The Military's Moral Blinders: Criminals Preferred to Fill Ranks Over Gays

The New York Times ran a lead editorial today suggesting that to keep its ranks full, the US military is digging more deeply into the available American labor pool than it perhaps should and has already issued more than 125,000 "moral waivers" to new enlistees.

The article suggests that in some cases, the military is putting weapons into the hands of serious criminals.

The editorial, in part, reads:

To keep filling the ranks, the Army has had to keep lowering its expectations. Diluting educational, aptitude and medical standards has not been enough. Nor have larger enlistment bonuses plugged the gap. So the Army has found itself recklessly expanding the granting of "moral waivers," which let people convicted of serious misdemeanors and even some felonies enlist in its ranks.

Last year, such waivers were granted to 8,129 men and women -- or more than one out of every 10 new Army recruits. That number is up 65 percent since 2003, the year President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. In the last three years, more than 125,000 moral waivers have been granted by America's four military services.

Most of last year's Army waivers were for serious misdemeanors, like aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and vehicular homicide. But around 900 -- double the number in 2003 -- were for felonies. Worse, the Army does no systematic tracking of recruits with waivers once it signs them up, and it does not always pay enough attention to any adjustment problems.

Without adequate monitoring and counseling, handing out guns to people who have already committed crimes poses a danger to the other soldiers they serve with and to the innocent civilians they are supposed to protect.

But the Pentagon is discharging more than 700 people a year who are determined to be homosexuals -- who in nearly every case have performed their service honorably on behalf of their country and uniformed service.

But it goes beyond troops on the front line. The military apparently has little problem putting major weapons systems into the hands of criminals while at the same time discharging Arabic-speaking linguists.

Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) recently made a colorful comment to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the disturbing trend of discharging smart, gay language experts. Ackerman actually suggests that the U.S. military seems so fearful of homosexuals that the terrorists might figure this out and recruit "a platoon of lesbians to run us out of Baghdad."

A report on Ackerman's comment:

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) today urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to consider hiring military linguists discharged under the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. During hearings on the 2008 State Department budget, Ackerman pressed Secretary Rice to address the government's foreign language deficit by employing discharged lesbian and gay linguists with training in Arabic and Farsi.

"Considering the critical shortage of linguists in the armed forces, a platoon of Arabic-speaking lesbians may be just what the military needs."

Secretary Rice responded that she "certainly will look at what we are doing right now," when asked by Ackerman if the proposal was realistic.

"(I)t seems that the military has gone around and fired a whole bunch of people who speak foreign languages -- Farsi and Arabic, etc.," Ackerman said. "For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are (of) terrorists, but they're very brave with the terrorists," he continued. "If the terrorists ever got hold of this information, they'd get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad," Ackerman said.

"Considering the critical shortage of linguists in the armed forces, a platoon of Arabic-speaking lesbians may be just what the military needs," said Sharon Alexander, deputy director of policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). "In fact, faced with the shortage of language experts, the military would do well to consider Congressman Ackerman's point. We cannot afford to lose critical personnel because of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' There are many brave gay men and lesbians who report for duty every day, and their contributions are immeasurably important to our national security."

Changing the culture of any major institution is difficult -- and the Pentagon is an institution strongly hardened not only against external threats -- but also from internal, social change.

However, it should concern military leaders and our political representatives that military culture can so easily adapt to a proliferation of "moral waivers" permitting criminals into the ranks -- rather than permitting homosexual men and women to perform much needed military service.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note