In a special ceremony, the Pentagon recently promoted a Wahhabi-trained Muslim chaplain who catered to al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo and fought to establish the first mosque in Marine Corps history.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England personally promoted Navy chaplain Abuhena Mohammed Saifulislam from lieutenant to lieutenant commander. Saifulislam also received a Joint Service Commendation Medal at the Pentagon ceremony held on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Pentagon officials say the ceremony was unprecedented.
"It's unusual for a deputy secretary to personally promote an officer of that rank," said one official who wished to go unnamed. "No one has known of such a high-level dignitary doing that."
England also earlier this year personally dedicated a new Islamic center at Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va., on the advice of Saifulislam, a Bangladesh immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 1995.
The Muslim chaplain, who is stationed at Quantico, recited verses from the Quran in Arabic and English at the summer dedication ceremony, which included representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, several leaders of which have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.
Saifulislam, which is Arabic for "Sword of Islam," received his religious training at a radical Islamic school raided by federal agents after 9/11.
The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, based in Leesburg, Va., is run by Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Sami al-Arian terror case. A federal affidavit used to obtain a warrant to search the school alleges Al-Alwani gave at least $50,000 in jihad money "to support suicide bombings."
Saifulislam insists he is moderate and condemns "terrorism," but critics say his Wahhabi background and associations should give the Pentagon pause.
"The Pentagon is giving him a permanent, taxpayer-supported platform from which to convert grunts to Islam," said terror expert Paul Sperry, a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington."
"With the Quantico mosque, the Pentagon is facilitating the study of the holy text the enemy uses, heretically or not, as their manual of warfare."
Saifulislam's promotion along with the dedication of his new Quantico mosque – the first of its kind in the 230-year history of the Corps – comes on the heels of a Muslim spy scandal at Gitmo involving another Muslim chaplain.
Army Capt. James "Yousef" Yee, who ministered to al-Qaida detainees, was charged with mishandling classified information. Yee, a convert to Islam, quit the Army and the charges were dropped. But two of his Muslim military friends at Gitmo were convicted of espionage-related crimes.
Yee's predecessor at Gitmo was Saifulislam, who was first assigned to the terrorist prison camp after 9/11. While at the Cuban base, the Navy imam privately counseled al-Qaida prisoners in their native tongues of Urdu and Arabic. "I must give hope for them to cope," Saifulislam said at the time.
He set up the diet and prayer regimes for the detainees, recommending they be served halal meals – including traditional dates and lamb – prepared according to Islamic dietary law. Gitmo detainees can now choose from a menu of 113 Muslim-appropriate meals.
In addition, Saifulislam saw to it that detainees receive copies of the Quran and have access to prayer beads and skull caps. Saifulislam also set up a program to train guards to be more sensitive to the religious customs of their Muslim prisoners.