The preferred response from the military when U.S. troops are caught red-handed committing moral and ethical atrocities or violating military regulations or the law is that it didn't happen. But, when such irrefutable evidence of an incident is uncovered that a complete denial, known as "Code 1," becomes impossible, they resort to "Code 2" -- this was an "isolated incident" -- or "Code 3" -- it was taken out of context.
The video released last week by Al Jazeera of U.S. military members at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan discussing the distribution of Dari and Pashtu language Bibles to the local Afghans, a blatant violation of CENTCOM's General Order 1-A, was one of those incidents where the military couldn't use "Code 1." The video showed stacks of these Bibles on the floor, so they were undeniably there. So, this one had to be handled with "Code 2" and "Code 3" responses.
For those who haven't seen the Al Jazeera video yet, here it is:
Code 2 -- This was an "isolated incident"
In reality, the video released by Al Jazeera is just one of countless pieces of evidence showing, without a doubt, that our military is actively proselytizing Muslims in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been since the so-called war on terror began. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been collecting information on such cases for several years, and has proof of plenty of other "isolated" incidents. How many isolated incidents does it take before you can no longer consider these incidents isolated?
Here are some examples from MRFF's stockpile of similar cases of U.S. military personnel proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan, starting with a few quotes from officers proudly admitting to their proselytism efforts.
One Army chaplain, Lt. Col. Lyn Brown, in an article titled "Kingdom Building in Combat Boots," stated:
"But the most amazing thing is that I was constantly led to stop and talk with Iraqis working at the Coalition Provisional Authority. I learned their names, became a part of their lives, and shared Jesus Christ by distributing DVDs and Arabic Bibles."
This distribution of Arabic language Bibes, as already mentioned, has been going on since the war began. Here's one from the Spring 2004 issue of "Gatherings," the newsletter of the International Ministerial Fellowship. According to Army Chaplain Capt. Steve Mickel, who was doing his proselytizing while passing out food in the predominantly Sunni village of Ad Dawr:
"I am able to give them tracts on how to be saved, printed in Arabic. I wish I had enough Arabic Bibles to give them as well. The issue of mailing Arabic Bibles into Iraq from the U.S. is difficult (given the current postal regulations prohibiting all religious materials contrary to Islam except for personal use of the soldiers). But the hunger for the Word of God in Iraq is very great, as I have witnessed first-hand."
Obviously, by citing the regulation prohibiting the materials he was passing out as something that was hindering his proselytizing, Capt. Mickel was admitting that he knew what he was doing violated regulations.
The private organizations sending Arabic Bibles and those in other native languages into Iraq and Afghanistan are too many to count, and many boast of the help they get from members of the military to distribute these Bibles. Here are a few quotes from some of these organizations.
"OnlyOneCross.com recently sent a case of Arabic Bibles to a Brother who is working in a detention center in Iraq."
The Salvation Evangelistic Association, which has soldiers in Iraq that their ministry converted at Fort Leonard Wood, now has these soldiers distributing the Arabic Bibles for them:
"Many young men in training at Fort Leonard Wood were converted to Christ. The Lord led us on to preaching in Army camps in the US, Korea, and the Philippines. We are now supplying Arabic Bibles for distribution by our troops in Iraq."
Quotes like the above are a dime a dozen.
We also have missionaries who take jobs with DoD contractors to get into Iraq, and, once there, do their proselytizing with the help of U.S. military personnel.
Joe Phoenix, founder of Phoenix Mission of Mercy, took a job with DynCorp International, a contractor with a $1.2 billion DoD contract to train Iraqi police officers. Phoenix has launched a number of Christian ministries in Iraq, and said of his team of DynCorp "American Highway Patrol Advisors," each of whom is assigned a U.S. military counterpart:
"Each member is a Christian and has strong ministry ties with their Church back home. We as a team see to it that each ministry need is fulfilled and support them one hundred percent. Without our team of American Highway Patrol Advisors these ministries would cease to exist."
Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne Division, referring to a special military edition of a Bible study daily devotional published and donated by Bible Pathways Ministries, told Mission Network News that:
"[T]he soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they're using it to minister to the local residents," and that his "division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers."
And, like the many civilian missionaries who see the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a window of opportunity to evangelize the Iraqi people, Chief Warrant Officer Llanos continued:
"The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They're continuing to spread the Word."
The Bible Pathways Ministries book, although not printed in Arabic, presents another problem. It has the official military branch logos on its cover, giving the impression that it is an official U.S. military publication. The stupidity of this needs no explanation.
But, topping the stupidity list, we have a Lt. Col. who was being so stupid that a missionary had to tell him that he was putting his troops and other people in danger. The missionary was from Liberty Baptist Tabernacle, which had already shipped 20,000 Arabic "Soul-Winning Booklets" into Iraq, with more on the way. This Lt. Col., who knew the missionary from the states, went to his hotel and offered to use his troops to protect the people who were converting the Muslims. This is from the insane story of what this genius of an officer did to meet with the missionary, copied from the ministry's website:
"On another note, a dear Christian friend, that I had met some ten years prior, who was a deacon of an independent Baptist church in Missouri was also in Iraq. I was totally unaware of this. He was in the Missouri National Guard and holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonial. Col. Koontze immediately contacted me when he found out I was in country. He was made aware of my being in Baghdad by a pastor friend of his that he had spoken with in the states.
"Through his command intelligence office, he located the hotel I was staying at. When he came to the hotel, I was sitting outside with the other pastors on the hotel's terrace, waiting for Robert Lewis [Global Resource Group-Director], who was going to meet with us that afternoon. Col. Koontze must have had 15-20 soldiers with him; they literally blocked off the entire city block with tanks and humvees to secure the area. He then walked into the lobby asking if anyone could tell him where Pastor Furse was. As he was saying those words, he spotted me and immediately said, "It's good to see you again Bro. Furse." At first, I did not recognize him, until he took his helmet off. We spoke for about 20 minutes at one of the tables on the terrace of the hotel; all the while the tanks and humvees were being lined up and down the main street in front of the hotel. After renewing acquaintances, I had to tell him that it would probably be best if he and his unit left as soon as possible.
"The Iraqi people in the hotel and those on the street were to say the least, very concerned. I did not want to bring that much attention to the hotel; for fear that terrorists would target the area as well [over the previous four or five days, we had heard sporadic AK-47 gunfire going off just blocks away from the hotel]. Col. Koontze agreed fully with me on that assessment and ordered his unit to leave quietly and as quickly as possible."
We also have videos, like the one below of a chaplain admitting that Swahili language Bibles are being sent in to Iraq to evangelize the Ugandan workers employed by the U.S. military. In this video, from Soldiers Bible Ministry, Army chaplain Capt. Chris Rusack boasts about managing to get the Swahili Bibles into Iraq, in spite of the regulations prohibiting this. Referring to this shipment of Bibles, Chaplain Rusack said:
"Actually, they're in Baghdad right now. Somehow the enemy tried to get 'em hung up there. There was a threat they were gonna get shipped back to the States and all that. We prayed, and they're gonna be picked up in a couple of days. God raised someone up right there in Baghdad that's gonna go -- a Christian colonel that's stationed there in Baghdad, and he's gonna go and get the Bibles..."
The "enemy" here would presumably be a U.S. military postal worker who was doing the work of Satan by doing his or her job and flagging this shipment of Swahili Bibles -- a shipment that clearly violated the postal and customs regulations prohibiting the bulk shipment into Iraq of religious materials contrary to Islam.
As you watch this video, keep in mind that Soldiers Bible Ministry is heartily endorsed by none other than the Army's Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, with this statement on their website: "Thanks so much for your invaluable ministry of the Word to our Soldiers."
Since posting this video elsewhere last week, MRFF has been asked how we know that these Ugandan workers were Muslims who were being proselytized to, and that they weren't already Christians who were asking for Bibles. This wouldn't dismiss the violation of having the Swahili Bibles shipped into Iraq, but it is a reasonable question considering that Uganda has a majority Christian population, so here's the answer.
Last April, Soldiers Bible Ministry entered into an official partnership with an organization called Heart of God International Ministries. To announce this partnership, Heart of God International Ministries sent out an email about Soldiers Bible Ministry, featuring the Swahili Bible story, complete with how the shipment was almost stopped, as an example of the "supernatural things God is doing in Iraq" through Soldiers Bible Ministry. In that email, Heart of God International Ministries told of Jesus appearing to these Ugandan workers in their dreams, and how this led these former Muslims to come to Chaplain Rusack, and then to Christ:
"Right now there are about 200 men from Uganda protecting 100 US Army soldiers in Iraq near Babylon. These men from Uganda have been having dreams, and these dreams have been of Jesus Christ as the Messiah which led them to begin asking questions about Christ to the Chaplain. Many of these former Muslims have come to Christ."
The email ended with this fund raising pitch for Soldiers Bible Ministry:
"The signs of the times are all around us ... Jesus, the Messiah, is coming back soon. It is our responsibility to make sure every man, woman, and child has had the opportunity to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. Seize every opportunity to share the Good News ... seize this opportunity to put the Word of God into the hands of US troops and allied forces."
Shortly after MRFF brought attention to this video last week, Soldiers Bible Ministry posted a statement on their website insisting that they are not trying to convert anyone or encourage anyone to violate military regulations. Of course, they still have the video on their site of Chaplain Rusack admitting to have gotten around the military postal regulations with the help of that "Christian colonel" he spoke of in that video.
MRFF also has images of other Arabic language Christian books being sent into Iraq and Afghanistan for distribution by our troops. The January 2009 newsletter of Worldwide Military Baptist Missions, for example, included these images of their English-Arabic proselytizing materials.
This is from the caption for these photos:
"In 2008, we shipped over 226,000 gospel tracts, 21,000 Bibles, New Testaments and gospels of John (to include English-Arabic ones!) and 404 'discipleship kits' to service members & churches for use in war zones, on ships and near military bases around the world."
And then, there were the missionaries from the Christian reality TV show Travel the Road who, although making no prior arrangements or going through the usual vetting and approval process, waltzed into Afghanistan and, within two days of their arrival, were allowed to be embedded with U.S. troops as journalists while, with the full knowledge of the Army, they were proselytizing Afghans by handing out Dari language Bibles, and filming this to be broadcast to an audience of over three million people worldwide. When ABC News Nightline investigated this story, they were told that the Army had lost all records of the embedding of these missionaries.
If these examples aren't enough incidents to dispel the notion that incidents of the proselytism of Iraqis and Afghans are isolated, MRFF will gladly supply more.
Code 3 -- It was taken out of context
According to the spokespersons from the military, two things were taken out of context in the Al Jazeera video. One was the footage of the Bible study showing the Dari and Pashtu Bibles.
According to Reuters, one military spokesperson, Maj. Jennifer Willis, referring to the soldier who had obtained the Bibles, said, "He showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them." Another spokesperson, Col. Gregory Julian, told CNN that "the chaplain leading the Bible study later corrected the service member, although this does not appear on the footage we've seen." Well, that's because it doesn't appear in any of the footage of the Bible study, and Al Jazeera proved this by releasing the raw footage. The raw footage, which shows the Bible study up to the point at which the discussion of proselytizing the Afghans was clearly finished and the group was moving on to another subject, shows that at no point after what was seen in the Al Jazeera report did the chaplain, Lt. Col. Emmitt Furner, say anything that sounded even remotely like he was telling the soldiers they could not distribute the Bibles. He told them to "be careful." He told them to "share the word in a smart manner." He even repeated this more emphatically, saying, "I'm not telling you not to share the word of God. I'm telling you to share the word of God."
The raw footage, rather than substantiating the claim that Al Jazeera edited the footage to leave out some statement by Chaplain Furner telling the soldiers not to distribute the Bibles, actually reveals even more just how much effort this group's members were putting into finding ways to convert the Afghans. One soldier, Sgt. James Watt, who admitted to having previously given out Arabic Bibles when he was in Iraq, said that if they give the Bibles as "gifts," then they are not violating regulations. Another unidentified soldier says that a good way to evangelize the Afghans might be to put tracts in their native languages out on tables in a chow hall. As this soldier is proposing that evangelizing scheme, you can hear the Chaplain Furner in the background saying "absolutely," and agreeing that this would pose "no problem."
The second part of the Al Jazeera report claimed to be taken out of context was the worship service at which chaplain Lt. Col. Gary Hensley told his evangelical congregation:
"The special forces guys -- they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians. We hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
The claim that, because the worship service was unrelated to the Dari and Pashtu Bibles at the Bible study, Al Jazeera was somehow being deliberately deceptive by showing the service in the report, is ridiculous. This part of the report was obviously included to show the general evangelical climate at Bagram, which is in no way unrelated to the story. The narrator introduced this clip by saying, "Our pictures show a thriving evangelical community at Bagram. This Sunday service is packed." Based on MRFF's prior knowledge of Bagram, what was shown in the Al Jazeera report presents an accurate picture of this base. This is a base that has held events like a three-day evangelical revival. In an article titled in the CENTCOM publication Freedom Watch titled "Three Night Revival Rocks Bagram Airfield," another Bagram chaplain, when asked for his reaction to the revival, was quoted as saying, "I believe God has more plans to influence and move through us in BAF [Bagram Airfield] and Afghanistan."
Because the military has come up with so many excuses in its attempt to discredit the Al Jazeera report, I need to add a few new "Codes" to the usual Codes 1, 2, and 3. So, let's call these Codes 4 and 5.
Code 4 - Blame the stupid enlisted guy who didn't know any better
According to CNN, Col. Gregory Julian used this one, saying, "A soldier received unsolicited Bibles in Pashto and Dari that were donated by a church in the U.S.," and "The soldier was unaware that he was not allowed to distribute them." Maj. Willis made a similar statement, saying, "That specific case involved a soldier who brought in a donation of translated bibles that were sent to his personal address by his home church." Both of these statements were followed, of course, by these spokespersons saying that the chaplain set the soldier straight and told him he could not distribute the Bibles. All you have to do is watch the video to see how ridiculous these statements are. The enlisted soldiers in that Bible study were clearly aware of the regulation prohibiting proselytizing. And, there's also the matter of that pesky military postal regulation that prohibits shipments of bulk religious materials that are contrary to Islam. That wasn't even brought up. Did the sergeant who received this allegedly "unsolicited" shipment of Bibles from his church not know about this regulation either?
Code 5 - Accuse the journalist who reported the story of irresponsible journalism for reporting it
Another thing Col. Julian said to CNN about the Al Jazeera report was that it was "irresponsible and dangerous journalism sensationalizing year-old footage of a religious service for U.S. soldiers on a U.S. base and inferring that troops are evangelizing to Afghans."
Did the Al Jazeera report inflame a lot of Muslims? Almost certainly. Former Afghan prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai told Reuters, "We consider this act as a direct attack on our religion that will arouse Afghans' emotions to take actions against them."
The Irish Times reported that a Taliban website had picked up on the report, declaring that converting Afghans to Christianity was part of the U.S. war, and quoted the following statement from the website: "The Islamic Emirate strongly urges mujahideen, religious scholars and all religious circles to seriously monitor such moves and activities of the invaders and crusaders and not allow anyone to promulgate and spread the abolished religions apart from Islam in a Muslim country."
Nobody's going to be surprised by this reaction. But, what may surprise a few people is that the U.S. military itself has been responsible for providing more "recruiting tools" for the Muslim extremists on the internet, and endangering our troops far more than any news report about our "Christian soldiers" ever could.
About a year and a half ago, MRFF uncovered and exposed a number of shocking websites loaded with propaganda fodder for the extremists, and got some of these websites shut down, and content removed from others. What was so shocking about these websites? Well, they were either sanctioned or endorsed by the U.S. military.
Among the worst of these websites was that of Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army's largest basic training installation. This website, in addition to containing material stating that being in the military equals being "God's Ministers," with a responsibility to punish evil-doers as "God's servant, an angel of wrath," the site contained numerous photos of basic trainees, in uniform, posed with their rifles in one hand and Bibles in the other. This was not only allowed by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Snodgrass, but was endorsed by Snodgrass by the appearance on the site of his own photo, posing with the Campus Crusade Military Ministry director and battalion chaplain.
This is from one of the group photos that were on the Fort Jackson Military Ministry website:
In the midst of exposing the public to what was being posted on websites such as these, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein received some unexpected phone calls from national security officials. Did these officials think it was "irresponsible and dangerous journalism" for MRFF to be exposing these sites? Did they ask MRFF to stop? Absolutely not, as Weinstein explains:
"The fact that the Taliban is presently going publicly 'ape-shit' over the latest news that American military personnel were and are facilitating the distribution of New Testaments in Pashtu and Dari dialects to the general Afghan population is about as 'surprising' as the sun rising tomorrow. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation was discretely contacted over 18 months ago by high-ranking Bush administration national security officials on this very matter; the inestimable emboldening of the Taliban, al Quaida, the insurrectionists and jihadists by egregious fundamentalist Christian actions of supremacy by U.S. military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They specifically pleaded with us NOT to stop our round-the-clock efforts to fight such unconstitutional illegalities. They told us that American servicemen and women were being killed and maimed as direct and indirect results of these numerous acts of unbridled fundamentalist Christian proselytism upon the populations of both countries."
Where were the military's accusations of irresponsible journalism when the Trinity Broacating Network's Travel the Road missionaries were allowed to be embedded in Afghanistan as "journalists" to shoot three episodes of their Christian reality TV show -- a show about converting the world to Christianity? Was the military not concerned that this TV show, broadcast to over three million viewers worldwide, showing Christian missionaries, equipped with Dari language Bibles, going into Afghanistan to proselytize, all clearly filmed with the help of the U.S. military, as the video clips below show, might inflame some extremists? Did the military consider it irresponsible for Lt. Col. Robert G. Young, the commander of the 325th Forward Support Battalion in Kandahar, to be filmed telling the missionaries that we've got to "overcome evil with good," and, while literally thumping a Bible, combining two of its verses into one sentence, saying, "Our weapons aren't carnal, and no weapon formed against us shall prosper?" No, this was apparently all just fine with the military.