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Army Interrogator Discharged For Being Gay: John McCain "So Out Of Touch With Modern Military"

In a historic move, Pentagon brass have called for an end to "don't ask, don't tell." Why are politicians like John McCain trying to keep it in place?

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the controversy over the US ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military. On Tuesday, the Pentagon’s top leaders voiced support for the first time for an end to "don't ask, don't tell," the military policy that bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The comments from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came less than a week after President Obama called for the policy to be repealed during his State of the Union address.

Tuesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also backed repealing "don't ask, don't tell" but said the Pentagon needs a year to review the policy change.

It remains unclear whether President Obama has enough votes in Congress to push the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" through Congress. On Tuesday, Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, expressed his opposition to the policy change.

To talk more about "don't ask, don't tell," I'm joined by two guests. Alexander Nicholson is a former US Army human intelligence collector who was discharged in 2002 under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He’s the founder and executive director of Servicemembers United, a national organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans and their allies. He joins us from Washington, DC. Here in New York, Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Palm Center and author of the book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America .

Why don't we begin with Alexander Nicholson, a former US Army human intelligence collector. You were discharged in 2002. Tell us where you worked, what you did, and how exactly you were, well, fired.

ALEXANDER NICHOLSON: Sure. Well, I was, as you mentioned, a human intelligence collector, more colloquially known as an interrogator. I was stationed at a tiny little intelligence base out in the middle of the desert in Arizona called Fort Huachuca. And in the period immediately after 9/11, obviously, we were doing a lot of things. I think the Army and all of the intelligence fields were scrambling to figure out its mission and how it was going to accomplish that mission in a new era, in the post-9/11 world. So it was very hectic. It was very chaotic. And it was very stressful.

And I was basically outed within my unit by a colleague who happened to know that I was gay. A couple of people, after a year in the Army, had found out that I was gay through various means. And one of my colleagues happened to let that information get out and spread within the unit. And the command was, essentially, backed into a corner from which it was forced to discharge me, because that information had leaked out.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you working?

ALEXANDER NICHOLSON: I was working on Fort Huachuca in the US Army Intelligence Center and Schools.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Mike Mullen for a minute, testifying yesterday, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was quite astounding what he had to say.

    ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.