Senior US General Orders Top-to-Bottom Review of Military’s Islam Training
Spencer Ackerman, Wired, Apr 24 2012
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday ordered the entire US military to scour its training material to ensure it doesn’t contain anti-Islamic content. The order came after the Pentagon suspended a course for senior officers that was found to contain derogatory material about Islam. Dempsey’s order was prompted by content in a course titled “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” that was presented as an elective at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. The course instructed captains, commanders, lieutenant colonels and colonels from across all four armed services that “Islam had already declared war on the West,” said Lt-Gen George Flynn, Dempsey’s deputy for training and education. Flynn said on Tuesday:
It was inflammatory. We said, wait a second, that’s really not what we’re talking about. That is not how we view this problem or the challenges we have in the world today.
The response by the Pentagon illustrates growing sensitivity around the issue since an investigation of anti-Islam material in the FBI’s counterterrorism training last September. That story sparked strong condemnation of the training material from the US Attorney General on down, and prompted the White House to order a review of US counter-terrorism training last October. Despite that White House order, the “Perspectives” course, taught since 2004, not only evaded review, but had defenders in the Joint Forces Staff College that taught it. We first learned about the course last month, and determined that one of its guest lecturers was Stephen Coughlin, who has taught FBI and US Army audiences that Islamic law is a danger to US national security. We sought comment from a representative for the Joint Forces Staff College, who defended the propriety of the course. A spokesman for the college e-mailed us on Mar 14:
Feedback from students has been mostly positive, usually around the 90% range. Students generally appreciate thought-provoking discussion and the freedom to consider critical perspectives.
The Pentagon told a different story. Flynn disclosed that since an unspecified “revision” of the course in the summer of 2011, multiple officers who attended the course had raised internal objections about its presentation of Islam and Muslims. He estimated that about 20 officers attend each eight-week elective course, which is offered four times a year. Flynn said he heard about the objectionable material on Friday after a colonel enrolled in the course complained about the anti-Islam lessons. Flynn said:
We looked at it and we found the material to be objectionable and we started digging into it to see, how did the course get this way?
The course was scheduled to hold its second weekly meeting of the semester on Wednesday. But class will not be in session. Flynn has appointed a two-star general to spend the next 30 days investigating how the course came to include anti-Islam material in apparent contravention of the White House directive. Accordingly, Dempsey has issued a letter to the chiefs of all four military services and the leaders of the military’s regional commands to make extra-sure that their own educational and training materials “are consistent with our values,” said Brig-Gen Richard Gross, Dempsey’s senior legal adviser. Flynn said:
Possibly we did not follow the procedures we should have followed in academically approving the course, but that’ll be formally determined when we complete the inquiry into this.
Last month, Williams at the Joint Forces Staff College said that the course followed the White House-approved guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security (.pdf) to prevent anti-Islam material from being taught by the US government. He described the class as including “the basic tenets of Islam; the context in which it was founded; the life of the Prophet Mohammed; Islam’s early development; the practice of Islam in various countries; the foundations and principles of terrorism; the roots of Islamic militancy, and a broad overview of various Islamic radical groups and their philosophies.” But although the course material is unclassified, Williams would not disclose it. Flynn spoke more candidly about the material. Flynn said Tuesday:
We have an elective that did not meet the educational standards or the values of our joint professional military education enterprise, so we’re going to suspend the course. Our inquiry will determine whether it went through the academic review process to make this truly an accredited course we should be teaching. It will examine the chain of command to determine how the inappropriate material got into a course taught to senior military leaders. There is as yet no indication that this material disseminated beyond the Joint Forces Staff College, but the various inquiries will have to determine that. We’ll take whatever action is warranted.