Caught on Tape: Military Officials at Bagram Urge U.S. Soldiers to Evangelize in Afghanistan
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New video evidence has surfaced showing that U.S. military forces in Afghanistan have been instructed by the military’s top chaplain in the country to "hunt people for Jesus" as they spread Christianity to the overwhelmingly Muslim population. Soldiers also have imported bibles translated into Pashto and Dari, the two dominant languages of Afghanistan. What’s more, the center of this evangelical operation is at the huge U.S. base at Bagram, one of the main sites used by the U.S. military to torture and indefinitely detain prisoners.
In a video obtained by Al Jazeera and broadcast Monday, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the U.S. military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him."
"The special forces guys -- they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.
"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business."
The translated Bibles appear to be the New Testament. According to Al Jazeera, U.S. soldiers "had them specially printed and shipped to Afghanistan." On the tape, one soldier describes how his church in the U.S. helped raise money for the bibles. Al Jazeera reports that "What these soldiers have been doing may well be in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, their professional codes and the regulations in place for all forces in Afghanistan." The U.S. military officially forbids "proselytising of any religion, faith or practice." But, as Al Jazeera reports:
[T]he chaplains appear to have found a way around the regulation known as General Order Number One.
"Do we know what it means to proselytise?" Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to the gathering.
"It is General Order Number One," an unidentified soldier replies.
But Watt says "you can’t proselytise but you can give gifts."
Trying to convert Muslims to any other faith is a crime in Afghanistan. The fact that the video footage is being broadcast on Al Jazeera guarantees that it will be seen throughout the Muslim world. It is likely to add more credence to the perception that the U.S. is engaging in a war on Islam with neo-crusader forces invading Muslim lands.
Former Afghan prime minister Ahmed Shah Ahmedzai told Al Jazeera there must be a "serious investigation," saying, "This is very damaging for diplomatic relations between the two counties." Sayed Aalam Uddin Asser, of the Islamic Front for Peace and Understanding in Kabul, told the network: "It's a national security issue … our constitution says nothing can take place in Afghanistan against Islam. If people come and propaganda other religions which have no followers in Afghanistan [then] it creates problems for the people, for peace, for stability."
A U.S. military spokesperson, Major Jennifer Willis, denied that the U.S. military has allowed its soldiers to attempt to convert Afghans and said comments from sermons filmed at Bagram were taken out of context. She said the bibles were never distributed. "That specific case involved a soldier who brought in a donation of translated bibles that were sent to his personal address by his home church. He showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them," she said. "The translated bibles were never distributed as far as we know, because the soldier understood that if he distributed them he would be in violation of general order 1, and he would be subject to punishment."