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WASHINGTON (CNN) --A Pentagon official told a congressional committee Tuesday that the U.S. military is seeking new groups to endorse Muslim chaplain candidates.
The process of selecting chaplains came under scrutiny following last month's arrest of Army Capt. James Yee, who was a Muslim chaplain for suspected Taliban and al Qaeda detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Yee was charged last week with two counts of failing to obey a lawful general order. Military officials have alleged he took classified material to his home from Guantanamo Bay and wrongfully transported classified material without the proper security containers or covers.
Two other former workers at Guantanamo also have been detained -- civilian translatorAhmed Mehalba and Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi.
All chaplain candidates for the military and federal prison system must meet basic academic requirements, undergo a background check and then be endorsed by a group of that person's religion. Currently, there are 12 Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military and 10 in the federal prison system.
Government sources have said that the two groups that endorse Muslim chaplains -- the Islamic Society of North America and American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council -- are under scrutiny as part of a larger investigation into terrorism financing. Representatives of both groups deny any terrorism links.
During a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Charles Abell, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the two groups were never granted sole authority to endorse chaplains, but they were the only ones to ask for the endorsing authority.
"As a result, over the last several months of activities, we are looking around to see if there are other organizations that might provide us Muslim chaplains other than the two that have been currently provided," Abell told the panel.
Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told the committee he would like to see other groups approved as endorsers. He said that the bureau would not accept candidates endorsed by the two groups while they are under investigation.
"We are going to remain vigilant ... about endorsing agencies," Lappin said.
Officials said they could not provide much information about the Guantanamo Bay cases, citing the ongoing investigation.
"The FBI considers these matters to be potentially serious breaches of national security and will continue to work jointly with the Department of Defense in order to successfully resolve these matters and limit the damage they have caused," John Pistole, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, told the committee.
Pistole also said the FBI is evaluating whether there needs to be additional security assessment of chaplains once they start service. He suggested one possibility would be more polygraph tests.
Several senators have criticized the two endorsing groups as well as the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, which formerly trained Muslim candidates but no longer does. Some lawmakers have accused the groups of espousing radical views.
Nancy Luque, an attorney representing the Leesburg, Virginia, school, said that it was not invited to attend the hearing.
She said the school does not advocate a more radical Islamic movement called Wahhabism, as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has said in several public appearances. The two endorsing groups also have denied advocating Wahhabism.
CNN Correspondent Kelli Arena and Producers Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden contributed to this reportPentagon Madrassas
By Evan McCormick
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 2, 2003
When federal authorities arrested a Muslim military chaplain nearly one month ago at Guantanamo bay on suspicions of espionage, the danger of our radical Islamist enemies infiltrating the American infrastructure at dangerous levels came into the daylight.
Federal agents confirmed the bad news with the arrest of Abdurahman Alamoudi, the founder of the military's Muslim Chaplaincy program and an American-Muslim leader well connected to the White House. On October 23, Alamoudi was indicted on charges that include financial dealings with al-Qaeda and Hamas, passport fraud, illegal procurement of citizenship, and engaging in prohibited activities with state sponsor of terrorism, Libya—a relationship that dates back nearly eight years.
Within days of the arrest, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism held a hearing in which expert witnesses testified that the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS), an unofficial but primary training body for Muslim chaplains, is part of a network of Saudi-financed entities that are currently under investigation by US authorities for links with terrorist groups.
But just when it seemed that the US Military had no sensible choice but to immediately overhaul the way it brings Muslim chaplains into its ranks, prominent DOD officials chose instead to ignore the problem. When pressed by members of the Subcommittee about the process of approving groups that certify and endorse chaplains, Defense Deputy Under Secretary Charles Abell stated that the DOD only requires that the endorsing agencies maintain tax-exempt status with the IRS.
This hands-off policy has led the Pentagon to overlook the fact that the groups it deals with in placing Muslim chaplains are vocally radical and linked with several ongoing Federal terror investigations.
This is just the latest example in a troubling history of official ignorance about the fact that extremists are exploiting the chaplaincy program as a platform for subversion of US forces. In order to end this vulnerability to our enemies in the War on Terror, officials must face the problem and act immediately.
Alamoudi and the American Muslim Council
In March 1991, Colonel Meredith Stanley, Executive Director of the US Armed Forces Board of Chaplains, met with a delegation from the American Muslim Council. The meeting was arranged to allow the AMC to air concerns of US soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia. At the meeting, AMC founder Abdurahman Alamoudi— a reputed Muslim Brotherhood member who held a Yemeni passport, and who would not (fraudulently, according to prosecutors) become a US citizen until 1996-- urged the US military to create an Islamic Chaplaincy corps in response to the rapidly increasing numbers of Muslims in the US military ranks.
The surge in American Muslim soldiers to which Alamoudi was referring occurred during the first Gulf War, and came largely at the hands of radical Wahhabi agents operating at US army bases in Saudi Arabia with the permission of US Military officers. In an interview with the Saudi-owned London weekly al-Majallah, Canadian Communist-turned-Wahhabi Bilal Philips revealed that he was employed by the Saudi military and put in charge of setting up a "Saudi Camp for Cultural Information" at the US army barracks in Al-Khubar, Saudi Arabia and at least two other US camps. Philips claims that in the five months after Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait, his operatives converted 3000 American soldiers to Islam, and that "a considerable number of US officers and men asked us to deliver such lectures...the US Army welcomed our work." Demonstrating the typical Wahhabi worldview, Philips told al-Majallah that, "Western culture, led by the United States, is the enemy of Islam."
While US officers in the Middle East unknowingly presented Wahhabi extremists an opportunity to subvert US troops, their counterparts back home were opening another avenue of infiltration for political Islamists. Until at least 1998, the Defense Department retained Abdurahman Alamoudi as an unpaid consultant to review and nominate chaplain candidates. His first known recruit, Army Captain Abdul Rasheed Muhammad, became the first Muslim chaplain for US Armed Forces in December 1993. At Muhammad's swearing-in ceremony in December of that year, Alamoudi pinned the crescent moon insignia on the chaplain's uniform.
Rasheed's connections to major Saudi-funded, Wahhabi entities made him an ideal choice for Alamoudi. In the August 1994 issue of the Muslim World League Journal, an MWL official reported that Rasheed Muhammad was given a personal audience with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and afterwards lauded the government and the League for their services to Muslims. Rasheed reportedly "offered to work closely with the MWL to begin an ongoing interaction with the MWL in shaping and developing a vital Islamic presence within US armed forces."
The MWL, an arm of the Saudi government, is suspected by US authorities of providing logistical and financial support to al-Qaeda terrorist operations. Documents seized in 2002 reveal that al-Qaeda operatives met at MWL offices in Bosnia to discuss the use of the MWL's Pakistani offices as the place from which "attacks [would] be launched." US federal agents raided the Virginia offices of the MWL in March of 2002 for suspected ties to terrorist organizations.
The organizations that helped to place Rasheed Muhammad have maintained their relationship with the chaplain, highlighting the value of his position from an operational perspective. In 2001, the Muslim World League reportedly financed Rasheed Muhammad in leading a Hajj trip to Saudi Arabia for at least 100 US soldiers. In 2002, he spoke at the AMC Imam Leadership Conference; a conference that Alamoudi chaired. At the conference, he appeared along with Stanley Cohen, the radical lawyer for Hamas and first American attorney to say on 9/11 that he would defend Osama bin Laden. Cohen is now representing Alamoudi in court.
In 1998, the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs division of the AMC officially split from the group and assumed the responsibility of certifying chaplains. The new organization, the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC), was formed by Qaseem Uqdah, an AMC official who was Alamoudi's protoge on the issue of Muslims in the US armed forces. In June 1995, when Alamoudi toured several US Naval bases in Florida to meet with military officers and announce the forthcoming selection of the first Muslim Naval chaplain, Uqdah was at his side.
Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences
According to a recently unsealed federal Affidavit, the organization that acts as the feeder training body for the Muslim Chaplaincy program is part of a terrorism financing ring that operates in Virginia. The Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS) in Leesburg is part of a network of Saudi-backed entities designated "the Safa Group" by criminal indictments that allege the entities have moved large amounts of money, "directly to terrorist fronts since the early 1990's." The affidavit supports search warrants for the March 2002 Operation Greenquest, in which federal agents raided the offices of GSISS and numerous other foundations and companies including the Muslim World League.
Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, who has headed the School since at least 1995, is also Chief Financial Officer at the raided International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). According to the affidavit, IIIT was one of the groups through which Saudi sources transferred money to the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraising in the US, Sami al-Arian. The Affidavit includes a letter in which Al-Alwani states that he considers Al-Arian and PIJ to be "a part of us and an extension of us."
While the Department of Defense has stressed that GSISS is not technically an approved endorsement body, evidence shows that the group plays a major role in the Chaplain certification process. As of June 2002, nine of the fourteen Muslim chaplains serving in the US military had received their religious training at GSISS. Others like Captain Yee, who received his training in Syria, had to obtain a letter of equivalency stating that their training met GSISS standards before receiving ecclesiastical endorsement from the Pentagon-approved organizations.
Islamic Society of North America
The second organization approved by the Pentagon to certify Muslim chaplains is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Spun off from the Saudi-created Muslim Students Association in the early 1980's, ISNA was designed to oversee the spread of Wahhabi Islam through mosques and Islamic training centers in the US and Canada. Now they act as a main endorsing agent for Muslim chaplains in the US armed forces.
ISNA's senior leadership and national conferences are a virtual who's who of alleged terrorist supporters in the United States. In addition to hosting indicted PIJ Leader Sami al-Arian at the national convention in 2001, ISNA's Majlis Council features Imam Siraj Wahhaj; alleged to have been an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
One ISNA officer, Louay Safi, is identified by name as part of the Safa Group in the same Federal Affidavit that implicates GSISS. Another, Jamal Badawi, has previously served as a member of the Fiqh Council, one of the targets of Operation Greenquest.
Senators from both parties are frustrated by the obfuscations of senior Defense Department witnesses, and with campaign season rapidly approaching, Pentagon officials may be unwittingly setting the President up for a scandal ripe for exploitation by his opponents. All at the hands of Islamist extremists who are seeking to exploit the Military chaplain program in order to subvert US strategy in the war against terrorists.
In a recently leaked internal memo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized the importance of taking the War on Terror to the sources of the Islamic extremism that feeds our enemies with recruits faster than we can interdict them, specifically Madrassas run by radical clerics. But what good is it for the Secretary to rightly bemoan the existence of Madrassas abroad if the Pentagon is funding virtual Madrassas within its own ranks?
Evan D. McCormick is the Henry M. Jackson National Security Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC.
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