'60 Minutes' Story on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Draws Praise, Fire

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A report on the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that aired Sunday on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" was hailed by a homosexual advocacy group as illustrative of the policy's "arbitrary and uneven enforcement." However, a conservative organization criticized the report as demonstrative of "San Francisco-style social experimentation."

According to a news release on the CBS News Web site, the story featured an interview with Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, a medic who served in Iraq for a year and currently is a medical liaison for the 1st Cavalry Division in Kuwait. He said he came "out" to his entire chain of command.

After leaving Iraq, he "started receiving anonymous emails warning him about his openness and suggesting he was being watched, so he went to his commander to head off an investigation he felt was coming," the release stated.

Sgt. Darren ManzellaManzella said that his commander reported him, as he was obliged to do, and then "I had to go see my battalion commander, who read me my rights," he noted. He turned over pictures of himself and his boyfriend, including video of a passionate kiss, to aid the investigation.

But to his surprise, the medic was told to go back to work. "You're not gay," his superiors told him. "This response confused him and, he says, the closest a superior officer came to addressing his sexuality was to say 'I don't care if you're gay or not,'" the release noted.

"Manzella's commanders may not be the only ones who are indifferent to gays serving openly under them," the release stated. "Discharges of gay soldiers have dropped dramatically since the Afghan and Iraq wars began, from 1,200 a year in 2001 to 600 now.

"With the military struggling to recruit and retain soldiers, gay soldiers claim that commanders are reluctant to discharge critical personnel in the middle of a war," the statement added.

While several homosexual former military members told Stahl that officers "don't care" and see "gay people as people," they said they did not re-enlist because they oppose the policy, which they say shows that the military is out of step with American society and the nation's allies, since homosexuals serve openly in 15 other NATO countries.

Even before the segment aired, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group that is campaigning to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," praised the story for showcasing the "growing number of openly lesbian and gay troops in the United States armed forces."

Noting that Manzella is an SLDN "client," Aubrey Sarvis -- the organization's executive director -- stated that Manzella's experience "illustrates the arbitrary and uneven enforcement" of the policy, which was initiated by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

"Many commands, like Manzella's, recognize that their lesbian and gay troops are instrumental in the work of defending our country," Sarvis stated. "Those commanders, who want to do the right thing and retain good troops, should not have their hands tied by this unfair law.

"Our nation's commitment to fairness and civil liberties demands an end to this law, and our national security interests are best served by repealing it," she added.

"It is perhaps only once in a lifetime that we are given the opportunity to do something of paramount importance, and I am honored to be able to use my voice to speak out on behalf of the countless lesbian and gay Americans currently serving in our armed forces," said Manzella.

"More and more of us are serving openly -- and proudly -- in our nation's military," he stated. "It is important that Americans hear our stories, see our commitment to our nation and understand the harm 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' unnecessarily inflicts on our military and our troops."

'Not social engineering'

However, Stahl's report also featured an interview with U.S. Army Maj. Daniel Davis, who met with the reporter out of uniform to emphasize that he does not speak for the military and stated that the policy is necessary to achieve cohesion among soldiers, especially those in combat.

Most service members are conservative, he noted, and won't readily accept homosexuals. "If you have a moral or religious issue, you cannot order me to [bond] with that [gay] person," said Davis, a specialist in battlefield tactics.

"Our purpose in the military is not social engineering," he stressed. "It's about fighting and winning the nation's wars."

Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues with the conservative group Concerned Women for America (CWA), agreed with Davis. "The military is no place for such radical San Francisco-style social experimentation, especially during a time of war," he told Cybercast News Service.

"It's been the Department of Defense's long-standing position that to allow open homosexual behavior and other immoral conduct harms unit cohesion and troop morale," Barber said.

"I know this to be true from personal experience," he stated. "I served 12 years in the military. During basic training, one of my fellow recruits was sent home for soliciting sex from other male recruits. The incident was an enormous distraction from our task at hand, which was to learn how to be good soldiers.

"Instead, recruits were violated, complaints were filed, and our command was forced to conduct a thorough investigation," Barber noted. "It was an incredible waste of time and resources, and it definitely harmed troop morale and unit cohesion.

"If the bleeding-heart lefties over at CBS News and the SLDN really want to do something to support our troops and help the military, they should abandon their attempts to radically alter and undermine the armed forces, pipe down, put a cork in it and let our brave fighting men and women win this war on terror," he added.

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