Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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The US army in Afghanistan has burned bibles printed in local languages, a US colonel in Afghanistan has said, amid concerns they could have been used to try to convert Afghans.
"My understanding is that the [military] leadership confiscated these bibles so that they could not be distributed around Afghanistan, Colonel Greg Julian told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
"It was their best judgement at the time, that the best way to deal with it, was to destroy them and I understand that they were burnt."
Al Jazeera broadcast footage earlier this month showing troops apparently discussing how best to convert Afghans to their faith.
'Hunt them down'
Some of the soldiers who appeared in the video have been reprimanded, US government and military officials told Al Jazeera correspondent James Bays.
The video, shot about a year ago, appeared to show military chaplains stationed in the US air base at Bagram discussing how to distribute copies of the Bible printed in the country's main Pashto and Dari languages.
In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, tells soldiers that, as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him".
"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus ... we hunt them down," he said.
"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."
'Out of context'
Questioned about the footage earlier in the month, Julian told Al Jazeera: "Most of this is taken out of context ... this is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism.
"This footage was taken a year ago ... the Bibles were taken into custody and not distributed.
"There is no effort to go out and proselytize to Afghans."
The military said a soldier at Bagram received the Bibles and did not realise he was not allowed to hand them out.
"It's not a preference but, under the circumstances, the leadership made the best decision that they could to ensure that they weren't distrubted among the Afghan population.
"So, unfortunately, this is the route that we went," he said.
Regulations by the US military's central command expressly forbid "proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice".
But in the footage chaplains appear to understand their actions were in breach of regulations
"Do we know what it means to proselytize?" Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, said to the gathering.
"It is General Order Number One," an unidentified soldier replied. "You can't proselytize, but you can give gifts", another said.
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