June 25, 2007
Contact: Lynne Weil (Lantos), 202-225-5021 or
Jordan Goldes (Ackerman) 718-423-2154
Congressmen suggest hiring of members of the U.S. military dismissed under “Don’t ask, don’t tell”
Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, today sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte calling for the State Department to act quickly to hire language-qualified soldiers dismissed from the armed services solely because of their sexual orientation.
“We are writing to you regarding one of the most regressive, counter-productive policies we could ever imagine – our military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy,” the letter reads. “We are writing to urge the Department of State to take a specific step – the hiring of our unfairly dismissed, language-qualified soldiers - so our nation might salvage something positive from the lamentable results of this benighted policy.”
In the letter, Lantos and Ackerman note that the Government Accountability Office has reported that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has resulted in the dismissal from the military of more than 300 soldiers with critical foreign language skills, including Persian and Arabic. They stress that the dismissed soldiers, denied the ability to work for the United States armed forces, often take their language skills to contractors, who sell their services back to the American government – and its taxpayers – at a considerable markup. The letter urged Negroponte to “immediately initiate a process of interviewing and hiring” these former servicemen and servicewomen for State Department positions.
“While we lament our government’s anachronistic and short-sighted adherence to the bigoted ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, we see no reason why our nation’s diplomatic mission should suffer for the military’s lack of vision,” Lantos and Ackerman wrote.
The letter highlighted the urgent need for skilled diplomats with critical foreign language skills, pointing out that the 9/11 Commission drew a direct connection between under-investment in critical foreign languages and threats to our national security.
In a February Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice emphasized the Department’s desperate need for translators, prompting Ackerman to ask about hiring translators discharged under the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The full text of Lantos and Ackerman’s letter follows.
- The Honorable John D. Negroponte
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Mr. Deputy Secretary:
We are writing to you regarding one of the most regressive, counter-productive policies we could ever imagine - our military's “Don't ask, don't tell” policy. More particularly, we are writing to urge the Department of State take a specific step – the hiring of our unfairly dismissed, language-qualified soldiers – so that our nation might salvage something positive from the lamentable results of this benighted policy.
As you know, the Government Accountability Office has reported that "Don't ask, don't tell" has resulted thus far in the dismissal from the military of more than 300 soldiers with skills in critical foreign languages, including Persian and Arabic. This is an appalling indictment of an absurd and highly biased policy that cripples our national security, particularly while dozens of our troops are dying each week in the Middle East and South Asia. Worse, many of these patriotic individuals, whose skills were either acquired or honed at taxpayer expense, upon their discharge from the military are snapped up by contractors who then offer their translation services back to the United States Government, at a considerable mark up, of course. Thus, the taxpayer is compelled to pay for these essential services not once, but twice.
Secretary of State Rice testified before our Committee, in February of this year, that she and you are coordinating with Secretaries Gates and Spellings to address a national deficit in foreign languages critical to fighting the war on terror. In fact, the National Security Language Initiative that President Bush signed in January is a positive long-term step toward mitigating this important national security concern, and we particularly welcome its measures to train more advanced-level experts in foreign languages.
However, as the 9/11 Commission documented with painful clarity, our nation's under-investment in critical foreign languages presents an urgent and immediate threat to our national security, a threat that cannot be ignored while we train new foreign-language experts. Therefore, we urge you to consider using your authority to immediately initiate a process of interviewing and hiring for positions at the State Department those former servicemen and servicewomen with critical language skills who have been dismissed from our Nation's armed services as a result of “Don't ask, don't tell.”
You are clearly sensitive to the pressing need to recruit more speakers of critical languages into the Foreign Service, having seen with your own eyes how urgently we need additional, and more fluent, Arabic speakers at Embassy Baghdad. While we lament our government's anachronistic and short-sighted adherence to the bigoted “Don't ask, don't tell” policy, we see no reason why our nation's diplomatic mission should suffer for the military's lack of vision. We hope you will agree.
TOM LANTOS GARY L. ACKERMAN Chairman Chairman Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia