Jason Leopold /t r u t h o u t – 2007-08-17 23:15:50
Report Details Evangelism at Highest Levels of US Military
Jason Leopold /t r u t h o u t
(August 3, 2007) — A report released publicly on Thursday by the Defense Department’s (DOD) inspector general has found high-ranking Army and Air Force personnel violated long-standing military regulations when they participated in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization while in uniform and on active duty.
The report recommended Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, and a colonel and lieutenant colonel whose names were redacted in the inspector general’s report, “improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform” and the men should be disciplined for misconduct.
Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war on terrorism, directorate for strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the cadets at the Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DOD investigators he agreed to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been interviewed for the promotional video.
The inspector general’s report recommended the “Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Army take appropriate corrective action with respect to the military officers concerned.”
The officers did not return phone calls or emails to respond to the report’s findings.
The 47-page report was also highly critical of Pentagon Chaplain Col. Ralph G. Benson, whom the inspector general’s report accused of knowingly misleading the DOD when he requested permission from DOD officials to film a video inside the Pentagon claiming he was interested in gathering information about the Pentagon’s “own ministry.”
In fact, the report says, Benson was determined to use the video to “attract new supporters” to the Christian Embassy, an evangelical organization that evangelizes members of the military and politicians in Washington, DC via daily Bible studies and outreach events. The group holds prayer breakfasts on Wednesdays in the Pentagons executive dining room, according to the organization’s web site. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, founded the Christian Embassy 30 years ago.
Over the past few years, the military has set its sights on prosecuting Iraq war veterans who have completed active duty, soured on the war and participated in antiwar protests while wearing their uniforms. Recently, the US Marine Corps prosecuted Cpl. Adam Kokesh and Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, both of whom were photographed marching in an antiwar protest while wearing their uniforms in what the Marine Corps says was a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Military prosecutors vigorously sought to have both men dishonorably discharged. However, it appears unlikely the military will apply the same standard to the Air Force and Army officers who the inspector general said violated the same code of conduct Kokesh and Madden were found to have broken, according to the disciplinary recommendations of the report.
The Army generals who appeared in the video appeared to be speaking on behalf of the military, but they did not obtain prior permission to appear in the video. They defended their actions, according to the inspector general’s report, saying the “Christian Embassy had become a ‘quasi-Federal entity’, since the DOD had endorsed the organization to General Officers for over 25 years.”
“The non-DoD speakers on the video included six Congressmen, two ambassadors, two ambassadors’ wives, as well as the Under Secretary of benefits for Veterans’ Affairs and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who acknowledged “Christian Embassy’s” international and federal-governmental evangelical Christian training,” the report added, although the identity of those individuals are unknown at this time.
The report also concluded a film crew was not escorted or monitored during production of the video inside the Pentagon, and the Pentagon chaplain’s office gave at least 34 “religiously affiliated volunteers” unrestricted access to the Pentagon that allowed the individuals to move freely throughout the facility. The so-called “contractor badges” were unauthorized, the report says.
In response, the inspector general urged the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Army and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency “initiate inquiries into the manner and appropriateness of issuance of contractor badges to volunteer personnel.”
The inspector general launched an investigation last year after receiving a letter from Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit government watchdog group that aims to enforce the separation of church and state within the US military. Weinstein’s group discovered the video on the Christian Embassy web site.
Weinstein drafted a letter to the inspector general alleging misconduct by the officers, citing the military’s strict policy that prohibits military personnel from appearing in uniform and participating in “speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration … which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.”
Weinstein said the military brass who participated in the video “were clearly identified by their positions within the Defense Department, however, the video did not include any disclaimers indicating that the views expressed were not those of the Defense of Department.”
The former White House attorney under Ronald Reagan, and the author of the book “With God On Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military”, said he is still “dissecting” the inspector general’s report, but “clearly this is a gigantic victory for our foundation.”
“The report confirms the total destruction of the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating supernatural and natural, metaphysical and physical, spiritual and temporal, church and state at the highest levels of the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind; our honorable and noble United States military,”
Weinstein said in an interview. “The embarrassingly pedestrian excuses feebly offered by senior US Army and US Air Force generals and other senior officers are pathetic and not worthy of those that might have been offered by a first-grader. The fact that these senior Pentagon officials control our country’s nuclear arsenal should shake the very foundation of the American public’s trust in our country’s current leadership.”
Weinstein said perhaps the most egregious aspect of the inspector general’s report is the findings that non-military personnel were given “badges” to roam freely throughout the Pentagon calling it a “shocking national security breach of the highest order.” He called for Congressional oversight hearings into the matter.
“The rise of evangelical Christianity inside the military went on steroids after 9/11 under this administration and this White House,” Weinstein said in an interview. “This administration has turned the entire Department of Defense into its own personal faith-based initiative. ”
the video, which is posted on militaryreligiousfreedom.org, Major General Catton talks about how his faith in God and the Christian Embassy helped him land a powerful position as a “director on the joint staff.”
“As I meet the people that come into my directorate I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country,” Catton says. “I share my faith because it describes who I am.”
Army Secretary Pete Geren, the former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the Air Force’s response in 2005 to claims evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, also appeared in the video praising the Christian Embassy.
The Christian Embassy “has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I’m just thankful for the service they give,” Geren says.
The inspector general investigated Geren’s participation in the video, but determined he did not act improperly. Geren testified he was unaware the video would be used for fundraising purposes or to attract new members. He was identified in the video as “Honorable Pete Geren Presidential Appointee.”
The report said Geren, who was also a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has had a long-standing relationship with the Christian Embassy organization.
“According to his testimony, Mr. Geren first became involved with Christian Embassy while he was a member of the US Congress, attending Bible study and fellowship activities arranged by Christian Embassy on Capitol Hill,” the inspector general’s report states. “He said that he continued his relationship with Christian Embassy when he began work for DOD in the Pentagon, attending the Senior Executive Fellowship and Bible Study.”
Robert Varney, executive director of the Christian Embassy, testified the video was used to raise money for his organization.
Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton’s work in Iran.