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Colonel’s class on radical Islam leaves career in limbo
Question of the Day
When Army Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley last year began teaching a class to fellow officers on the dangers of radical Islam, he seemed to have landed in a perfect spot.
A highly rated armor officer who saw combat in Iraq, Col. Dooley planned to instruct for several years at the Joint Forces Staff College within the National Defense University, then seek command of a combat battalion — a ticket to better postings and higher rank.
Today, Col. Dooley finds himself at a dead end while being targeted for criticism by American Islamic groups, at least two of which are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which advocates universal Islamic law.
More important, Col. Dooley's critics include Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In a news conference with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in May, Gen. Dempsey, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, publicly excoriated Col. Dooley's training materials as being unfair to Islam and "academically irresponsible."
A month after Gen. Dempsey's rebuke, a general on his Pentagon staff ordered Col. Dooley to be removed as an instructor "for cause."
As a result, regulations called for Marine Lt. Gen. George Flynn to order the National Defense University to produce a negative officer evaluation report on Col. Dooley — a career ender.
Richard Thompson, president of the nonprofit Thomas More Law Center, is representing Col. Dooley in an appeal against the negative report. He said the Pentagon is trying to appease the Muslim Brotherhood.
"What happened here was this whole idea of political correctness deterred the ability of our military to speak frankly about the identity of the enemy," Mr. Thompson said in an interview. "Once you allow political correctness to overwhelm our military, then we are really going to have an impact on our national security."
Mr. Thompson said the university simply could have informally counseled Col. Dooley to change some of the material, which the officer would have done. Instead, Gen. Dempsey and others chose to "throw him under the bus in public" and "damage his reputation," the lawyer said.
Col. Dooley's evaluation report last year, while he was teaching the course, lauded him as a superb officer.
In addition, the course and the materials in it had been approved by the National Defense University, whose guidance to instructors says that "no subject or issue is considered taboo."
On Aug. 29, two raters at the university issued a negative officer evaluation report, as ordered, ruining any chance for Col. Dooley to make full colonel and effectively cutting short his professional upward path.
That action prompted two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee last week to send a letter to Gen. Dempsey asking why such harsh action was taken. The Washington Times obtained a copy of the letter.
"Since [the Department of Defense] had already directed [National Defense University] to cancel the [course], and LTC Dooley was then relieved as its instructor, we would like to know why the [Defense Department] was compelled to further discipline LTC Dooley by jeopardizing his reputation and his future in the service," Reps. Thomas J. Rooney of Florida and Duncan Hunter of California wrote. "It is our understanding that LTC Dooley did not violate any established University practices, policies or [Defense Department] regulations to merit a negative [officer evaluation report]."
Marine Col. David Lapan, Gen. Dempsey's spokesman, told The Times that Col. Dooley was removed for "poor judgment."
"It's not the subject matter," Col. Lapan said. "It's the way the course was taught."
As to Mr. Thompson's charge that Gen. Dempsey poisoned the investigation of Col. Dooley by publicly criticizing him, Col. Lapan said: "Absolutely, it's false. LTC Dooley's name is never even mentioned. Gen. Dempsey commented on the inappropriate nature of the course content that was brought to his attention."
"Everything Col. Dooley was doing had prior approval," Mr. Thompson said.
Islamic groups' pressure
In one respect, Col. Dooley's fall is a testament to the influence various Islamic groups can exert on the Obama White House.
In October 2011, 57 such groups wrote a letter to President Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, who has given speeches on why the administration does not use phrases such as "Islamic extremists." He argues that al Qaeda terrorists are simply extremists and not part of Islam.
The letter listed instances of what the Islamic groups considered anti-Muslim briefings inside the government, and called on the administration to launch a comprehensive review and remove what the groups considered offensive.
The White House complied, and the Pentagon ordered a review.
The Islamic groups also demanded that employees who promote "biased" training materials be "effectively disciplined" — which is what eventually happened to Col. Dooley.
At least two of the 57 groups were listed by the Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators and as being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in the prosecution of a Texas charity in funding Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The groups are the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America.
As the letter arrived on Mr. Brennan's desk, Col. Dooley was teaching his class, Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicals.
A 1984 West Point graduate, Col. Dooley had arrived at the college in Norfolk, Va., in 2010 as a student after serving tours in Germany, Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq. Highly decorated, he earned the Bronze Star.
Other instructors had taught the course in some manner since 2004. When the Pentagon surveyed the school last year, as demanded by Islamic groups, it reported no over-the-top training guides, Mr. Thompson said.
But that did not end it. Last spring, a student (later lauded by Gen. Dempsey) who listened to a guest lecturer in Col. Dooley's class was offended by the material and complained to Mr. Panetta's office. The course was ordered suspended.
On April 24, Gen. Dempsey issued an order to review training, saying teachers and lecturers were presenting material "which goes well beyond presenting alternative intellectual viewpoints." The next day, a spokesman signaled out Col. Dooley's course to reporters as being inflammatory.
Mr. Thompson told The Times that the memo and the press briefing, in effect, doomed Col. Dooley by sending a signal from the nation's top officer that the course crossed this line.
On May 10, the Internet publication Wired, which had been investigating how Islam is portrayed inside U.S. law enforcement, published some of the course's training slides and said Col. Dooley was advocating "total war" against Islam.
Gen. Flynn, Gen. Dempsey's deputy for joint force training, told Wired the course taught that "Islam had already declared war on the West. It was inflammatory."
A two-star Army general at the time was completing his investigation.
Among the slides published by Wired were from former FBI agent John Guandolo, who lectures frequently across the nation about the dangers to democracy from the Muslim Brotherhood and its desire to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, around the world.
One part reads: "If Islam is so violent, why are there so many peaceful Muslims? This is similar to asking why there are so many Christians who are arrogant, angry and vindictive, if Christian doctrine requires humility, tolerance and forgiveness. However, in any given social context, as Islam takes greater root — increasing numbers of followers, the construction of more mosques and 'cultural centers,' etc. — the greater the likelihood that some number of its adherents will act on the requirements of the Shari'ah to use violent jihad as the vehicle to further Islam. This is the problem that the West faces today."
A briefing by Col. Dooley discussed how "political correctness" prevents the military from talking about radical Islam.
"Political Correctness is killing us: How can we properly identify the enemy, analyze his weaknesses, and defeat him, if we are NEVER permitted to examine him from the most basic doctrinal level?" the briefing read.
The day Wired published the documents, reporters at a news conference asked Gen. Dempsey about the Joint Force's Staff College course.
The four-star general came down hard on Col. Dooley, without mentioning his name but referring to him as "the individual."
"It's totally objectionable," Gen. Dempsey said. "It was just totally objectionable, against our values, and it wasn't academically sound. This wasn't about, we're pushing back on liberal thought. This was just objectionable, academically irresponsible."
A week later, Army Maj. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, who was then Gen. Flynn's deputy, issued an internal report that blamed an "institutional failure" at the university for Col. Dooley's class.
Mr. Thompson told The Times that the media reporting on the course was unfair.
He said Col. Dooley never advocated "total war" against Islam. The discussion about all-out war, he said, was conducted by a guest speaker. It involved theoretical "out of the box" thinking on what happens if Islamic extremists commandeer Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and begin destroying U.S. cities: How does the U.S. respond?
It is akin to discussions inside the Pentagon on "what-if" scenarios: What happens, for example, if China launches nuclear weapons at U.S. population centers? How does the military retaliate?
Mr. Thompson said Col. Dooley made clear that the presentations were not official U.S. policy. The class was "the most popular at the college" and was intended to provoke debate about Islam, he said.
"He encouraged them to do outside research," Mr. Thompson said of his client.
Col. Dooley now is appealing the negative performance evaluation to a board of correction, which can make a recommendation that goes all the way up to the secretary of the Army.
Mr. Thompson is considering filing a civil suit in U.S. District Court against Gen. Dempsey.
The lawyer asks what the Dooley case has done to academic freedom, which is supposed to apply to military instructors at all of the Pentagon's educational institutions.
The National Defense University's faculty handbook states: "Academic freedom is not an indulgence, but a necessity to realize the university's aspirations."
A passage that Mr. Thompson finds ironic reads: "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has directed the President of the National Defense University to establish a climate of academic freedom within the university to foster thorough and lively academic debate, and to examine national security issues. To continue to craft the best possible national security policy for the United States and offer the best possible advice to U.S. leaders and students, the faculty of the university must be free to examine policy from all viewpoints."
The handbook also states that students and faculty are to express opinions "free of limitations, restraints or coercion by the University or external environment," and "no subject or issue is considered taboo."
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