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Gates Will Relax ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Enforcement This Week [UPDATED]

When the Pentagon’s leadership announced a process to end the military’s ban on open gay service before Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates played the cautionary role. Gates told senators that he would put together a study group, led by Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham and Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, to study the least-disruptive ways to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

That study hasn’t concluded. Nor has the Senate taken up Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) bill to repeal the ban. But Gates has some unilateral tools at his disposal, and this week he intends to use them.

“He will announce changes to the way the current law is being enforced that make it more difficult to begin investigations and kick people out,” said a defense source who would not speak for the record ahead of Gates’s announcement. Spokesman Geoff Morrell hinted in his briefing yesterday that Gates would make some changes, but did not specify any.

Gates has [speculated for at least a year](http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,529642,00.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+foxnews/latest+(Text+-+Latest+Headlines)) that he was considering unilateral steps, ahead of a congressional repeal, to ease the burden “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” places on gay servicemembers. Civil-rights groups have urged him to take such steps, particularly on the process for beginning investigations of servicemembers’ sexual orientation that can drive people out of the military. It’s not clear yet when this week Gates will make the announcement [see update], nor is it clear yet just how enforcement will change. But those who worried that there would be no movement on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2010 while the study commences, despite President Obama’s call for repeal this year in his State of the Union, can probably take heart.

Update, 7:30 p.m.: OK, I’ve got many more details for what Gates is about to announce. This is going to happen in an announcement Gates will make at the Pentagon tomorrow.

According to a knowledgeable source, Gates will effectively limit enforcement to those cases where a servicemember actively outs himself or herself and “leaves the chain of command no legal choice but to proceed” with an investigation while the law remains on the books. That means the clear majority of cases for discharging someone under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — so called third-party based investigations — will no longer be in effect. While the change won’t apply retroactively, it will apply to “ongoing active cases,” my source said. That means, effectively, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” investigations based on third-party outing will slow to a snail’s pace and the criteria for pursuing them will be “much more stringent.”

The net effect of what Gates will announce is to “slow and/or reduce the number of discharges” under the policy, leaving as many soldiers, sailors airmen and marines in the military during a time of two wars.

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