Using Outdated Quotes from Colin Powell, Obama Justice Department Files Brief to Support Don't Ask/Don't Tell Policy

Using 17-year-old language from Gen. Colin Powell (ret.) that the former Joint Chiefs Chairman says he no longer believes, President Obama's Justice Department filed a brief in court this week supporting the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy, which the president has said he wants to rescind . Responding to a constitutional challenge to the law prohibiting gay and lesbian troops from serving openly in the military in the case Log Cabin Republicans v. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Assistant Attorney General Tony West cited previous court findings that Congress "could have rationally found the DADT policy to be necessary to 'further military effectiveness by maintaining unit cohesion, accommodating personal privacy and reducing sexual tension.'" Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that the Obama administration is committed to overturning the law, but the Justice Department regularly defends statutes that are currently law, regardless of the president's support for the laws. Said Schmaler in a statement: “In this case the Department is defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged. The Department does not pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one Administration’s policy preferences.” That explanation did not cut the mustard with many gay rights advocates, including Richard Socarides, a former White House adviser for President Bill Clinton, who asked, "What is (Attorney General) Eric Holder thinking? Is the Department of Justice on auto piliot? The president campaigns against 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' and says it's unconstitutional. Gates and (Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike) Mullen say it lacks integrity. What is he thinking when he uses homophobic language - 18 years old - from Colin Powell - who himself is now against it. Inexplicable." In his brief, Phillips quoted Powell at length from his 1993 congressional testimony, saying “[t]o win wars, we create cohesive teams of warriors who will bond so tightly that they are prepared to go into battle and give their lives if necessary for the accomplishment of the mission and for the cohesion of the group and for their individual buddies.”

In an extensive footnote, West cited Powell testifying that "homosexual conduct" in units “involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that, . . . if allowed to exist openly in the military, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force" and that “it would be prejudicial to good order and discipline” if the military required heterosexuals and persons who demonstrate that they do or are likely to engage in homosexual acts “to share the most private facilities together,” and that “[c]ohesion is strengthened or weakened in the intimate living arrangements we force upon our people. . . . In our society gender differences are not considered conducive to bonding and cohesion within barracks living spaces.” West's brief did not mention that, after Gates and Mullen testified in favor of overturning the ban , Powell said that he no longer felt the same way about the issue as he did almost a generation ago. "Attitudes and circumstances have changed," Powell said in an interview with the Washington Post . "It's been a whole generation" since the legislation was adopted, and there is increased "acceptance of gays and lesbians in society. Society is always reflected in the military. It's where we get our soldiers from." "If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy," Powell said, "then I support it." While the brief has not caused as much as a ruckus within the gay and lesbian rights community as did one upholding the Defense of Marriage Act that cited incestuous unions and that of an underage girl , -- which led to some activists boycotting Democratic Party fundraisers -- the brief is causing consternation nonetheless. Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said that the brief "restates at length policy arguments that are inconsistent with where the leadership of this country is today, and where the American people are on open service. The lengthy quotations from then-JCS Chairman Colin Powell were particularly unfortunate and ironic in light of his recent statement that it was now time to change the policy.... (T)here continues to be a big and unnecessary disconnect between what DOJ files in court and what the Presidents says on Capitol Hill and to his top DOD leadership team." Blogger Joe Sudbay wrote "If only the people charged with ending DADT, starting with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, were as assertive and aggressive as the lawyers at DOJ who defend the law....We did not elect a Democratic president so that he could go to court and undercut our most important civil rights cases." -jpt

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