This afternoon, in a wide-ranging discussion about the LGBT community’s reaction to the recently released survey about ‘Dont Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Department of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell vehemently pushed back against LGBT groups who have characterized the survey as “derogatory and insulting,” insisting that the survey was designed to inform the Pentagon about how best to repeal the ban against open service.
On Friday, Servicemembers United condemned the survey, saying it “stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder” and has since unveiled a petition condemning the survey, which they pegged at “$4.4 million.” Morrell promptly defended the Defense Department’s questionnaire, saying, “We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that did not address these questions,” and suggested that the military might use the results from the survey to make “adjustments to facilities themselves,” prompting many to assume that segregation of forces was under consideration.
In an interview with Morrell this afternoon, the Pentagon spokesman told the Wonk Room that his comments were twisted and taken out of context and vehemently denied that the Defense Department was considering segregating the troops. “So what I said, I used the term ‘facilities adjustments’ and I think people have gotten carried away as to what that could mean,” he began:
MORRELL: So, when I was asked, about the, you know – this is in the context of “why are you even asking these questions?” – well, we’re asking these questions because in our engagements with the force thus far, this has been an area of some concern. Now we need to test it to see if that holds for—if it really reflects the concerns of the force, and which members of the force. Is it older members? Is it younger members? Are they, you know—which ones? And, and then along with this information, the working group will make some recommendations about how to deal with those concerns. It could be, as I said, who knows? This could be dealt with through education programs, through training programs, or it may require “facilities adjustments.” But no one, no one is considering “separate but equal” bathing or living facilities for you know, gay and straight troops. That’s just not ever a consideration.
Q: So that’s off the table.
MORRELL: Absolutely off the table.
Throughout our discussion, Morrell couldn’t understand why LGBT groups would interpret the survey as being offensive to gay people, insisting that the entire questionnaire was designed to minimize disruption once the policy is repealed. “It was not in any way, in any way, not designed to be offensive to anyone. What it was designed to do was to get us the best sense of how the force feels about this issue so we could make adjustments for implementation,” he said. “The intent here is to get the best understanding of how the force feels so that we can take measures to prepare for implementation. That’s what it’s about.” “It is abundantly clear to this working group that their marching orders from the Sec. of Def. are to determine how to implement a repeal of DADT. Their job is not to determine whether or not the force wishes a repeal to take place or not to take place. Their job is to prepare for that inevitability,” he added.
When I asked him how questions like, “Do you currently serve with a male or female Service member you believe to be homosexual?” or “If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, how, if at all, will it affect your willingness to recommend to a family member or close friend that he or she join the military?” got at how best to implement the policy, Morrell explained that they gave the military an idea of hurdles they would need to overcome once the policy is repealed.
Q: OK, so if the survey is bad, and that means if you get a lot of people that don’t like gays, what happens to the policy?
MORRELL: Well we’re gonna have to figure out how we overcome that. Whether it’s through additional training or education or recruiting techniques – I can’t tell you what the working group may or may not come up with. This is not in any way intended for us to find potential landmines that would cause us not to proceed with a repeal, but rather is to edify us about the kinds of challenges associated with repeal that would need to be dealt with post-repeal. I guess what I don’t understand here is why you and some of these others who are writing on this issue can’t take what we say at face value.
“I think it’s just difficult for people to believe that if when the survey comes back, it’s negative – you’re gonna have a fight in the joint chiefs with all those folks who don’t want to do it,” I said, to which Morrell responded:
MORRELL: You’re gonna have to take us at our word on that. But I would say to you this though, Igor. What do you want us to do? Do you want us to put our head in the sand and ignore concerns that have been voiced to us by the force? And so that when we are charged with implementing the repeal, we don’t have any of the information necessary to alleviate or mitigate some of these problems? It is better for us to ask some of these questions up front in as candid a manner as possible, to get as much information as possible, so we are prepared for this eventuality. It would be irresponsible of us to do otherwise.
The Department is also disputing Servicemembers’ claim that it “paid the research firm Westat the outrageous sum of $4.4 million to design and administer an email-based survey,” insisting that the true cost is closer to $850,000.