58 Gay Arab Linguists Ousted From Military

The military has discharged 58 gay Arab linguists under Public Law 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654), otherwise known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Lawmakers who say the military has kicked out 58 Arabic linguists because they were gay want the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to let the valuable language specialists go. Seizing on the latest discharges, involving three specialists, members of the House of Representatives wrote the House Armed Services Committee chairman that the continued loss of such “capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war.”


The law allows gays to serve if they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. It prohibits commanders from asking about a person’s sex life and requires discharge of those who acknowledge they are gay.

Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan, who has pushed for repeal of the law, organized the letter sent to Skelton requesting a hearing into the Arab linguist issue. “At a time when our military is stretched to the limit and our cultural knowledge of the Middle East is dangerously deficient, I just can’t believe that kicking out able, competent Arabic linguists is making our country any safer,” Meehan said. The letter, signed by about 40 House members, says that, with the latest firings, 58 Arab linguists have been dismissed from the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It said Congress should decide whether this application of the policy “is serving the nation well.”


Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department is enforcing the law. “The Department of Defense must ensure that the standards for enlistment and appointment of members of the armed forces reflect the policies set forth by Congress,” he said, adding that those dismissed can serve their nation by working as contractors or at other federal agencies.


Meehan’s bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has 124 co-sponsors, but efforts to get Congress to take another look at the issue have failed so far. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this year that he had no plan to review the policy.

Meehan is right on the merits. Regardless of whether the presence of openly gay soldiers compromises “high morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion” — the stated rationale of the law — in an infantry unit, it is quite unlikely to do so among office workers.

However, outrage over this policy is directed at the wrong target here. The AP headlined their report “U.S. military continues to discharge gay Arab linguists, and Congress members seek hearing.” John Aravosis declares, “we have complete bozos running our military. This is criminal.”

Upton is right: The military is simply following the law, ousting service members who make it publicly manifest that they are gay. Indeed, the sailor that is the focus of the anecdotal hook that anchors this story was begged to sign something stating that he was not gay so that he could stay in. (The law has a bizarre provision that allows people who have been found to engage in homosexual acts to say it was an aberration and that they won’t do it again.) He refused.

The military has a much more conservative culture than society at large for a variety of reasons. That’s especially true of senior leaders who help advise the president and Congress on policy. Still, this longstanding policy is a matter of public law, not military whim. It would be “criminal” for commanders not to obey it.

Jill @ Brilliant at Breakfast blames Bush.

As the decimation of the U.S. military under George W. Bush continues, with criminals and the mentally ill being recruited in a desperate effort to fill the ranks, there is still one group that is judged unfit to serve: gay Americans. No matter how valuable your skills, if you’re gay, this Administration of Closet Cases does not want YOU.

The military has hardly been “decimated” under Bush. It was radically reduced in size under Bill Clinton, his predecessor, but that likely would have been that case regardless of who was president given that the Cold War was over. The authorization ceiling has rightly been increased under Bush.

We’re not recruiting criminals and the mentally ill. We are, as is customary during periods when recruiting is more difficult (i.e., the economy is booming and/or there’s a major war on) granting more waivers to people we would not accept if there were long lines at the recruiting office. The reference to the “mentally ill” apparently stems from a much-cited Damien Cave story in the NYT about a recruiter who signed up someone with bipolar disorder to help meet his quota; he was subsequently disciplined.

The military has excluded homosexuals as a matter of law from time immemorial. Bill Clinton engineered the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise at the outset of his administration. This was not some new edict by the Bush-Rove Theocracy.

Now, Jill is likely right that Bush could have seized the war as an opportunity to reach out on this issue. It’s understandable, from a purely political perspective, why he hasn’t. From a military standpoint, he likely should have.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum quibbles with me on the case PO2 Stephen Benjamin, whose homosexuality became manifest, not because of public conduct, but because he was sending mash notes to his lover on a government computer and got caught in a routine security sweep.

So Benjamin wasn’t making it “publicly manifest” at all. Publicly, he was keeping a low-enough profile that nobody had ever hassled him before. Rather, he was fired for writing explicitly private emails that could have quite easily been ignored

Well, except that there’s no such thing as a private email sent from an employer’s computer, let alone a military one. And, certainly, Benjamin “engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts” with those emails and, given the opportunity to do so, failed to provide assurances that these acts were aberrational and unlikely to recur.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, Gender Issues, LGBTQ Issues, Middle East, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. AllenS says:

    This isn’t the first time that a story about the military discharging gay Arab speaking interpreters has come out. Correct? If so, then wouldn’t one assume, that most Arab speaking interpreters are gay. These stories keep setting off my BS detector.

  2. Jill says:

    Heh. “Pubic” law indeed.

    Heh. Fixed. I cut-and-pasted Pub.Law and didn’t proofread properly. – JHJ

  3. LaurenceB says:

    “Don’t ask don’t tell” was “engineered by Clinton” only in the sense that Clinton acquiesced to the generals who insisted upon it as a compromise solution. That being the case, I agree with JJ that to lay the blame at the feet of those who endorse the policy now is wrong, but if I were asked to assign the blame for this awful policy, I would indeed pick the military – not Clinton.

  4. David L says:

    Miitary “office workers?” In what military? Any job that can be done by an office worker, could be a civilian billet. Sokdiers are not office workers, but rather deployable military assets.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Clinton acquiesced to the generals who insisted upon it as a compromise solution. . . . I were asked to assign the blame for this awful policy, I would indeed pick the military – not Clinton.

    Well, Clinton was the Commander Guy. But, yes, the brass were opposed to dropping the ban on gays completely. Then again, the culture has moved a lot since 1992. Today’s generals were then captains and majors.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Sokdiers are not office workers, but rather deployable military assets.

    One can be both. A substantial number of deployed soldiers work in what amounts to an office setting — sitting behind a laptop in an air conditioned GP Large or command center vehicle. That doesn’t make them less soldierly but it changes the nature of their experience.

  7. Eric J says:

    Do these guys get their security clearances revoked for being discharged under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?”

    ‘Cause if not, someone ought to set up a private intelligence consulting firm, hire these guys at twice their military salary, offer domestic partner benefits, and start working with the DoD, CIA, NSF and FBI as an outsourced Arabic document translation firm.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Do these guys get their security clearances revoked for being discharged under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?”

    An excellent question. In the old days, absolutely. They would have had to lied to get their clearance, since there were an absurd number of questions about homosexuality (at least for the SCI I got in 1988).

    If the “Don’t Ask” applies to security questionnaires, though, that’s presumably no longer an issue.

  9. Andy says:

    I’m a civilian who recently got a security clearance. I was asked whether I was a closeted homosexual; the rationale is that it’s potentially a blackmail issue. I think being openly gay is as acceptable as straight for a civilian.

    I’ve been told that, understandably, the higher you go on the clearance ladder the deeper they delve into that issue.

  10. James Joyner says:

    I was asked whether I was a closeted homosexual; the rationale is that it’s potentially a blackmail issue.

    Interesting. And, yes, blackmail was always the rationale. Of course, if one is open, then it’s not an issue. But, if one is openly homosexual, one is ineligible to join to begin with. The classic Catch-22.

  11. C.Wagener says:

    AllenS, I had the same reaction. This seems like the exact same story I heard a month or two ago. I recall Fred Barnes commenting that almost all of these folks were being trained and the actual number of trained linguists dismissed was in the single digits.

    Regarding Clinton, my recollection was that he made a big deal about gays in the military almost immediately upon entering office and the general public’s reaction was WTF? My memory could certainly be wrong, he may have been set up, similar to Bush with the “arsenic in drinking water” nonsense.

  12. Brian says:

    Your update seems to be either factually wrong, or you’re getting your information from somewhere else. “Benjamin said he was caught improperly using the military’s secret level computer system to send messages to his roommate, who was serving in Iraq. In those messages, he said, he may have referred to being gay or going on a date.” In what way is this “certainly” “engag[ing] in, attempt[ing] to engage in, or solicit[ing] another to engage in a homosexual act or acts” ?

  13. James Joyner says:

    Well, if he’s dating other dudes, he’s engaging in homosexual acts.

  14. Stephen Benjamin says:

    Hi James (and others),

    Just to clarify, it was a close friend with whom I was talking to and the conversation was pretty unremarkable content-wise — details of our personal lives, a date I went on, this guy’s cute, that sort of thing. The policy doesn’t neccessarily need a specific admission of an act, “I’m gay” is enough. The law comflates a statement of identify with actions. Regardless, I don’t dispute that it was a mistake to use the government computers, but the discplinary action for that was done with for nearly a month when they told me they were going to kick me out. Note that the other 68 heterosexual servicemembers are still serving.

    I also don’t blame the military, as it has been noted they were following the law. Some commanders do ignore the law and turn a blind eye to gay servicemembers, the Navy didn’t in my case and many others. It does need to be Congress that enacts repeal, specifically Ike Skelton needs to allow hearings on the bill he’s holding up in the Armed Services comittee.

    It’s been more than 12 years since Congress has talked about this, and now more than ever it’s critically important that the country gets the best and brightest in the military. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking to turn military bases into gay pride parades, I just want to live my life and be judged on my merits. I want the witchhunts to stop.

  15. Stephen Benjamin says:

    * conflates