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THE US military has always been sabotaging itself with its flawed ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gay service personnel -- and now a government study shows exactly how much.

The military has discharged 9,488 soldiers for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual since the policy went into effect in 1993. It has had to spend at least $200 million to recruit and train their replacements--many in the key areas of intelligence, linguistics, interrogations, and code-breaking. The statistics come from a new Government Accountability Office report initiated by US Representative Martin Meehan of Lowell, who was joined by 19 other lawmakers in requesting the report.

In this time of terrorism, budget tightening, and thinned ranks -- when retired service people are being pressured to reenlist -- the military needs all the talent it can recruit. It especially needs foreign-language specialists, but more than 300 have been let go, according to the report, and 54 of those spoke Arabic. Other languages included Farsi and Korean, Chinese, Serbo-Croation, and Vietnamese.

The study noted that 757 of the 9,488 soldiers discharged under the policy held what the military called ''critical occupations," encompassing not only linguists and intelligence experts but air traffic controllers, mechanics, missile operators, flight engineers, and technical analysts.

The report, which looked at the Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Army, indicated that costs could be higher than estimated because they did not include National Guard, Reserves, or Coast Guard forces.

The ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell" statute, supported by President Clinton, stipulates that gays and lesbians can be part of the armed services as long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. It is a hypocritical policy unbecoming the organization that integrated blacks and whites in the ranks years before the Supreme Court issued its ruling on school segregation. Homosexuality should be considered no more a problem than heterosexuality is. As the report illustrates, gay people are -- and always have been-- in every field, where they should be judged on their work, not on their private lives.

Meehan, a senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has long urged repeal of the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. He will file a bill next week to take the counterproductive statute off the books.

Congress should follow his lead, for the law serves no purpose other than making the Pentagon's work harder and more costly.

CORRECTION -- An editorial Feb. 20 said the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision legalized contraception. Griswold made contraception legal only for married couples; the 1972 case Baird v. Eisenstadt granted all couples access to contraception.

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