A new study by a team of retired senior flag and general officers from the US military has concluded that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members is counterproductive and should end.

The nonpartisan study group has a combined century and a half of military service from all four branches of the military, and it marks the first time a Marine Corps general has ever called publicly for an end to the gay ban.

“I believe this should have been done much earlier,” said Brigadier General Hugh Aitken, USMC (Ret.), one of the authors of the report.

The Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, commissioned the new report. The officers reached their findings independently and required a written pledge that the Center would publish their recommendations regardless of the political implications, and would not seek to influence conclusions.

Key findings in the report are that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prevents some gay troops from performing their duties, that gays already serve openly, that tolerance of homosexuality in the military has grown dramatically, and that lifting the ban is “unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.”

General John Shalikashvili, the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who previously favoured the gay ban, endorsed the officers’ new study, calling it “one of the most comprehensive evaluations of the issue of gays in the military since the Rand study fifteen years ago” and saying it “ought to be given serious consideration by both Congress and the Joint Chiefs.”

The new report is based on discussions the senior flag and general officers held with expert panels in Washington, D.C. over the past year.

The group heard from military members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, scholarly experts on military personnel policy, former senior members of the Clinton administration who played central roles in formulating “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993, and a senior Pentagon official from the Bush administration whose primary responsibility was military personnel policy.

Republicans and Democrats have generally been divided in their positions on openly gay service, with Sen. John McCain opposing it while Democratic leadership favours it.

Although Sen. Barack Obama has come out in support of repeal, he said in a recent interview that he couldn’t promise to be out in front on this issue, but could “reasonably see” an end to the current policy if he becomes president.

Despite partisan differences, over 140 lawmakers in Congress have signed onto a bill to repeal the current policy, including a number of Republicans.

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