ambassador Hill said yesterday, this has to be seen by the Iraqi people as an inclusive process and one that allows Iraq to continue its remarkable political progress. There's a lot at stake in Iraq on March 7. We've expressed our concerns that a process that appears to the Iraqi people or to a segment of Iraqi society to exclude viable candidates from running for office and participating in the Iraqi political process has -- creates the risk that the result of the election will not be seen as valid, as credible, and that can have potential ramifications for Iraq long term.
And only that section because we've got so much to cover.
Today the US Senate Armed Services Committee tacked the issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell onto their hearing on the Defense Authorization Request hearing giving it approximately one hour. The background on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We're not going pre-Reagan. If we go pre-Reagan we'll confuse everyone who is under the mistaken belief that there is historical backing for gays and lesbians not being allowed to serve (the only historical backing pre-Reagan would be legal verdicts in the US and that's a mixed bag which includes wins for LGBT rights). 1982, the written policy became gays and lesbians could not serve in the military. In the eighties and nineties, the military was persecuting gays and lesbians and those suspected of being either. Bill Clinton campaigned for president in 1992 and made the promise that he would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military without fear of persecution. Clinton was elected and came up against a hostile Joint Chiefs of Staff, hostile Republicans, hostile Democrats (including Sam Nunn) and a hostile press. As Marcia often notes, there's a historical amnesia taking place allowing a number of people to lie about what happened. Clinton was not able to keep his promise. What he was able to work out was the policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The way it worked ideally was that a service member would not disclose their sexual orientation and they could not be asked about it. That was how it worked ideally. The cons include that it treated sexual orientation as something to hide. The pros include that it was an advance over the previous practice. By the end of Bill Clinton's second term, opinions had begun shifting. It should be noted that when shifting opinions are spoken of today, they tend to speak of the public; however, a big shift of opinion was expressed in the hearing from a military officer and an even bigger shift of opinion has taken part in the press which, during Don't Ask, Don't Tell, ran one type of story and only one type of story. Bob Somerby loves to look back at those Clinton years but either doesn't wish to or is unable to connect the dots. The press made it about sex. They were sniffing around long before they discovered Monica Lewinsky. In fact, the early nineties US mainstream press would best be described as "undersexed and over interested." Today they play at social relevance and many editorial boards have come out for civil services for same-sex couples or for marriage equality but back when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was born, the press was prurient and openly hostile to all things sexual. (Blame it on Madonna, I'm sure they would.) Don't Ask, Don't Tell doesn't just ask a gay service member to live in silence (closeted), it asks them to strive for less than integrity since they must keep hidden who they are. There is so much confusion -- even among reporters -- about the history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (was it an act of Congress, was it an executive order, etc.) that we're going to note the opening statements of the Committee Chair (Carl Levin), that Ranking Member (John McCain) and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. This is what they said, not what prepared remarks will make it into the record.
Chair Carl Levin: I believe that ending the policy would improve our military's capabilities and reflect our commitment to improving our commitment to equal opportunity. I do not find the arguments that were used to justify Don't Ask, Don't Tell convincing when it took effect in 1993 and even less so now. I agree with what President [Barack] Obama said in his State of the Union address that we should repeal this discriminatory policy. In the latest Gallup poll, the American public overwhelming supports allowing gays to serve openly in the military. 69% are recorded as supporting their right to serve. And many, in fact, are serving, as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, said and he supports ending the policy. A majority of troops already believe that they serve alongside a gay or lesbian colleague. One recent study found that 66,000 gays and lesbians are serving today -- at constant risk of losing their chance to serve. Other nations have allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve in their militaries without discrimination and without impact on unit cohesion. A comprehensive study on this was conducted by RAND in 1993. RAND researchers reported on the positive experiences of France, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands -- all of which allowed known homosexuals to serve in their armed forces. Senator [John] McCain and I have asked the Department of Defense to update the 1993 report. Ending this discriminatory policy will contribute to our military's effectiveness. To take just one example, dozens of Arabic and Farsi linguists have been forced out of the military under Don't Ask, Don't Tell at a time when our need to understand those languages have never been greater. Thousands of troops, 13,000 by one estimate, have been forced to leave the military under the current policy. That number includes many who could help the military complete some particularly difficult and dangerous mission. I have long admired the merit based system employed by the US military that allows service men and women of varied backgrounds to advance to positions of high leadership An army is not a democracy or meritocracy where success depends not on who you are but on how well you do your job. Despite it's necessarily undemocratic nature, our military has helped lead the way in areas of fairness and anti-discrimination. It has served as a flagship for American values and aspirations both inside the United States and around the world. We will hold additional hearings to hear from various points of view and approaches on this matter. This Committtee will hold a hearing on February 11th when we will hear from an independent panel -- the services secretaries and service chiefs will all be testifying to the Committee in the month of Ferbruary on their various budgets and they of course will be open to questions on this subject as well during testimony. My goal will be to move quickly to maximize the opportunities for all Americans to serve their country while addressing any concerns that may be raised. We should end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and we can and should do it in a way that honors our nation's values while making us more secure. My entire statement will be made part of the record. A statement of Senator [Kirsten] Gillibrand will also be inserted in the record as well as a statement of Senator McCain's. Senator McCain.
Ranking Member John McCain: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and I want to thank Secretary Gates and Adm Mullen for what's turning in to a very long morning for them and we appreciate your patience and your input on this very, very important issue. Uh, we need to consider that Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that the president has made clear -- most recently last week's State of the Union address -- that he wants Congress to repeal. This would be a substantial and controversial change to a policy that has been successful for two decades. It would also present yet another challenge to our military at a time of already tremendous stress and strain. Our men and women in uniform are fighting two wars guarding the frontlines against the global war on terrorist enemy, serving and sacrificing on battlefields far from home and working to rebuild and reform the force after more than eight years of conflict. At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I'm enormously proud of and thankful for every American who chooses to put on the uniform of our nation and serve at this time of war. I encourage more of our fellow citizens to serve. and to open up opportunites to do so. Many gay and lesbians are serving admirably in our armed forces, even giving their lives so that we and others can know the blessings of peace. I honor their sacrifice and I honor them. Our challenge is how to continue welcoming this service amid the vast complexities of the largest, most expensive, most well regarded institution in our nation: our armed forces. This is an extremely difficult issue and the Senate vigorously debated it in 1993. We heard from the senior uniformed and civilian leaders of our military on eight occassions before this Committee alone. When Congress ultimately wrote the law, we included important findings that did justice to the seriousness of the subject. I would ask, without objection, Mr. Chairman, that a copy fo the statute including those findings be included in the record.
Chair Carl Levin: It will be.
Ranking Member John McCain: I won't quote all those findings. But three points must be made. First, Congress found in the law that the military's mission to prepare for and conduct combat operations requires service men and women to accept living and working conditions that are often spartan and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy. The law finds that civilian life is fundamentally different from military life which is characterized by its own laws and rules, customs and traditions including many restrictions on personal conduct that would not be tolerated in civil society. Finally, the law finds that the essence of military capability is good order and unit cohesion and that any practice which puts those goals at unacceptable risks can be restricted These findings were the foundation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And I'm eager to hear from our distinguished witnesses what has changed since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was written such that the law that they supported can now be repealed. Has this policy been ideal? No, it has not. But it has been effective. It has helped to balance a potential disruptive tension between the desires of a minority and the broader interests of our all volunteer force. It is well understood and predominately supported by our fighting men and women. It reflects as I understand them the preferences of our uniform services. It has sustained unit cohesion and unit morale while still allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country in uniform. And it has done all of this for nearly two decades. Mr. Chairman, this is a letter signed by 1,000 former general and flag officers who have weighed in on this issue. I think that we all in Congress should pay attention and benefit from the experience and knowledge of over 1,000 former general and flag officers where they say 'We firmly believe that this law which Congress passed to protect good order, discipline and morale in the unique environment of the armed forces deserves continued support.' And -- so -- I think we should also pay attention to those who have served who can speak more frankly on many occassions than those who are presently serving. I know that any decision that Congress makes about the future of this law will inevitablly leave a lot of people angry and unfulfilled. There are a lot of patriotic and well meaning Americans on each side of this debate and I have heard their many passionate concerns. Ultimately though, numerous US military leaders tell me that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is working and that we should not change it now. I agree. I would welcome a report done by the Joint Chiefs of Staff based solely on military readiness, effectiveness and needs -- not on politics -- that would study the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, consider the effect of its repeal on our armed services and that would offer the best military advice on the right course of action. We have an all volunteer force. It is better trained, more effective and more professional than any military in our history and today that force is shouldering a greater global burden than any time in decades. We owe our lives to our fighting men and women and we should be exceedingly cautious, humble and sympathetic when attempting to regulate their affairs. Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been an imperfect but effective policy. And at this moment, when we're asking more of our military than at any time in recent memory, we should not repeal this law. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chair Carl Levin: Thank you, Senator McCain. Secretary Gates.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: Last week, during the State of the Union address, the president announced that he will work with Congress this year to repeal the law known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He subsequently directed the Department of Defense to begin the preparations necessary for a repeal of the current laws and policy. I fully support the president's decision. The question before us is not whether the military preapres to make this change, but how we must -- how we best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the Commander in Chief and we are moving out accordingly; however, we also can only take this process so far as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress. I am mindful of the fact, as are you, that unlike the last time this issue was considered by the Congress more than 15 years ago, our military is engaged in two wars that have put troops and their families under considerable stress and strain. I am mindful, as well, that attitudes towards homosexuality may have changed considerably -- both in society generally and in the military -- over the intervening years. To ensure that the department is prepared should the law be changed, and working in close consultation with Adm Mullen, I have appointed a high-level working group within the department that will immediately begin a review of the issues associated with properly implementing a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. The mandate of this working group is to thorougly, objectively and methodically examine all aspects of this question and produce its finding and recommendations in the form of an implementation plan by the end of this calendar year. A guiding principle of our efforts will be to minimize disruption and polarization within the ranks, with special attention paid -- special attention paid to those serving on the front lines. I am confident that this can be achieved. The working group will examine a number of lines of study, all of which will proceed simultaneously. First, the working group will reach out to be the force to authoritatively understand their views and attitudes about the impacts of repeal. I expect that the same sharp divisions that characterize the debate over these issues outside of the military will quickly seek to find their way into this process, particularly as it pertains to what are the true views and attitudes of our troops and their families. I am determined to carry out this process in a way that establishes objective and reliable information on this question with minimial influence by the policy or political debate. It is essential that we accomplish this in order to have the best possible analysis and information to guide the policy choices before the Department and the Congress. Second, the working group will undertake a thorough examination of all the changes to the department's regulations and policies that may have to be made. These include potential revisions to policies on benefits, base housing, fraternization and misconduct, separations and discharges, and many others. We will enter this examination with no preconceived views, but a recognition that this will represent a fundamental change in personnel policy -- one that will require we provide our commanders with the guidance and tools necessary to accomplish this transition successfully and with minimal disruption to the Department's critical missions. Third, the working group will examine the potential impacts of a change in the law on military effectiveness, including how a change might affect unit cohesion, recruiting and retention, and other issues curicial to the performance of the force. The working group will develop ways to mitigate and manage any negative impacts. These are, generally speaking, the broad areas we have identified for study under this review. We will, of course, continue to refine and expand these as we get into this process or engage in discussion with the Congress or other sources. In this regard, we expect that the working group will reach out to outside experts with a wide vareity of perspectives and experience. To that end, the Department will -- as requested by this Committee, ask the RAND Corporation to update their study from 1993 on the impacts of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military. We have also received some helpful suggestions on how this outside review might be expanded to cover a wide swath of issues. This will be a process that will be open to views and recommendations from a wide variety of sources, including, of course, members of Congress. Mr. Chairman, I expect that our approach may cause some to wonder why it will take the better part of the year to accomplish this task. We looked at a variety of options, but when you take into account the overriding imperative -- to get this right and minimize disruption to a force that is actively fighting two wars and working through the stress of almost a decade of combat -- then it is clear to us that we must proceed in manner that allows for the thorough examination of all issues. An important part of this process is to engage our men and women in uniform and their families over this period since, after all, they will ultimately determine whether we make this transition successfully or not. To ensure this process is able to accomplish its important mission, Chairman Mullen and I have determined that we need to appoint the highest level officials to carry it out. Accordingly, I am naming the Department of Defense General Counsel, Jeh Johnson, and General Carter Ham, Commander of US Army Europe, to serve as the co-chairs for this effort.
Simultaneous with launching this process, I have also directed the Department to quickly review the regulations used to implement the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and -- within 45 days -- present to me recommended changes to those regulations that, within existing law, will enforce this policy in a more humane and fiar manner. You may recall that I asked the Department's General Counsel to conduct a preliminary review of this matter last year. Based on that preliminary review, we believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform. We will now conduct a final detailed assessment of this proposal before proceeding. Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain and members of this Committee, the Department of Defense understands that this is a very difficult and, in the minds of some, controversial policy question. I am determined that we in the Department carry out this process professionally, thoroughly, dispassionately, and in a manner that is responsive to the direction of the President and to the needs of the Congress as you debate and consider this matter. However, on behalf of the men and women in uniform and their families, I also ask that you work with us to, insofar as possible, to keep them out of the political dimension of this issue. I am not asking for you not to do your jobs fully and with vigor, but rather that as this debate unfolds, you keep the impact it will have on our forces firmly in mind. Thank you for this opportunity to lay out our thinking on this important policy question. We look forward to working with the Congress and hearing your ideas on the best way ahead.
Trina's grabbing Mike Mullens' opening statement at her site tonight, Kat will note the hearings at her site and Wally will note it at Rebecca's site where he's filling in. Roland Burris' statements are among those which will be noted. In real time, back in 1993, it was apparently too 'icky' for the press to cover. They could do S&M cover stories on the weekly 'news' magazines, they just couldn't bring themselves to cover LGBT issues. A lot has changed since then (thankfully). But this will be a topic at numerous community sites because it is an important topic and it doesn't need to be silenced, erased or ignored.
For those who may have missed it, John McCain is planning on fighting an effort to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell and he's planning on doing so via a whisper campaign. Apparently embracing the recent shameful Supreme Court decision which found that homophobes would be harmed by having their testimony opened up to the full public, McCain intends to 'speak for' numerous people and insist that they are telling him this and they are telling him that; however, they would be harmed if they spoke publicly. That will be his argument throughout the year. Gates is less than convincing (you should catch that just by reading his opening statement above). But let's focus on McCain and note that he stresses the military does not have all the rights and freedoms that civilian life has. True enough. And when given an order, they are expected to obey it unless they find a conflict between it and the Constitution (which they take an oath to uphold). In other words, there's no conflict. There's no need to fret and worry. If the law changes, that's what they follow. And if they don't, they face charges of insubordination or worse. That argument McCain's attempting to stitch together? It has many components that work against what he's dubbing his own 'logic.'
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):Has the Democratic Party abandoned support of reproductive rights? Next on NOW. To gain their historic control of Congress, Democrats fielded moderate candidates who didn't always follow the party line, especially when it came to abortion. Now that the Democratic Party has the legislative upper hand, are they willing to negotiate away reproductive rights for other political gains? On Friday, February 5 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW goes to Allentown, Pennsylvania to ask: Are abortion rights now in jeopardy at the very hands of the party that has historically protected them? Among those interviewed are pro-life Democratic U.S. Representative Bart Stupak and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean. "If there was a bill on the floor to reverse Roe vs Wade, and says 'life begins at conception,' I would vote for it." Congressman Stupak tells NOW. Jen Boulanger, director of the often-protested Allentown Women's Center, says, "I would expect more from the Democratic Party, to stick to their ideals, not just throw us to the curb." Has the Democratic Party traded principles for power? Next on NOW.
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