- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The arrest of two Muslim-American servicemen based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (a developing story originally broken by this newspaper), raises some complex questions about the conflicting loyalties of Muslim-American soldiers in the war against radical Islamic terror. Dueling it out are two policy imperatives dear to our tradition of government: equal treatment of all regardless of race and religion, and the need to guarantee national security. The threshold must be high for a policy to curtail one of these fundamental values in favor of defending the other — but it is a threshold that can be met in extreme cases. The ancient imperative of self-defense is such a case, but it remains to be seen whether we have reached that situation.

The complex connections between terrorist organizations, Islamic charities and some mainstream Muslim groups bring up the uncomfortable issue of whether Muslim chaplains and men in the ranks should be treated differently than recruits of other faiths. The military is confident in checking with the Vatican to confirm the character of a Catholic priest, but relying on the judgment of Muslim groups has proven to be less reliable.

Trouble was bound to happen eventually, as the military has sought assistance to approve chaplains from Muslim groups that are themselves questionable. According to Robert Spencer, author of the new book “Onward Muslim Soldiers,” the Air Force “in July 2002 asked for help recruiting Muslim chaplains from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). ISNA is subsidized by high-placed Saudi Wahhabis. Many Muslim military chaplains have been trained by the American Muslim Foundation’s American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council; the AMF has been investigated for suspicions of funding terrorism.” Because of this system, many Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military have strong Wahhabi beliefs. The risk of conflicting loyalties is not limited to the chaplain corps.

Considering that there are only approximately 4,500 Muslims in uniform, their record of religious-based crimes is significant. The most notorious case of conflicting loyalties was that of Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who killed two of his commanding officers in a grenade attack in Kuwait last winter and shouted, “You guys are coming into our countries, and you’re going to rape our women and kill our children.” As Mr. Spencer pointed out to us yesterday, “He explicitly identified himself as a Muslim, and not an American.”

The author provides other serious examples of enemies within the ranks. Naval Reservist Semi Osman was charged last May with illegally trying to become a U.S. citizen (he had altered birth certificates and other related papers) and possession of a handgun whose serial number was altered. Maj. Ali A. Mohamed, an Egyptian, joined the Army as a resident alien in the late 1980s even though he was on a State Department terrorist watch list. After leaving the Army in 1989, he joined Egyptian Islamic Jihad, worked directly with Osama bin Laden and was charged with involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998. Army reservist Jeffrey Leon Battle was indicted last year for conspiring to wage war against the United States, and according to the Justice Department, “enlisting in the Reserves to receive military training to use against America.” He plannedtogoto Afghanistan to join up with the Taliban.

It has always been common for soldiers to consider it their duty to defend God and country. In most cases, it was taken for granted that men in uniform believed the two were on the same side. The question now is what to do when some in the military think God and country are opposed. The recent arrests of Muslims serving in the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay mean the Pentagon will have to tackle the problem of conflicting loyalties. There is no sense of national security if our soldiers cannot even be sure that their brothers with them in the foxhole are on the same side.

While some conservatives have criticized the White House for being too politically correct in its treatment of Islam, the Bush administration was staying true to the fundamental American value of freedom of faith. Before deciding whether it is necessary to compromise the principle of equal protection in the interest of national security, we should first give the Pentagon a chance to quickly — but materially and realistically — upgrade its clearance processes.

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