Exclusive: In Letter, Gates Dismissed McCain’s Concerns About DADT Study

In late September, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressing his concerns that the Pentagon’s Working Group review of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was operating under the condition that “the policy will be repealed” rather than studying if it should be changed. “I urge you and Admiral Mullen to modify the review and the survey instrument, or to conduct supplemental surveys, aimed at ensuring that the question of whether the DADT policy should be changed is answered,” McCain wrote in a letter dated September 28, 2010. [Read a copy of McCain’s letter HERE]

Responding to the Senator’s request in a previously unreleased letter from October 25, 2010, Gates explained that the review was not a “referendum” on the policy, stressing, “I do not believe that military policy decisions — on this or any other subject — should be made through a referendum of Servicemembers.” He also emphasized that the final report would inform military leaders of the impacts of lifting the ban and help guide Congress in its decision making:

GATES: I instructed the working group to obtain the input of Servicemembers so that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I, as well as the Service Chiefs, can more fully understand how a change in the DADT policy may impact unit cohesion, military readiness and effectiveness, recruiting and retention and family readiness. […]

The Chairman and I fully support the approach and the efforts of the working group, as do the Service Chiefs. We are confident that the working group’s report will provide us with the information we need to appropriately advise the President, and, if requested to do so, to provide our fully informed views to Congress as it considers legislative action.

[Read a copy of Gates’ letter HERE]

Unfortunately, Gates’ response did not assuage McCain, who reiterated his opposition to the study during a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press. But the Senator is one of the only individual concerned about the scope of the report. Two of the four Service Chiefs — Navy chief Adm. Gary Roughead and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz — are on public record as endorsing the comprehensive nature of the review. Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos — who has expressed concerns about the “risk” of repeal — also predicted that the Pentagon’s review of the policy would inform the military about how best to implement a repeal and allow the Marines Corp to change the policy “smartly.”

Similarly, during a hearing last week, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham — the co-chairman of the Pentagon’s Working Group on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — told Senate Armed Services Committee, “We believe this is probably, as far as I could tell, the most comprehensive assessment of a personnel policy matter that the Department of Defense has conducted.”