Muslim soldier, wife raise issue
over son's death
By John Milburn
May 15, 2008
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A Muslim soldier and his wife in North Carolina, upset over how their infant son's body was handled after his death, may join a legal battle in Kansas over whether the military respects religious freedoms.
Pfc. Eli Agee and his wife, Mackenzie, are angry that an autopsy was performed - over their objections - on their son after he died May 3 at his home at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Agees are Muslim and believe an autopsy desecrates the body.
While doctors suspect sudden infant death syndrome, the Army said the autopsy will determine the exact cause of death. An official also said the Army is sensitive to the couple's religious views.
The Agees have contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about possible legal action. The foundation expects to include their complaint in a pending Kansas lawsuit, and Mackenzie Agee said the couple may file a separate case.
The foundation and an atheist soldier from Fort Riley are suing the Department of Defense in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., over what they allege is a pattern of the military violating soldiers' religious liberties. This week, a judge set a May 27 deadline for responses from federal attorneys.
"Our entire family, including our son, has been disrespected and violated on so many levels," Mackenzie Agee said. "We can't even begin to verbalize the pain."
The body of Lachlan Agee was autopsied and returned to his parents so he could be buried within 24 hours of his death, as required by Islam. However, the couple later learned that their son's vital organs were not included and would be shipped to them later for burial.
Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, said the family's religious concerns were known when officials were notified of the death. Because of those concerns, the Army expedited the autopsy, he said.
"We are very aware of the religious aspects involved," Stone said. "It's something we take very seriously."
But he added: "We have to do what we have to do."
Eli Agee moved his family to North Carolina last fall and is with the 82nd Airborne Division's combat aviation brigade.
A Fort Bragg spokeswoman said the couple had been contacted by a Muslim chaplain and advised of their rights to file complaints through the inspector general's office on post.
"The Army shares its grief with Pfc. and Mrs. Agee of the tragic loss of their son, Lachlan," said Maj. Angela Funaro, a Fort Bragg spokeswoman. "We do not tolerate discrimination in any form, and we regret and understand the family's displeasure at the handling of Lachlan's remains."
The Agees said the post chaplain originally was supportive, as were members of the roughly 55 Muslim families at Fort Bragg. However, phone calls and e-mails now go unanswered over fear of retribution for speaking out about religious freedom, they said.
The chaplain declined to comment Wednesday.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the foundation, said the Army's disregard for the Agees' faith is another example of the military's "pattern and practice" of violation of religious liberties. He said there has been a consistent pattern of anti-Islamic prejudice and bigotry.
The Agees said their son's death was the latest example of anti-Islamic treatment they have experienced, which includes references to "killing Hajji" during basic training about fighting Islamic terrorists.
"We are facilitating legal representation so that the Agee family may seek swift redress in the courts for the unspeakable tragedy of its youngest child's death," Weinstein said.
Mackenzie Agee said that despite being born 13 weeks premature, Lachlan was "really just becoming a person."
"He was just happy, laughing. He was just starting to try to crawl, hold things in his hand to eat," she said. "We're walking zombies. That's how we feel. We function to take care of the kids, but that's about all. This is about getting some restitution for my son."
On the Net:
Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org
Fort Bragg: http://www.bragg.army.mil
25th Infantry to install leader
by Gregg K. Kakesako
May 11, 2008
Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, who has been criticized for improperly participating in a promotional video for an evangelical group called Christian Embassy, will officially assume command of the 25th Infantry Division on May 21 at Schofield Barracks' Sills Field.
The Army's inspector general in August said Caslen was one of four generals and three officers who violated Pentagon rules by giving the appearance of governmental sanction to the Christian group, and did so while in uniform.
The report said Caslen agreed to appear in the Christian Embassy video because other generals had agreed to participate, including Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, who was chief of Army public affairs.
Caslen and another general "accepted full responsibility for their actions and committed to be more alert to ethical issues in the future," the report said. Caslen and Brooks received "written memoranda of concern" from the Army.
Mikey Weinstein, of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Caslen's new assignment in Hawaii is further evidence of a pattern by the military to tolerate the promotion of fundamentalist Christianity among its ranks.
Shaping a post-Iraq military
by Kevin Ferris
May 16, 2008
COLORADO SPRINGS - The three White House contenders didn't attend this week's conference on the U.S. military after Iraq, but their presence was felt.
That's because the next president won't just be deciding the fate of the Iraq war, but charting the U.S. military's course on personnel, weapons systems and equipment for the next generation.
"This is the most important election for national security in 40 years," said Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia think tank.
So it would help voters if some of the issues raised at the Heritage Foundation gathering - the U.S. role in the world, soft power vs. hard power, and improving the quality of life for military families - became part of the debate between now and November.
Of course, the future depends on Iraq. The way forward for a military that wins would be much different from one that has been defeated. Also, our enemies will have some say in all this. With those caveats in mind:
The U.S. role in the world. There's a good chance that future military budgets will be leaner, and with that will come a temptation to "get out of the global power business," as Goure put it. Some argue that we shouldn't be the global cop, that nations who enjoy the U.S. security umbrella should pay more for their own defense.
But neither John McCain, Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton is advocating disengagement so the more important question is, If we're staying in the global game, what's the strategy?
Former Sen. Jim Talent (R., Mo.), now a Heritage fellow, offered a nonideological mission statement for the United States: Lead a willing coalition of free nations to prevent or minimize the disruption of the international order by state or non-state actors. He urges a defense budget of at least 4 percent of GDP to meet the mission, up from about 3.5 percent now.
Addressing the more immediate threats, Steve Metz of the U.S. Army War College offered good questions:
How much of the future focus should be on Islamic extremism? Why? Is "war" the most effective approach?
Without deprecating the terror threat, how much focus should be on other threats?
When addressing the terror threat, how much emphasis should be on redesigning troubled nations? Or do we need an updated "containment" policy if redesigning states is too difficult or expensive?
Which leads to . . .
Soft power or hard? When you've got the biggest military and your State Department lacks initiative and successes, hard power becomes "the default option," says Dov S. Zakheim, a former Defense Department comptroller. But exercise that option too often and "activities are not planned, budgeted or prepared for." Demonstrate a lack of preparedness - see the United States in Iraq and/or Israel vs. Hezbollah - and you've squandered the deterrence factor of that big military.
But if State is to have the lead, it'll need more resources in order to deploy the forces needed to prevent wars, Zakheim says. And it should be pressed into working with Treasury and Defense on playing the "financial card" against adversaries. For example, in concert with allies, Zakheim explained, we can "talk to Iran while squeezing it economically under the table. . . . It's discreet but painful."
"If you use the hammer first, you undermine its purpose," Zakheim said. "You hit your fingers instead of the nail."
The troops. Wisely, this was not an all-theory conference on the future. Military officers reported the good news: The services are stretched, but not broken; retention numbers and morale are high. And the bad: Multiple deployments - for active duty, reserves and National Guard - make life tough for the troops and their families. No bonus or other incentive is going to keep someone in uniform if the family isn't happy.
Easing those burdens, while meeting the needs of a nation at war, must be on the debate agenda. One example: How do you move toward the Pentagon's hoped-for deployment schedule of one year on/five off for Guardsmen and reservists and one year deployed/two off for active duty troops? While fighting al-Qaeda globally? While facing Defense budget cuts?
The most direct advice for the next president came from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: Don't just pick accomplished individuals when forming a national security staff. Pick a team. "Throw the organizational charts out," he advised. "It's relationships among people that make government work."
They also make sound policies that win wars.
* * *
RESPONSE TO THE EDITOR:
To the editor: If one were looking for answers on the proper allocation of resources, and the best plans for appropriate use of the military, perhaps the last place a sane person would look would be a "Heritage Foundation gathering" of the type attended by Kevin Ferris (Back Channels, 5/16). This oil-money sponsored group has been at the heart of the cheerleading squad which cooked intelligence, distorted expectations, and botched both the invasion and rehabilitation of Iraq. The consequences for the military after this war is over will probably include a mass exodus of the middle level commanders who have been exploited for the greater glory of a Republican "mission accomplished." The recent installation of religious missionaries in command positions is an equally ominous morale killer, for which organizations like Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation have had to defend both officers and enlisted men from officer enforced evangelism.
Elkins Park, PA
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