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US defense secretary announces panel to prepare for repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

[JURIST] US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] announced [prepared testimony, PDF; press release] on Tuesday the creation of a panel to prepare the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] for the repeal of the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy [10 USC § 654 text; HRC backgrounder]. In a hearing [materials; video] before the US Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website], Gates said that the group will review the potential impact of the repeal in order to produce a plan for implementation by the end of 2010. Gates expressed his support for US President Barack Obama, who last week called for Congress to repeal the policy during his State of the Union Address [JURIST report], but stressed the need for a deliberate process due to the sensitivity of the issue and the military's current involvement in two wars. Gates said:

I fully support the President's decision. The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it. ... I am mindful of the fact, as are you, that unlike the last time this issue was considered by the Congress more than 15 years ago, our military is engaged in two wars that have put troops and their families under considerable stress and strain.

Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile], named DOD general counsel Jeh Johnson [official profile] and the commander of US Army Europe Gen. Carter Ham [official profile, PDF] as the panel's co-chairs.

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been an important issue for Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address makes it clear that it remains a priority for the administration. Last month, Mullen's legal advisers suggested [JURIST report] that he delay any internal efforts to repeal the policy until 2011. In October, Obama pledged [JURIST report] to end the controversial policy. After the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari to review the policy in June, the SASC announced [JURIST reports] that it would hold hearings to review it. In 2008, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the policy.

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