WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday he would have preferred that Congress had waited before voting to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans gays from serving openly in the military.
Adm. Mike Mullen did not directly criticize a House vote on Friday that marked a step toward repealing the ban. But he said it would have been better for lawmakers to wait until the Pentagon completed its review of how to make the repeal work. That study, due in December, is based on a current survey of troops and their families.
"Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review," Mullen said.
The legislation, he noted, gives the Pentagon until year's end to finish its study and stipulates that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama must certify that the military is prepared to make the change before the repeal takes effect.
There is worry among some in the military and in Congress that the House vote short-circuited the process of consulting with troops and their families.
"It is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges, should the law change," said Mullen, who favors lifting the ban.
"So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes."
A senior defense official on Friday said troops with concerns about the repeal are less willing to speak freely because the vote makes the outcome clear. The official, who is knowledgeable about the troop consultations, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the Pentagon response.
Some troops feel double-crossed, the official said, because they had been told that nothing would happen quickly and were assured that the Pentagon would take their individual concerns into account. These misgivings about the political process have been aired over the past week at town-hall style events where troops are encouraged to share any doubts about repeal, the official said.
Sen. Jim Webb said he was disturbed that the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member, voted on Thursday to repeal the ban. The full Senate is not expected to act for months. Webb, D-Va., echoed Mullen's concern about not allowing members of the military to express their views before Congress acted.
"I believe we had a process in place and to pre-empt it in some ways showed a disrespect for the people in the military," Webb said.
Colin Powell, the retired Army general who opposed allowing gays to serve openly when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 1993 law was enacted, said he now supports repeal and believes it will happen.
"The president said we're going to do it. It's a decision," Powell said. "And the Congress has to pass the law to allow that. And so let's take the time to make the study, see what the implications are."
Mullen appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and "Fox News Sunday." Webb was on CNN and Powell spoke on ABC's "This Week."
AP National Security writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.