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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Outrage, Investigation, ...

Cover-up? We are intrigued by the follow up to this Miami Herald story picked up by Knight Ridder. An army chaplain in Iraq would allow soldiers to bathe themsleves if they listened to some religious teaching and agreed to be baptized.

Outrage as described by the WaPO.

Army explanation, cover-up, or whatever.

Now, I am getting this from what seems to be a Baptist news service, and I cannot find the Army statement to which they refer. At this point, I assume the Miami Herald "embed" will stand by her story. After that, who knows?

UPDATE: Over at Indymedia, a reader posts this response from theoffice of the Chief of Chaplains:

Based on your earlier inquiry about the report of CH Llano, a US Army Chaplain, I wanted to offer you the following information. Thank you for your concern and interest. I hope this reassures you about the expectations of the Army and work of Army chaplains.

The free exercise of religion is a foundational issue to us in the chaplaincy. In fact, we first became aware of this at about 9:30 pm last Thursday, and by 10:00 pm that night, the Chief of Chaplains requested additional information. The Army respects and actively accommodates the religious practices of all soldiers. In accordance with the practices of many Baptist traditions, the Army provides water for full-body immersion baptisms when it is available.

Based on news reports and questions from members of the media, the Office of the Chief of Chaplains requested additional details on the accuracy of the quotations and the nature of the actions performed by an Army chaplain while in Iraq. There are some factual problems with the article. There have been tens of thousands of water produced each day at the Corps Support Base and readily available to soldiers for all personal hygiene, drinking water, and enough to allot water for a baptismal pool during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Army does not condone religious coercion. The chain-of-command, supported by the Chaplain Corps, ensures that soldiers are free to exercise their religious beliefs. The local commander has direct knowledge of the chaplain's action and has very high regard for the work of the chaplain.

Access to water was never used in any way as a bribe for baptism. Chaplain Llano states he did not offer any quotes or statements in response to questions by the reporter. He indicates she overheard conversations he had with another officer and these were presented as quotations. The supervisory chaplain has direct knowledge of the chaplain's actions and indicates the religious activities described by the reporter are attended by the choice of the soldiers. The Joint Force Land Component Commander in Kuwait has received no complaints of religious coercion from soldiers in the field.

The threshold for concern about protecting the free exercise is extremely low. Chaplains have performed their religious rites, sacraments and ordinances representing the faith group which sends them and provide for the religious support of all soldiers. The Chief of Chaplains affirms and commends the chaplains, chaplain assistants and directors of religious education deployed with US soldiers providing religious support at the risk of their lives.

Chaplain (Lt Col) Eric Webster
Office of the Chief of Chaplains

Emphasis added. Iraq is not all desert, we might recall.

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