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'Don't ask, don't tell' policy under fire during Air Force nurse's trial

Maj. Margaret Witt, the lesbian flight nurse fighting to get her Air Force job back, got her day in court Monday, and it turned into a free-for-all assault on the government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Witt's attorneys and four witnesses who testified in her behalf said homosexuality is a non-issue in today's military and Witt never should have lost her job in the first place.

"The time for 'don't ask, don't tell' has ended," said Sarah Dunne, the legal director of Washington ACLU and the leader of Witt's legal team. "America is in a different place, and so is the U.S. military."

Witt was suspended in 2004 for being a lesbian and was honorably discharged. She challenged the constitutionality of her dismissal, and a 2008 appeals court ruling sent the case back to U.S. District Court in Tacoma for a determination by Judge Ronald B. Leighton.

In her opening statement, Dunne rejected the notion that Witt's presence caused morale problems in the 446th Airlift Wing at McChord, a unit that she said has a 30-year history of tolerance.

"Witt's sexual orientation was a non-issue for her unit and the military," Dunne said.

Witt did not address the court Monday. She sat quietly in the front row of spectators, separated from her attorneys by a low wooden wall and surrounded by supporters. Among them, sitting directly to Witt's right, was Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a decorated Air Force combat pilot who is fighting his discharge under "don't ask, don't tell."

Department of Justice attorney Peter Phipps, one of the attorneys representing the Air Force, said in his opening statement that the military policy on gay men and lesbians remains valid and constitutional.

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