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US Military to Seek Muslim Chaplains Outside Present Channels - 2003-10-14

The Pentagon has stripped two Islamic groups of their previously exclusive roles as endorsers of Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military.

The Pentagon will no longer rely solely on the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Council and the Islamic Society of North America to recommend Muslim military chaplains.

The decision was announced Tuesday by Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness, who was appearing at a Congressional hearing on possible terrorist infiltration of the military. "We are looking around to see if there are organizations that might provide us Muslim chaplains other than the two that currently provide," he said.

The decision follows last month's announcement by the Defense Department that it is reviewing how the military recruits chaplains. The review was prompted by the arrest of an Army Muslim chaplain who worked with al-Qaida and Taleban detainees at the special U.S. terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

That chaplain, Captain James Yee, has been formally charged with mishandling classified material. In addition, two translators working with detainees at Guantanamo, one military and the other civilian, have been charged with security violations. A founder of the military's Muslim chaplain program has also been detained on charges of illegal dealings with Libya.

At Tuesday's Congressional hearing, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona charged radical Islamic groups have infiltrated the military as well as the U.S. prison system. "Terrorists have exploited America's religious tolerance and the chaplain programs in particular as key elements of infiltrating the military and the prisons," he said.

At the same hearing, a top official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Pistole, said the FBI is now working with both the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assess the mechanisms by which chaplains and translators are selected for employment.