The firing of the Pentagon’s only resident expert on Islamic law, Maj. Stephen Coughlin, has begun to attract the attention of key members of Congress and the White House, which has launched a “fact-finding” mission into the case, Newsmax has learned.
Coughlin, of the U.S. Army Reserves, was on contract to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to brief U.S. commanders en route to Iraq, as well as officers at various staff colleges around the country, on the role of Islamic teachings in the mind of America’s enemies.
His contract was terminated several weeks ago after an encounter with a top aide to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who dismissed his findings and called him a “Christian zealot with a pen.”
The aide, Hesham Islam, is an Egyptian-born former U.S. Navy officer, who joined England’s staff while he was secretary of the Navy in 2001 and moved with him when England was promoted to the Pentagon’s No. 2 slot.
Heshem Islam encouraged England to address the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) last fall, even though federal prosecutors had named the group as an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terrorism funding case last year.
Coughlin aroused the ire of Mr. Islam and others in September by authoring an analysis of a Muslim Brotherhood document entered into evidence in the Justice Department’s case against the Holy Land Foundation.
In addition to naming ISNA and other “mainstream” Muslim organizations as members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s network in the United States, the Muslim Brotherhood document stated that its members “must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within… It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes.”
Coughlin also took issue with an effort underway by intelligence community analysts to declare al Qaeda terrorists and insurgents in Iraq as “false Muslims,” whose version of jihad conflicted with “true” Islamic teachings.
Over the past two weeks, the White House has launched its own investigation into the Coughlin affair, and has conducted at least one interview with Coughlin himself, sources knowledgeable of the probe told Newsmax.
However, Coughlin would appear to hold out little hope of a White House “rescue.”
As he pointed out in his 333-page thesis, "To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring what Extremists say about Jihad," President Bush’s statements downplaying the role of Islam in the terrorist attacks on America have “exerted a chilling effect on those tasked to define the enemy’s doctrine by effectively placing a policy bar” on examining the role of jihadist teachings.
Even Coughlin supporters such as Frank Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, doubt that the Army reservist lawyer and expert on Islamic law will get his contract reinstated by the Joint Chiefs.
But Gaffney has urged members of Congress in both parties and others who care about the war on terror to make Coughlin “a cause célèbre” over the next two months.
Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., has taken that call seriously, and said last week that she was examining the possibility of holding congressional oversight hearings on Coughlin’s dismissal.
“We want to get to the bottom of this,” Myrick said. “This sounds like another example of someone protecting national security and being told to shut up,” she told Cybercast news service. “If we don’t get over being politically correct, we won’t be here as a country.”
Myrick co-chairs the bi-partisan House Anti-Terrorism Caucus with Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., which she started last year out of frustration that no one was educating the American people about the threat from Islamo-fascism.
“President Bush does not talk to the American people about the long-term threat of radical islamofascism infiltration in America,” she said.
Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz first revealed Coughlin’s firing, as well as Hesham Islam’s confrontation with him, in his “Inside the Ring” column in January.
Pentagon higher-ups then planted stories that Coughlin was fired because he had had unauthorized contacts with reporters, a charge that Gertz denied.
Coughlin writes in the introduction to his 333-page thesis that his research into the legal underpinnings of jihadi doctrine was inspired in part by a Dec. 1, 2005, speech by Gen. Peter Pace to the National Defense University, when Pace was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“To talk about how we are going to proceed, we need to understand the nature of the enemy,… [which] is different than any we have faced in the past,” Pace said.
“Remember Hitler. Remember he wrote 'Mein Kampf.' He said in writing exactly what his plan was, and we collectively ignored that to our great detriment,” Pace argued.
“Now, our enemies have said publicly on film, on the Internet, their goal is to destroy our way of life. No equivocation on their part. They’re not saying if you stay home, we will not come after you. They are saying their goal is to rid the Middle East of all foreigners. Then, overthrow all governments that are not friendly to them, which means every single one of those governments,” Pace said.
Coughlin argues in his thesis that the U.S. intelligence community is making a similar mistake today as it made in the 1930s, by not reading what the enemy has said and written about their goals.
Officers who have listened to Coughlin’s presentation on the Islamic underpinnings of the jihadist movement have come to his aid.
“The termination of Stephen Coughlin on the Joint Staff is an act of intellectual cowardice,” Lt. Col. Joseph C. Myers, Army adviser to the Air Command and Staff College, wrote on Jan. 5 public letter of support.
“Coughlin has briefed senior Marine Corps leaders and staff and has presented his thesis in various military education venues,” Myers wrote.
“We have spent much intellectual capital revamping and analyzing our own doctrine as it relates to counterinsurgency. It’s time we do our homework on the threat,” he added.
Former Army intelligence officer Jerome Gordon, who has discussed Coughlin’s thesis with former colleagues who have attended his briefings, told Newsmax that Hesham Islam is not Coughlin’s only enemy.
“If there is a cabal that is opposing him, it’s in the military intelligence community,” Gordon said. “Clearly, they have been cowed by the significant entrée provided by the U.S. government to leaders of Muslim Brotherhood fronts here in America.”
In a 153-slide PowerPoint presentation he uses to brief U.S. military officers headed for the Middle East, Coughlin criticizes analysts such as Harlan Ullman, a Washington Times columnist who boasts of his ties to Condoleezza Rice.
“And unlike the Nazis, these extremists lack a central, unifying ideology, come from many diverse movements and so far have not been inclined to develop a political theory for seizing political power,” Ullman wrote in a November 2007 column.
Coughlin called that statement a “non-sequitur,” and said that U.S. military officers had a “duty” to base their assessment on an objective analysis of the facts, not on assumptions or desires.
“If the Enemy in the War on Terror (WOT) states that he fights jihad in furtherance of Islamic causes… and Islamic law on jihad exists and is available in English… then Professionals with WOT responsibilities have an affirmative, personal, professional duty to know the enemy that includes ALL the knowable facts associated with the law of jihad,” Coughlin argued.
Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, believes that Coughlin’s firing lies “at a very serious fault line” in U.S. defense strategies.
“I don't understand why is there so much intellectual commotion about this matter in the West and in the US.,” Dr. Phares told Newsmax.
“Muslim scholars and historians agree that the theological texts have also a military dimension. In Islamic studies there is no debate about that. So why is there one in non-Muslim research and political circles, particularly in America? Major Coughlin was studying the texts used by the Jihadists to call for military action.”
While politicians might attempt to separate Islam from Jihad for their own purposes, Phares added, “the study of the theological roots of Jihad is something else, and that is an academic not a political issue.”
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