Monday, August 1, 2011

A Would-Be Terrorist Is a Conscientious Objector?

A soldier on Unauthorised Absence from Fort Campbell, Kentucky for over three weeks has been discovered and arrested last week near Fort Hood, Texas.  A gun store owner became suspicious about materials that he was trying to purchase, and notified the police in Killeen.  Upon his arrest, he was found to have “large quantities of ammunition, weapons and what appeared to be the makings of a bomb”.  He also had “jihadist materials”, including information from the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire on instructions for bomb-making.  PFC Naser Abdo has admitted to police that he intended to set off a bomb at a restaurant popular with local soldiers, and then shoot the survivors, all in an attempt to “get even”.  He chose Fort Hood because of the attack there in November 2009, where Major Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people (one of whom was pregnant) and wounded some 30 others.

PFC Abdo had previously sought exemption from combat duty as a conscientious objector, based on his claim that as a Muslim, he should not be required to kill another Muslim.  He cited in part the Qur’an in Sura 4:92, though that same verse makes exceptions and mentions means of atonement (e.g., he could free one of his Muslim slaves, or he could fast).  His request was initially denied, but was later granted upon appeal to higher authority.

PFC Abdo went UA after “images of child pornography were discovered on his computer” during an investigation involving “radical statements” he had made after filing for discharge.  Abdo claims that he was framed.

The story is still developing, but at the moment I am intrigued about the information concerning his conscientious objector (CO) status.

There are two different classifications of COs: either a 1-O status, meaning a servicemember who sincerely objects to any kind of participation in any form of war; or a 1-A-O, one who objects to participating as a combatant in any form of war, but who can serve in the military in a non-combatant status.  The historical distinction between the two can be found in sects such as the Quakers, Amish, or Mennonites, who shun war absolutely, and who would thus not be expected to join the military in the first place; and groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, pacifists by doctrine but willing to serve their country in non-combatant posts such as ambulance drivers and stretcher bearers in World War I.  (Disclaimer: my wife came from a family of Seventh-Day Adventists, and her uncles served in the military in World War II in capacities such as medics and cargo-handlers.  Her father did not share the same doctrinal concern for pacifism and, among other experiences, had a destroyer shot out from under him during the Second Battle of Savo Island.)

The services allow for the possibility that a servicemember can have a legitimate conversion after joining the military, and they thus provide for a means by which he can request either a discharge under classification as a 1-O (the nature of his discharge subject to his service record), or re-assignment to a non-combat billet as a 1-A-O in the “medical career management field” as in the case of the Army.

It is not my purpose here to explore the philosophy or sincerity of COs, but I am intrigued at the fact that PFC Abdo was recently classified as one, after an appeal.  I have to presume that he was granted 1-O status, since he was awaiting discharge prior to the discovery of purported child pornography.

Under what grounds was this classification made?  He states that as a Muslim, he cannot seek to kill another Muslim, even during a war.  This ignores numerous examples of Muslims warring against each other: the long Reconquista period of Spanish history, for example, was not entirely Christian versus Moor as there was internecine and political fighting among both groups up until the liberation of Granada in 1492; and I am sure that Tamerlane among others would have something to say on the subject.  Turkey is famous here for its subjugation of the oldest Christian nation of Armenia, but its domination of the surrounding Arab Muslim people is well established, and its history includes the uprising against the Ottoman Turks by the Arabs in World War I.  As recently as the 1980s, the Iranians and Iraqis slug it out in their war in battles which were reminiscent of the slaughter of that same ‘Great War’, and Morocco is still officially at war with the Polisario of the Western Sahara.

Leaving that argument aside: In cases of a CO request, the Army appoints an investigating officer, and as he is not expected to be an expert into delving into the thoughts and intent of the appellant, he is aided by a chaplain and a psychiatrist (or clinical psychologist).
The applicant shall be personally interviewed by a chaplain who shall submit a written opinion as to; (1) the nature and basis of the applicant's claim, and (2) the applicant's sincerity and depth of conviction. The chaplain’s report shall include specific reasons for the conclusions. In addition, the applicant will be interviewed by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist (or a physician if neither of the preceding is reasonably available) who shall submit a written report of psychiatric evaluation indicating the presence or absence of any psychiatric disorder which would warrant treatment or disposition through medical channels, or such personality disorder as to warrant recommendation for appropriate administrative action.
I must assume that the chaplain in this case ruled against the appeal.  I must also inquire if the chaplain was a Muslim, as I would hope he would be in this case of a Muslim soldier.  If the chaplain ruled against a 1-O discharge, what other information then compelled the Secretary of the Army to over-rule it?  I base this on Abdo’s statement to ABC News during their story on his discharge attempt:
Although Fort Campbell employs an imam on base, Abdo prefers instead to seek counsel from his personal circle of Islamic advisers, he said.

"In my experience, they don't know their religion," he said of base imams. "They don't know their faith." 
So who were these Islamic advisors in his personal circle?  Were they involved in the appeal which led the Army process to take their counsel over that of a chaplain?  After all, the Army Regulation 600-43 which governs this states that relevant factors should include “whether ethical or moral convictions were gained through training, study, contemplation, or other activity comparable in rigor and dedication to the processes by which traditional religious convictions are formulated; [and] credibility of persons supporting the claim.” [emphasis mine]

All we have heard is that his claim is based on being a Muslim, but the regulation goes on:
Church membership or adherence to certain theological tenets are not required to warrant separation or assignment to noncombatant training and service. Mere affiliation with a church or other group that advocates conscientious objection as a tenet of its creed does not necessarily determine a person’s position or belief. Conversely, affiliation with a church group that does not teach conscientious objection does not necessarily rule out adherence to conscientious objection beliefs.
Simply being a Muslim is insufficient.  What else did Abdo and/or his supports claim to overcome the objections of his first appeal?

After all, there are several thousand Muslim soldiers serving in the Army, yet they are not trying to depart the service in droves, and many (like Abdo) joined recently, certainly since it was apparent that our country’s security concerns ran counter to that of Islamic Supremacists.  For example:
Zachari Klawonn, then a specialist in the Army and the [Military Religious Freedom] foundation’s liaison with Muslims in the military, spoke to Abdo by phone for a half-hour and came back with a blunt assessment: Stay away from him.

“He was very anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Army. . . . There was something off about his demeanor. I said it would not be wise to take this guy on as a client.”
Over the next couple of months, Abdo, who was based at Fort Campbell, Ky., with the 101st Airborne Division, continued to phone and e-mail Klawonn and insisted that he wanted to go to Fort Hood, where Klawonn was based.
Klawonn brushed him off and eventually stopped taking his calls, in part because he didn’t want someone so vocally anti-military around a base still trying to recover from the shooting rampage of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who is facing capital murder charges in the deaths of 13 people. When Klawonn spoke of Hasan as an “atrocious killer,” Abdo seemed to demur, saying the major might have been forced into a corner.
There are also other voices:
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) accused him of 'treason' and urged the military to punish him to the full extent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Dr. Jasser, a Muslim and 11 year veteran as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy says that Abdo’s “interpretation (of Islam) is dangerous”. 
"Recent allegations of child pornography by Pfc. Nasser Abdo have brought to light the grossly misguided decision by Secretary of the Army John McHugh to grant Abdo Conscientious Objector (CO) status.  As with the Pentagon report on the massacre at Fort Hood, the U.S Army has once again fallen victim to the insidious influence of political correctness.  Abdo's assertion that his faith precludes him from serving 'in Afghanistan, Iraq or any war the U.S. Army would conceivably participate in' is patently false.

“Nasser Abdo is exploiting his Muslim identity and faith for his own political agenda. He represents a fringe group of radical Muslims who take their Muslim identity over their American identity. His argument that the Qur'an only allows Muslims to participate in "just wars" against non-Muslims is bigoted and inaccurate. . .

“AIFD would like to take this opportunity to make it explicitly clear that Mr. Abdo is not only a traitor but has departed from mainstream interpretations of Islam and our duties to the United States of America. In fact his interpretation is dangerous and part of radical Islam globally.”
Also this:
Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of Islamic Law Counsel of North America, said he sees no reason why a person can't be both a good Muslim and a dedicated soldier.

"I don't see that, from the Islamic point of view, there is any problem with that," he said, pointing out that there are many thousands of Muslims around the world serving in the militaries of non-Muslim countries, including his native India.

"There are a lot of good Muslims who are serving in the U.S. Army and a lot of other places."
As for the examination by the psychiatrist, again, he “shall submit a written report of psychiatric evaluation indicating the presence or absence of any psychiatric disorder which would warrant treatment or disposition through medical channels, or such personality disorder as to warrant recommendation for appropriate administrative action.” [emphasis mine]  That administrative action could well result in the appellant’s discharge “for the convenience of the government”, the nature of which is subject to his service record (either Honorable, General [Under Honorable Conditions], or Other Than Honorable).  (Note: A Bad Conduct Discharge or a Dishonorable Discharge can only be awarded as a result of a felony conviction at a Special or General Court-Martial, which now certainly applies to PFC Abdo.)  (Another note: the term “personality disorder” is being increasingly replaced with “adjustment disorder”, partially as a reflection of veterans who are legitimately suffering from PTSD and are in need of post-service treatment.  That situation does not apply to Abdo.)

Frankly, the “convenience of the government” finding is fine with me, if it truly applies.  If it does not, the soldier still is not fit for combat.  Abdo's defense that he "was not ready to die" hardly counts - who among us is?  The purpose of joining the military is not to die (though some want to popularise it as such); it is, as the Marines so eloquently put it, to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and manoeuvre, and to repeal the enemy by force of arms.  It is a melancholy fact that someone else may have to serve in his stead, but I never wanted someone on my flank or in my foxhole on whom who I could not rely.

So, did the recommendation include reference to a personality or adjustment disorder, or did the appeal bring out convincing evidence of such?  That would apply, though the stories to date do not indicate such a finding, but it still would not lead to a finding of Abdo being a CO: Muslims or any other religion do not automatically fall into the category of having a personality disorder (though many newsites of late seem to equate that with Christians).

Finally, does the granting of Abdo’s CO request affect other Muslim CO cases?  What precisely was the determining factor?  Abdo’s purported abhorrence of killing other Muslims certainly did not extend to killing non-Muslims, particularly Americans.  Though he cited Sura 4:92 above (and read the whole thing), there are many other verses such as 9:5 (kill the infidels wherever you find them); 8:12 (terrorise the unbelievers, cut off their heads and their fingertips); or 48:25 (those who disbelieve are punished painfully) or :29 (Muslims are merciful among themselves, but ruthless against disbelievers).  Maybe it was that last one that Abdo was considering, which completes the thought expressed in 4:92.

Will this finding, irrespective of his terror and mass murder attempt, affect the court-martial of MAJ Hasan?  The Army is going to have to explain its rationale for granting a classification of conscientious objector to such a peaceable soul that wants to perpetrate a slaughter larger than Hasan’s.

Update:  Convicted, in only ('only') nine months [24 May 2012].  Yet Nidal Hasan, who shot up Fort Hood in November 2009, has yet to stand trial.

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