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Pentagon faces hurdles in 'don't ask, don't tell' study

From Mike Mount, CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
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'Don't ask, don't tell' dissent
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates seeks opinions of gay troops for "don't ask, don't tell" study
  • Current law prevents military from asking troops about sexual orientation
  • President Obama says he wants to repeal ban on gay troops serving in military

Washington (CNN) -- As the Pentagon tries to move forward with studying the effects of repealing the ban on openly gay troops serving in the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is finding hurdles at almost every corner.

As part of that study, Gates asked for the opinions of gay troops. However under the current "don't ask, don't tell" law, gay troops cannot reveal their sexual orientation, and the law prevents the military from asking about it.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday that a third party will have to be brought in to poll homosexual troops about their thoughts on repealing the ban to get around the law.

Gen. Carter Ham, who is in charge of the study for Gates, was asked about how the military would protect the privacy of troops in this study at a Capitol Hill hearing in March.

"I'm not sure how we're going to do that just yet, but we're looking for ways," he said. "A way that we know we can do it is if there is a third party conducting a focus group or conducting interviews that would be outside of the federal government, outside of the Department of Defense."

Morrell said the study group was just days away from figuring out how to employ a third party to poll the troops.

On Thursday, there was another public apology from a senior military leader who misspoke about the "don't ask, don't tell" law, passed by Congress in 1993.

The Pentagon released a statement from Army Secretary John McHugh, who clarified comments he made to reporters earlier in the week that he would not kick soldiers out of the Army who admitted they were gay in private conversations with him, though such an admission to a member of the Armed Services would be a violation of the current law.

"I might better have counseled them that statements about their sexual orientation could not be treated as confidential and could result in their separation under the law," McHugh said in the statement.

In the same meeting with reporters, McHugh also incorrectly said Gates had placed a moratorium on discharges of homosexual service-members.

"I was incorrect... there is no moratorium of the law and neither Secretary Gates nor I would support one," he said correcting his earlier statement.

Earlier in the week, McHugh said he would not punish Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon for advocating publicly against a repeal of the ban.

Last week, Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that overwhelming opposition in the Corps against repealing the ban would force him to prevent gay Marines from living with straight Marines in barracks.

The final report is due to Gates on December 1. Gates will use that information to brief President Obama, who has said he wishes to repeal the ban.