|March 15, 2007|
||America’s ‘Immoral’ Heroes|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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There are currently some 65,000 gay and lesbian Americans serving in the United States Armed Forces, many of them deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. As they fight and die for their country, they were told this week by the nation’s highest-ranking military officer that their relationships are immoral, the intolerable equivalent of adultery. These remarks, clearly out of step with American public opinion, were cheered from the usual quarters. Cultural right leader Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) issued a statement “applauding” Pace “for maintaining a personal commitment to moral principles.” (This “principle” can apparently be overlooked when necessary. “The number of homosexuals discharged from the U.S. military under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy dropped significantly in 2006,” the Washington Post reported yesterday, “continuing a sharp decline since the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts began and leading critics to charge that the military is retaining gay men and lesbians because it needs them in a time of war.”) But it also prompted outrage from Americans who understand that this outdated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy does not reflect our values or enhance our security. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), who voted for DADT in 1993, published an op-ed yesterday titled “Bigotry That Hurts Our Military,” writing, “This policy has become a serious detriment to the readiness of America’s forces as they attempt to accomplish what is arguably the most challenging mission in our long and cherished history.” “General Pace should still apologize for his remarks, forthrightly,” the New York Times states in an editorial today. “Then perhaps some good could come out of his bigoted remarks if they added to the growing movement on Capitol Hill to finally allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.” Take action to repeal the ban HERE.
POOR CLARIFICATION: On Tuesday, Pace “clarified” his remarks, saying, “I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.” But the substantive justification for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the “unit cohesion” argument “that straight soldiers dislike gays so much that unit cohesion would suffer if known gays were allowed to serve” — is crumbling. A Dec. 2006 Zogby poll of U.S. soldiers found that nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say “they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians.” Fifty-five percent say the “presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well known by others,” and 21 percent of those in combat units know for sure that someone in their unit is gay. A 2004 poll found a majority of junior enlisted servicemembers believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16 percent in 1992. “Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines,” former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed. “These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.” Shalikashvili noted that 24 foreign nations, “including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.” With the “unit cohesion” argument failing, some in the Pentagon have shifted their approach. David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, offered a new excuse in a letter this month to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “A national debate on changing” the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay service members would stir “divisiveness and turbulence across our country,” Chu wrote, which “will compound the burden of the war.”
PRESIDENTIAL DISAPPOINTMENT: Presidential candidates of both parties have a bully pulpit to influence America’s debate. Yet the response to this recent controversy has been disappointing. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), who are aggressively courting the cultural right, have reaffirmed their support for banning openly gay Americans from military service. In 2000, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “I think if you want to serve the United States and you want put your life at risk, you should be judged on the merits. … There should not be a specific focus on someone’s sexual orientation“; but yesterday, he also shifted right, saying in a statement, “We’re at war and now isn’t the time to question our military’s admissions policy.” Even Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), who both oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and have otherwise taken strong stands on gay rights issues, refused at first to say that they disagreed that homosexuality is “immoral.” Asked by ABC News, Clinton said, “Well, I’m going to leave that to others to conclude.” Obama simply refused to answer the question after being asked several times. Thankfully, both senators later told reporters that they disagree with Pace’s claim. But Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, acknowledged that “he was concerned about the initial responses” of both senators. For his part, former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) said, “I don’t share that view,” when asked about Pace’s comments. But perhaps the most powerful statement came from Sen. John Warner (R-VA), a respected leader on military issues and former Armed Services Committee chairman, who said he “respectfully but strongly” disagrees that homosexuality is immoral.
OUR HISTORY OF ‘IMMORAL’ HEROES: Pace’s remarks only compound the taxing burden of being gay in the military. “Sometimes the constant looking around, whispering, speaking in code, and backpedaling to correct a slip of the tongue wears out my psyche,” an active-duty U.S. soldier named Serena, a lesbian, wrote recently. “But it’s what I have to do to continue a career that I love very much and maintain a relationship with the girlfriend who I love very much.” In his op-ed, former Sen. Simpson noted the contributions of British mathematician Alan Turing, who “led the effort to crack the Nazis’ communication code” during World War II. “He mastered the complex German enciphering machine, helping to save the world, and his work laid the basis for modern computer science,” Simpson wrote. “Does it matter that Turing was gay? … Would Pace call Turing ‘immoral’?” In fact, “plenty of people did call Turing ‘immoral’ at the time, and he killed himself with a cyanide apple a year after being convicted of ‘gross indecency’ after it was discovered he was in a homosexual relationship. Following that conviction he was ordered to undergo hormone therapy or go to prison.” Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man and the first American soldier to be seriously wounded in Iraq, said, “This policy — and General Pace’s bigotry — is outdated, unnecessary and counter to the same American values our soldiers are giving their lives for each and every day.”
IRAQ — PENTAGON OFFERS ‘BLEAKEST’ REPORT YET ON IRAQ VIOLENCE: Yesterday, for the first time ever, the Pentagon declared that Iraq was mired in a civil war, “reporting record levels of violence and hardening sectarian divisions in the last quarter of 2006, as rival Sunni and Shiite militias waged campaigns of ‘sectarian cleansing‘ that forced as many as 9,000 civilians to flee the country each month.” The clash of Sunnis and Shiites is most prevalent in Baghdad, where each side is attempting to establish strongholds as the city witnesses a record 45 attacks a day. “Efforts by the Iraqi government at political reconciliation — without which US commanders say the military strategy cannot succeed — had produced ‘little progress’ in late 2006 with ‘no effect on quelling violence,’ the report said.” The Pentagon notes that Iraqi police officers still are largely untrained and security forces “remain hampered by militia infiltration.” The statements in the report indicate a massive failure to reach the political goals issued six months ago by President Bush to the Iraqi government, as the administration’s “notional political timeline” to Congress indicated that most of the objectives would be met by this month. In the wake of the bleak assessment of report, the Senate began debate over an exit strategy from Iraq yesterday, calling for a vote on a binding resolution to withdraw combat troops by next year. Today, the House is likely to debate a spending bill calling for ending the war by 2008. The White House has pledged to veto both measures.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has turned down requests from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to testify on the Valerie Plame leak case. Fitzgerald said he did “not believe it would be appropriate for me to offer opinions…about the ultimate responsibility of senior White House officials for the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.”
Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claimed “responsibility for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” according to 26 pages of transcripts released from Gitmo by the Pentagon yesterday. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, “We need to know if this purported confession would be enough to convict him at a fair trial or would it have to be suppressed as the fruit of torture?”
New York Times editorial board today condemns Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace’s homophobic comments: “General Pace should still apologize for his remarks, forthrightly. Then perhaps some good could come out of his bigoted remarks if they added to the growing movement on Capitol Hill to finally allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.”
$2.45 billion: the revenues raked in by lobbyists last year. “The Center for Responsive Politics found that companies, unions and other organizations spent a record amount to lobby in 2006, in spite of the black eye from the Jack Abramoff scandal and a midterm election that caused Congress to close early.”
Sens. John Warner (R-VA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) are drafting a joint resolution on Iraq that would consider a phased redeployment of U.S. troops — “but only after giving the White House until at least September to prove the current ‘surge’ strategy has worked.”
“Two key lawmakers are seeking independent investigations of military readiness after service officials said extended operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have left shortages of war stocks that could limit the military’s ability to respond to a crisis.”
And finally: Even congressmen “go ga-ga” and get starstruck. At a star-studded tribute to Stevie Wonder in Washington, D.C., “usually dignified folk were reduced to gushing fans. ‘I love Stevie Wonder,’ Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) exclaimed.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), formerly a “teenage Wonder devotee,” remembered how in college, “he could afford only nosebleed seats.”