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May 27, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has given in to political pressure on the issue of when Congress should vote to repeal the law banning open homosexuals in the military.

Last month in a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, Mr. Gates, along with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated: "I believe in the strongest possible terms" that the Pentagon should be allowed to finish its ongoing review of the policy change before any congressional votes.

"Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights and suggestions if we are to carry out this change successfully," Mr. Gates and Adm. Mullen said in the April 30 letter.

"Therefore I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process."

This week, however, Geoff Morrell, Mr. Gates' spokesman, said the secretary no longer opposes a vote before completion of the study, expected to reach Congress by Dec. 1.

Votes in both the House and Senate armed services panels are expected to take place on Thursday.

"Secretary Gates continues to believe that ideally the [Defense Department] review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law," Mr. Morrell said in a statement.

However, he noted: "With Congress having indicated that is not possible, the secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."

Critics of the repeal effort say the recent compromise on the issue is deceptive, because voting to repeal the law but delaying actual policy changes assumes the study will endorse lifting the ban.

Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army officer, said Mr. Gates' policy shift sends the wrong signal.

"It's unfortunate Secretary Gates fails to be consistent on the incendiary issue of gays in the military," he said. "Our force needs strong leadership, not wobbly-kneed, politically correct, chameleonlike decisions."

Noting that Mr. Gates is a "wartime defense secretary," Mr. Maginnis said "the last thing our warriors need is someone at the helm who can't stick with his promise to wait out the storm."

Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Adm. Mullen, said the chairman, like Mr. Gates, changed his position. Adm. Mullen favors repealing the law but also wants to know the impact of the change.

"We don't yet," said Capt. Kirby, adding that "ideally, we'd be able to complete our review before any legislative action is taken."

Congress appears set to ignore the admiral's appeals, he said. "Because the proposed [amendment] language also protects our prerogative to fully study this issue, consult with our troops and their families and certify the results before any repeal could take effect, the chairman is comfortable with it," Capt. Kirby said.

Mr. Morrell would not elaborate on why Mr. Gates flip-flopped. "The statement speaks for itself," he said.

Congressional aides, however, said Democrats who want the immediate vote on repeal were startled by growing anti-incumbent sentiment across the country shown in recent elections. They fear a major power shift in the November elections and are set to risk a vote now rather than wait.

Congressional aides said votes in the House and Senate are expected on Thursday and both likely will be close, whatever the outcome.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is split on the issue with all but one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, opposing repeal. Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, is opposing the repeal, and Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who had opposed the vote, now says he favors it.

Mr. Skelton, the House chairman, said in a statement on Wednesday that he opposes a vote to repeal the ban before the completion of the study, noting Mr. Gates' and Adm. Mullen's letter and testimony.

Mr. Skelton said holding off the vote is "a reasonable and responsible request that I respect."

"My position on this issue has been clear I support the current policy and I will oppose any amendment to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said. "I hope my colleagues will avoid jumping the gun and wait for [the Defense Department] to complete its work."

The State Department continues to be delinquent in following the law on providing the Senate and House with annual reports since 2005 on international arms control compliance. The failure comes despite calls by Republicans that the reports are needed for the debate on pending ratification of the New START arms treaty.

The reports are mandated by U.S. law that requires the secretary of state each year by April 15 to provide House and Senate leaders with "a detailed assessment of the adherence of other nations to obligations undertaken in all arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements or commitments."

According to Obama administration officials close to the issue, the White House and State Department are deliberately holding up release of the reports because of concerns the conclusions will undermine support for START ratification.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who endorsed the new arms treaty this week, said in testimony that senators need to review the State Department's compliance judgments and to see a new National Intelligence Estimate on the treaty. "Before making its final decision, this committee will no doubt carefully review those documents," he said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected the idea that the reports are being held up. "The previous administration didn't bother to report on compliance for its final three years, so it is hard to credibly suggest that we are the ones playing politics here," he told Inside the Ring.

Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation and the lead negotiator for the new arms treaty, said in an e-mail that the reports will be sent to Congress in the near future.

"This administration is committed to ensuring that Congress receives a rigorous and comprehensive report covering the entire period since the last report was submitted, which as you note was 2005," she said. "The report is currently undergoing final review and should be submitted to the Congress soon."

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested the reports in January. Mr. Lugar stated in a letter to the State Department that the lack of reports is a problem because of the expiration of the 1991 START treaty, Iran's failure to comply with its nuclear obligations and "several other compliance challenges."

Data from the new report are "of critical importance" for the committee in considering arms treaties, he said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, also has questioned Russian compliance with the 1991 START treaty in a speech in October, when he said Moscow's new multiple-warhead RS-24 missile that was tested as recently as May 2007 violated the treaty.

The 2005 report, the last one made public, identified several Russian violations of the old START treaty. They included: U.S. inspectors' inability to confirm Russian warhead cuts; Russia's failure to report new mobile missile launchers; its improper basing of mobile missiles; its blocking of U.S. inspectors from measuring missile tubes; and the failure to provide missile flight test data required by the treaty.

Charles Graner, the convicted ring leader in the Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal, has at least won one court victory.

Graner, who was reduced in rank to Army private, has served more than five years in prison, two years and eight months longer than anyone else convicted in the scandal.

But his lawyer, Charles Gittins, recently got the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to rule that the Army did not properly calculate time off of his sentence for good behavior.

"They were giving him half of what he was entitled to," Mr. Gittins told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

The Army had awarded Graner 600 days, but the judge said he was entitled to 1,200, or over three years off his 10-year sentence.

The ruling did not affect only Graner.

"His case required that the government change the way they were calculating the good time abatement for all prisoners who committed their offenses before Jan. 1, 2005, but were sentenced after that date, a not insignificant number of military confinees," said Mr. Gittins, one of the nation's most prominent defenders of accused military personnel.

"They clearly do not want him out and talking, since he maintains even now that what he was doing was ordered by [higher-ups] as a means to 'soften up' detainees for interrogation," Mr. Gittins said.

His conviction is being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

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