IG criticizes Army, Air Force officers’ participation in religious video

A recent report by the Defense Department's inspector general concluded that seven Army and Air Force officers -- including four generals -- improperly participated in a 2004 video promoting Christian Embassy, an evangelical group that has reached out to political, military and diplomatic leaders in Washington for more than 30 years.

In addition to those seven officers, the Aug. 3 report noted the participation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson and Retired Vice Adm. Dan Cooper, undersecretary for benefits in the Veterans Affairs Department, in the video, but did not assess whether either of them violated ethics rules with the appearance.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the service is reviewing the report's findings and recommendations. "We'll work with the chain of command and of course the officers who are mentioned in the report," he said

Lt. Col. Linda Haseloff, an Air Force spokeswoman, told the Associated Press on Monday that the service is undergoing a similar review.

The officers whose actions were criticized by the report were Army brigadier generals Vincent Brooks and Robert Caslen, retired Army Chaplain Col. Ralph Benson, and Air Force major generals Peter Sutton and John Catton, along with an Army lieutenant colonel and an Air Force colonel whose names were redacted.

They "were filmed during the duty day, in uniform with rank clearly displayed, in official and often identifiable Pentagon locations….The remarks of some officers implied they spoke for a group of senior military leaders rather than just for themselves. None of the officers sought or received approval to participate in the interview in an official capacity or in uniform," the report concluded.

Those actions violated Defense Department prohibitions on providing or appearing to provide government endorsement of non-official activities. The IG exonerated two other officials who appeared in the video but without a title, uniform or Defense Department insignia that would imply the department's endorsement.

A number of the officers told the IG that they had not asked for permission to participate in the video because they assumed it had been sanctioned when former Chaplain Benson requested permission for the Christian Embassy film crew to work in the Pentagon.

But the report found that Benson's request described a project very different from the final product.

The public affairs office granted permission for an escorted crew to film for nine hours on Feb. 4, 2004. But the report concluded that the crew was not escorted, and that it returned to the Pentagon on numerous occasions over the next 10 months.

The final product made no mention of the independent work of the Pentagon chaplain's office. Instead, the military officers, members of Congress, administration officials, diplomatic representatives and diplomats' wives who appeared in the video offered a multi-faceted endorsement of Christian Embassy's work.

The report concluded that the Christian Embassy film crew's level of access to Pentagon facilities and employees constituted a "selective benefit" that was not made available to other religious organizations.

The report also found that the chaplain's office authorized contractor badges for 34 religious volunteers. Nineteen of the badges went to Christian clergy, including employees of Christian Embassy; nine to volunteers with Christian organizations, including Christian Embassy's parent organization, Campus Crusade for Christ; five to unaffiliated volunteers; and one to a rabbi.

The badges allowed unrestricted access to the Pentagon at any time, and permitted the holder to escort a group of up to 10 people. The report found that contractor badges are normally restricted to individuals who are performing some kind of paid work for the Defense Department.

Though Benson told investigators that he only intended the video to be seen by Christians, it has already had a broader reach -- and broader repercussions.

According to the IG's report, "Maj. Gen. Sutton testified that while in Turkey in his current duty position, his Turkish driver approached him with an article in the Turkish newspaper 'Sabah.' That article featured a photograph of Maj. Gen. Sutton in uniform and described him as a member of a radical fundamentalist sect. The article in the online edition of Sabah also included still photographs taken from the Christian Embassy video."

Sutton's job in Ankara "included establishing good relations with his counterparts on the Turkish General Staff," the report continued. "He testified that when the article was published…it caused his Turkish counterparts concern and a number of Turkish general officers asked him to explain his participation in the video."

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