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Marine Corps Chief: 'Distraction' of Gays Serving Openly Could Cost Marines Limbs

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Dec. 1, 2010: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos speaks at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington. (AP)

WASHINGTON -- Using graphic imagery and his strongest language to date, the new Marine Corps commandant spoke out again Tuesday against a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, this time suggesting that a change in the law would risk maiming Marines because of the "distraction."

In a background briefing with a handful of Pentagon reporters, Gen. James Amos said a repeal of the law that bans gays from openly serving could prove to be a life-threatening distraction for combat Marines. Fox News was not invited to the briefing, but the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes" provided an audio recording.

"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," Amos said. "I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction."

Amos, it should be noted, is scheduled to visit wounded Marines at the Bethesda Medical Center on Wednesday.

It's not the first time the newly appointed top Marine has voiced his opposition to a repeal. Early this month, all five service chiefs testified on the results of the yearlong Defense Department review of the military's policy on homosexuals. That study determined there would be low risk associated with a repeal. Gen. Amos, along with the chiefs of the Air Force and Army, expressed reservations. Amos was the strongest in his opposition, telling Congress, "assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption."

Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff of the Army, said he "didn't recommend going forward at this time given everything the Army has on its plate." Gen. Norton Schwartz of the Air Force also agreed now isn't the time. He suggested changing the law in 2012.

According to a Pentagon survey printed in the review, 58 percent of Marines serving in combat say that lifting the ban would have a negative or very negative effect on their ability to "get the job done." The previous Marine commandant, Gen. James Conway, told Fox News before he retired in October, he personally believes 95 percent of Marines would be uncomfortable serving alongside gays.

But the report determined a majority of the armed forces wouldn't be opposed to integrating gays. The report says 70 percent of service members predicted a repeal would be either positive, mixed or have no effect at all.

Much of the military leadership agrees. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen have been advocating a repeal for over a year. Chief of Naval Operations  Adm. Gary Roughead said when he asked his counterparts how other navies have experienced the integration of gays into their ranks, they described it as a "non-event." The Coast Guard commandant and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs also favor repeal.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked to respond to Gen. Amos' comments Tuesday. "I think [the service chiefs'] views are very well known, just as the commander in chief's views are very well known," Gibbs said. "I think if you look at the commander in chief, the head of the Pentagon, and... the chair of the Joint Chiefs, you'll find unanimity in the belief that it's time to do away with this policy, and that's exactly what -- what the president is working to do."

The Service Member Legal Defense Network was outraged at the comments Amos made Tuesday and called on him to resign. "General Amos needs to fall in line and salute or resign now," the group said in an e-mail statement. "He implied that repeal will lead to Marines losing their legs in combat. Those fear tactics are not in the interest of any service member."

A spokesman for Gen. Amos, Maj. Joe Plenzler, told Fox News the commandant was simply restating views he made during his Senate confirmation hearings in October and that they matter is entirely up to Congress. Should Congress vote to repeal, Plenzler said, "the commandant will ensure that the Marine Corps faithfully obeys the law."

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on stand-alone legislation for a repeal. The bill would have to make it through the Senate, where similar proposals have failed twice already. Sen. John McCain is leading the charge against repeal, saying he needs to hear more testimony from lower-level commanders before he can make a decision.