Thursday, May 7, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

The news organization Al Jazeera recently aired a report on U.S. soldiers discussing how they could "hunt people for Jesus" in other words, how to spread Christian beliefs to the population in Afghanistan. Here is the original video:

Not surprisingly, this raised numerous eyebrows since it appears that this violates the US Central Command's General Order Number One which forbids active-duty troops from attempting to convert people to any religion. Quickly after this video aired, the Pentagon fired back claiming that the footage had been taken out of context and chiding Al Jazeera for "irresponsible journalism".

To combat the Pentagon's claim that the footage had been taken out of context and therefore distorted the truth, Al Jazeera and film maker Brian Hughes released an extended and unedited version of the video in question which can be viewed here:

Hughes stands by the report on Al Jazeera and released a statement in which he said:

Any contention by the military that his words are purposefully taken out of context to alter the tone or meaning of his sermon is absolutely false. To this end, I am exploring my options to release Hensley's sermon in its entirety so that everyone can make his or her own conclusions about context and intent. Stay tuned to this blog.

In recent press statements, the military also contends that - in the footage depicting the Afghan-language (Dari and Pashto) bibles - a cut was made before "it would have shown that the chaplain instructed that the Bibles not be distributed." This is a false statement. The chaplain - as seen in the footage before the cut - instructs the group to be careful and reiterates the definition of General Order #1. After this cut he begins to organize the group for the evening's bible study lessons.

Finally, and in my opinion most important, is the fact that EVERY FRAME of the rough cut from Bagram was provided to the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office in advance of this release. On Thursday, April 30 at approximately 1 pm EST, the Army took possession of a DVD with this footage by accepting a FedEx from me. Since Al Jazeera English first aired the piece Sunday, May 3 at 10pm EST, the Army had every frame of this rough cut for more than 80 hours.

This video footage coincides with a recent piece in Harper's Magazine by Jeff Sharlet entitled Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military. Sharlet described the meaning behind the title of his piece in an interview that aired yesterday on Democracy Now!:

Well, after about a year of interviewing military personnel, this was, in some ways, the most frightening story that I encountered. A man named Staff Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey, one of the very few soldiers who, in this military climate, had the courage to come forward and speak out about what he had seen, he had been stationed in Samarra. It was Easter. The day began calmly. A chaplain brought around a copy of Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic film Passion of the Christ, which they then put on constant play throughout the day.

When they came under attack, the Special Forces, Army Special Forces to whom he was assigned, had their Iraqi translator, an Iraqi American Christian, paint in giant red Arabic letters on the side of a Bradley fighting vehicle the words “Jesus killed Mohammed.” Then, while they put the translator on the roof with a bullhorn, shouting in Arabic, “Jesus killed Mohammed,” and then training their guns, training American guns on anybody who responded, the Bradley fighting vehicle rolled out into the city of Samarra and drawing fire everywhere it went, leading the Special Forces to conclude that every single Iraqi who took offense at these words, “Jesus killed Mohammed,” was part of the enemy and therefore needed to be destroyed.

And I spoke to the man who drove that Bradley, Lieutenant John DeGiulio, now Captain John DeGiulio, promoted since. And he describes wreaking almost biblical destruction on one whole block, blowing up every single thing he saw. And he said he was able to do this, because God was on his side and because he had been spiritually armored by watching Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. And then he thanked his chaplain for preparing him for that kind of spiritual battle on the streets of Iraq.

and Sharlet is reporting that the practice of hunting people for Jesus is not an isolated incident:

You know, I would have thought that was—this guy was just a kind of a rogue, a maverick, if I didn’t speak to so many other officers with just the same attitude. In the story, I talk about Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Young, who is also in Afghanistan at Kandahar Air Base, and he was quite plain in boasting about a PowerPoint presentation he had given to Afghan warlords explaining that American government was based on Christianity, that our Christian god was what made it great, and Afghanistan had a choice if it wanted to achieve democracy. And of course that choice was going to be for Jesus. These people don’t even know that they’re crossing the line between church and state.

I think the question that should be on everyone's mind is the same question that was on my mind following the revelations at Abu Ghraib. Are these isolated incidents or is this a systemic problem?

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