Military probes hiring of clerics

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The Pentagon yesterday ordered a review of how it recruits military chaplains, particularly Muslim clerics endorsed by two groups with ties to radical Islam.

Pentagon officials yesterday informed senators of the review as Sens. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, announced upcoming hearings on whether the radical Wahhabi sect has infiltrated the U.S. military chaplain corps.

The sudden, intense scrutiny of how the Pentagon picks Muslim chaplains came after the FBI arrested Army Capt. James Yee. The chaplain is being held on suspicion of committing espionage while he tended to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the detention center at the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Air Force has arrested a second Guantanamo staffer, Senior Airmen Ahmad al Halabi, and charged him with 32 criminal offenses centering on espionage. At least one and perhaps two other persons who worked at Guantanamo are also under investigation.

“My subcommittee is continuing to examine what is clearly an ongoing and systematic effort by the radical Wahhabi sect to infiltrate and recruit terrorists within the United States, focusing primarily on chaplains in the prison systems and in the U.S. military,” said Mr. Kyl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security.

The two Pentagon-approved groups that endorse military Muslim chaplains are the American Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America. The Islamic Society-approved chaplains often receive religious training at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Studies in Leesburg, Va.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) accused Mr. Kyl and Mr. Schumer of exploiting the arrests for political gain.

“They are misusing their public position,” Mr. Hooper said. “Both of them have a history of trying to marginalize the American Muslim community.”

As far as the Wahhabi followers he said, “No Muslim on the face of the Earth calls himself a Wahhabi. Most would be insulted. We don’t name ourselves after people.”

Wahhabism is named for Mohamed Abd Al Wahhab, an 18th-century fundamentalist whose interpretation of Islam is followed by Saudi Arabia’s rulers.

After lawmakers this week criticized the Pentagon for its accreditation process, spokesmen said there was no review under way, either by the Defense Department inspector general or by anyone in the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Yesterday however, officials changed course. They said a review is under way, although a spokesman said he did not know when it began and who was doing it.

“We have been reviewing the DoD policy regarding appointment of chaplains in the military departments,” the spokesman said. “This policy includes the requirements for individual applicants for the chaplaincy and the requirements for the religious organizations that certify religious ministry professionals for the chaplaincy.”

The Pentagon group that would have picked the two Muslim-endorsing groups is the Armed Forces Chaplains Board.

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