Should the U.S. Military Profile for Militant Islam?
by Daniel Pipes
There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples.
These words – and especially the ones about Muslim chaplains in the armed forces – came to mind yesterday when the Washington Times broke the story about the arrest of Capt. James J. ("Yousef") Yee, one of the 17 Muslim chaplains in the U.S. armed forces.
The Army has charged Capt. Yee with five offenses: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order. The Army may also charge him later with the more serious charge of treason, which under the Uniform Code of Military Justice could be punished by a maximum sentence of life. It could not be immediately learned what country or organization is suspected of receiving information from Capt. Yee. He had counseled suspected al Qaeda terrorists at Guantánamo for a lengthy period. … Capt. Yee had almost unlimited private access to detainees as part of the Defense Department's program to provide the prisoners with religious counseling, as well as clothing and Islamic-approved meals. The law-enforcement source declined to say how much damage Capt. Yee may have inflicted on the U.S. war against Osama bin Laden's global terror network. The source said the "highest levels" of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee.
The New York Times adds today that when Yee
was searched upon arriving at the naval air station in Jacksonville, Fla., investigators found what appeared to be sketches or diagrams of the prisoner facilities at Guant?namo. Investigators are looking into the possibility that he was sympathetic to prisoners there and was preparing to aid them in some undetermined way. "That's the fear and the suspicion that the Army is pursuing," the second law enforcement official said.
Fact is, there is an infinitesimal possibility that Christian and Jewish chaplains would engage in "sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order," whereas the chances of chaplains selected by a Saudi-funded institution, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, are rather larger.
Noting this discrepancy is admittedly painful but closing one's eyes to it can be fatal. (September 21, 2003)
Oct. 2, 2003 update: When asked by a reporter today about Muslims and Arabs in the military being subject to greater scrutiny, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld disapproved even of the question: "Raising the question you did about profiling is not a useful thing to do. The fact of the matter is that there are a variety of vetting procedures, and people who happen to be of one religion - I don't think one has to assume that they have a monopoly on this type of activity."
Oct. 3, 2003 update: Secretary Rumsfeld might have waxed less indignant had he read a recent dispatch from the Middle East Media and Research Institute. MEMRI points out how the recently appointed mufti of Egypt, ‘Ali Gum‘a, has declared that American Muslims may not make war on fellow Muslims. In a fatwa issued six days after the U.S. war against the Taliban began in October 2001, he wrote that "The Muslim soldier in the American army must refrain [from participating] in this war, and if he cannot, he must serve in the [logistic] ranks, and if he cannot, he must submit his resignation. If he is forced to [fight] and is among the combating ranks, he is forbidden from killing a Muslim with his weapon; if he kills him in error he must pay reparation. If he kills him intentionally, he has committed the sin of killing a Muslim intentionally." When leading Islamic authorities broadcast opinions of this sort, surely it must be considered that they will have an impact on the behavior of Muslim soldiers in the U.S. armed forces.
Oct. 13, 2003 update: Sometimes, the Los Angeles Times quotes a priest who worked alongside Capt. Yee in Guantánamo, "Yee would scold guards for upsetting detainees by doing things such as picking up copies of the Koran in prisoners' cells. Yee, he said, would explain to the guards that it was forbidden for ‘infidels' to touch the holy book." With the chaplain exhibiting such an attitude, one shared with the incarcerated Islamists he was tending to, his colleagues must have required much effort not to become suspicious of him.
Aug. 1, 2004 update: Richard Hoffman, a Republican hoping to run against Rep. Nita Lowey (Democrat of New York) in November's elections, has urged the Defense Department to investigate Muslims in the U.S. military to purge potential terrorists who are using the armed forces "as a veil for extremist operations." Hoffman argues that the investigations are necessary to stem "an alarming rise in covert and murderous acts" by Muslim soldiers and should focus on Muslim soldiers who fit an "overall profile," including those from Arab countries who have made anti-American statements or joined anti-American groups. He ridiculed a military policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving while allowing the ranks to be "permeated by Islamic fundamentalists with hidden agendas." Hoffman noted that attacks and defections by Muslims in the military are part of a pattern, citing Hasan Akbar, Ali Mohammad, and Semi Osman. (For a more complete list, see the one I compiled at "Pentagon Jihadis": I have in all found eight persons who fit the profile.)
August 3, 2004 update: Criminal charges against Yee were dismissed in March 2004 as the government's case unraveled. "The government's legal staff accidentally mishandled classified materials," explains the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "and prosecutors eventually acknowledged they were uncertain whether Yee had classified materials when he left Guantánamo." Today Yee asked the Army to accept his resignation, citing irreparable injury to his personal and professional reputation that destroyed his prospects for a career in the army.
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes