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General Stands by Stance Against Gay Troops

NY Times | March 13, 2007

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined today to apologize for saying that he believes homosexuality is “immoral” and that he therefore supports the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

But he said he should have given greater focus to his support for the standing policy “and less on my personal moral views.”

General Pace's original comments, made in an interview on Monday with The Chicago Tribune and confirmed by a tape of the interview posted on the newspaper's web site -- have been denounced as insulting and insensitive by gay rights groups.

General Pace told The Tribune, in reply to a question, that he did not believe the Pentagon should condone immoral behavior by allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly.

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” he said. “I do not believe the United States is well-served by a policy that says it is O.K. to be immoral in any way.”

The general told The Tribune that he would not want acceptance of gay behavior “to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior.”

In a statement released today by the Pentagon, General Pace played down his personal moral judgment, saying, “The important thing to remember is that we have a policy in effect, and the Department of Defense has a statutory responsibility to implement that policy.”

Still, his original remarks surprised many of those who have watched General Pace at news briefings over the years. He tends to be soft-spoken and discreet, never appearing to bask in the spotlight the way his former boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, often seemed to do.

The military's “don't ask, don't tell” policy, highly controversial when it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, had receded somewhat from public view in the years since. But recently, as the demands of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have placed growing strains on military recruitment, the issue has resurged.

In January, one of General Pace's predecessors as chairman, the retired Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, said that he had dropped his former opposition to allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly. "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," he wrote in an Op-Ed column in The New York Times.

He wrote that “don't ask, don't tell” had been rational policy at the time — he called it “a useful speed bump” that provided time for society's attitudes to evolve — but said he had concluded that it no longer made sense.

Gay rights groups strongly condemned General Pace for his remarks.

“General Pace's comments are outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops now serving in our armed forces,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in Washington, which campaigns to overturn the “don't ask, don't tell” ban.

“It is inappropriate for the chairman to condemn those who serve our country because of his own personal bias,” Mr. Osburn said in a statement on the group's Web site. “He should immediately apologize for his remarks.”

Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, has secured more than 100 co-sponsors for legislation to lift the ban.

But the matter remains deeply controversial within the military.

A poll in December 2006 by Zogby International found that while 73 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan said they felt comfortable in the presence of gay men or lesbians, only 26 percent of all service members supported allowing homosexuals to serve openly.

A government study released in February 2005 found that 9,500 service members had been released for homosexual conduct from the beginning of the “don't ask, don't tell” policy, in fiscal year 1994, through fiscal year 2003. That represented only 0.4 percent of all releases.

The study, by the Government Accountability Office, calculated that the policy had cost the services an additional $95 million over that period to replace recruits and a further $85 million to train those replacements.

Perhaps more critically, in the post-2001 military, nearly 60 percent of those released were in “critical occupations.” Of those, 322 had skills in important languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Korean. A total of 98 had received Pentagon training in such languages.



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