Advocates for an end to the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military have questioned the suitability of one of the President-elect’s advisers.

Barack Obama, who will take office on January 20th, has committed himself to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a 1993 policy that states gays and lesbians may not serve in the Armed Forces unless they conceal their sexuality.

Retired General Merrill McPeak, 72, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an adviser to Barrack Obama’s campaign, has acknowledged that his views on women in the military have been rooted in personal, unsubstantiated beliefs, which he held even when they conflicted with the needs of the military.

A former pilot and head of the Air Force, McPeak’s personal support for the current ban on openly gay troops conflicts with President-elect Obama’s desire to repeal that policy.

In 1991 and 1992, McPeak opposed women in combat, saying in talks with lawmakers that he had “personal prejudices” against expanding combat roles for women, “even though logic tells us” that women can conduct combat operations just as well as men.

He told Congress then that he would choose an inferior male flight instructor over a superior female one even if it made for a “militarily less effective situation.”

“I admit it doesn’t make much sense,” he said, “but that’s the way I feel about it.”

Brigadier General Evelyn Foote, who sat on a military Advisory Council to the Obama campaign, attended one of the 1992 Congressional hearings in which McPeak said he would choose a less qualified male over a more qualified female.

“I would have a very difficult time trusting someone like McPeak with any advice he gave to Obama,” she said.  “There are far better people to advise him than this man.”

Aaron Belkin, professor of political science and director of the Palm Center at University of California, Santa Barbara, said McPeak’s comments were a frank acknowledgement of how views on military personnel issues are often shaped by emotion rather than fact.

“This kind of resistance to modernisation is so often about prejudice, and not about military readiness,” Belkin said. “What’s notable about McPeak’s case, though, is how willingly he accepts degrading readiness as a tolerable price for indulging prejudice.”

Fifteen years ago, McPeak served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Clinton formulated the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. At the time, he argued against allowing open gay service, a position he still holds.
DADT states that commanders may not ask the sexual orientation of service members.

Gay men and lesbians can only continue to serve only if they do not engage in homosexual acts, and keep their sexual orientation a secret.

Many military officials, including General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, now believe that gays should be allowed to serve openly. A recent poll found 75% support for the end of the ban.

More than 12,500 troops have been dismissed since 1993 as a result of the policy.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly 800 of those dismissed had skills deemed ‘mission-critical’ by the Department of Defence, including more than 300 language specialists, of which 85 were proficient in Arabic.

The cost to U.S. taxpayers for maintaining DADT is estimated at more than $363 million (£182.6m).

An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network.

It said it knows of about 500 gay Army personnel who are serving openly without any consequences.

Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of three-star Admiral, is one of seventeen veterans in Congress who want to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

150 of his Congressional colleagues have lent their support to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the law.

In a statement published on the Presidential transition website, Barack Obama and the Vice President-elect, Joe Biden,said:”Barack Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve.

“Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation.

“Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic.

“Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defence goals.”