Fri, Aug 24, 2012 - Page 9 News List

US Army battling racists within its own ranks

Some analysts claim that the US military was so desperate for troops while fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it allowed felons, extremists and gang members into the armed forces

By Daniel Trotta  /  Reuters, FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina

“What’s scary about Page is that he served in the 1990s when putatively this was being treated quite seriously by the military. There’s plenty of other Pages who served during the war on terror and we don’t know what they’re going to be doing over the next decade or so,” said Matt Kennard, author of the forthcoming book Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror.

Kennard argues that the US military was so desperate for troops while fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it allowed extremists, felons and gang members into the armed forces. The military can grant a “moral waiver” to allow a convicted criminal or otherwise ineligible person into the armed forces, and the percentage of recruits granted such waivers grew from 16.7 percent in 2003 to 19.6 percent in 2006, according to Pentagon data obtained by the Palm Center in a 2007 Freedom of Information Act request. However, the Pentagon says no waiver exists for participation in extremist organizations.

“Our standards have not changed — participation in extremist activities has never been tolerated and is punishable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice,” US Department of Defense spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

The Pentagon’s third directive against white supremacists was issued in 2009 after a US Department of Homeland Security report expressed concern that right-wing extremists were recruiting veterans returning from wars overseas.

The Pentagon’s 2009 instruction, updated in February, directs commanders to remain alert for signs of racist activity and to intervene when they see it. It bans soldiers from blogging or chatting on racist Web sites while on duty.

“This is the best we’ve ever seen,” said Heidi Beirich, leader of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence project, referring to the Pentagon’s attitude. “It was really disheartening under the [former US president George W.] Bush administration, how lightly they took it, so this is a major advance.”

Beirich’s group monitors online chatter among self-described active-duty warriors serving overseas and reports it to military officials. It also receives regular calls from military investigators asking about racists in the armed forces.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), another civil rights monitor, have helped train officers on how to spot extremists, although Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the ADL, said the military lacks comprehensive training for recruiters and commanders. He called the military’s reaction when alerted to white supremacists “patchy.”

“We’ve discovered a great range of response, from getting a phone call the next day saying: ‘He’s already out,’ to not doing anything at all,” Pitcavage said.

The US Army showed reporters a one-hour presentation it says was designed to educate soldiers and leaders about its extremism policy and how to respond, including to white supremacy groups. Penalties for extremist ideology may include being removed from the military, having security clearances yanked or being demoted.

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