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Armed Services Committee's Levin talks 'don't ask, don't tell' poll

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says he has no objection, in principle, to the Pentagon’s current survey of active and reserve personnel about the potential repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays.

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Sen. Carl Levin, chief of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appears at a Monitor Breakfast for reporters in Washington.

Michael Bonifigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says he has no objection, in principle, to the Pentagon’s current survey of active and reserve personnel about the potential repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays.

"It is a very good idea to get the attitude of the troops on things providing it is clearly understood that it is just a question to help guide decision makers,” the Michigan Democrat said at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast Tuesday.

The survey has been highly controversial with gay rights advocates who note that other major shifts in the military took place without military personnel being polled about the change. “It did not happen when it came to the inclusion of women, it did not happen with the ending of the discrimination against African Americans. No surveys were taken and I can understand the resentment, by the way, in the gay community, that this occurs now but not with those other efforts,” Senator Levin said.

His approval of the concept of surveying the opinion of military personnel came with several conditions. First, Levin noted the use of surveys “can be overdone. It is surely overdone with politicians…surveys too often, in my judgment, guide people’s decisions.”

He also expressed concern that military use of surveys could give soldiers the wrong impression. “It would be really, really unacceptable that the greater use of surveys might lead the people in the military to believe it is a democracy. Because the military is not a democracy,” Levin said.

Senator Levin stressed that neither he nor anyone he knew of in Congress had a hand in drafting the survey which was sent last week to 200,000 active duty personnel and 200,000 reservists. Levin, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he had not yet read the survey but added that he intended to.

He argued against releasing the survey results. “It should not be released in my judgment," he said. "It was intended to be a private survey and it ought to stay that way.

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