U.S. Army is Looking for a Few Good Rabbis

The story of Rabbi Jeff Goldman, like the friendly fire incident that killed Pat Tillman, is a story the U.S. Army appears reluctant to tell.

Canadian Jeff Goldman, an ordained rabbi, was invited to serve as a U.S. Army Chaplain at the grade of Captain upon his graduation from rabbinical studies in the United States. He had been in the United States on a Green Card, and a Canadian citizen, Rabbi Goldman received a temporary waiver of U.S. citizenship requirements to enter the Army. His U.S. military service began in January 2001.

It ended in January 2002.

After 9-11, Captain Goldman raised concerns about discrimination, harassment and demeaning remarks and behavior directed against him, and more significantly, against his faith. He was being harassed and demeaned by Christian fundamentalist chaplains and military officers at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He raised these concerns through channels, in the proper manner.

Naturally, we all know that the U.S. Army doesn’t discriminate, that there is equal opportunity regardless of race and religion, and the U.S. Army is a secular organization.

Not like the U.S. Air Force, of course. The Air Force Academy suffered months of bad publicity and has recently been sued by an academy graduate and others, alleging religious discrimination by Christian fundamentalists in uniform and within the system.

Admittedly, the U.S. Army has been under a cloud of Christian fundamentalist zealotry with the very public existence of Lt. General William "Jerry" Boykin, currently Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. General "My God is bigger than your God" Boykin has put forth the idea that the one true (and Army sanctioned) religion is his own.

When Rabbi Goldman departed the U.S. Army, before his term of duty had ended, he consulted with his military superiors and was told he could depart and separate from the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, the proper paperwork was not completed. Needless to say, the Army’s own investigation of Rabbi Goldman’s complaints was concluded in a way favorable to the Army. The U.S. Army believes that no discrimination occurred, and that Rabbi Goldman was just imagining that Jews and other non-fundamentalist Christians were being treated disrespectfully and badly.

Meanwhile — as Joseph Heller so beautifully captured in Catch-22 — the U.S. Army also realizes it has a shortage of rabbis to serve its Jewish military population. Rabbi Goldman has still not been replaced at Fort Stewart, currently lacking a rabbi for the sizeable military community there. Elsewhere in the Army, the pressing need for rabbis has been met by the use of non-ordained Jewish cantors.

Thus, the U.S. Army has filed charges of Absent Without Leave (AWOL) against Rabbi Goldman, who has returned to Canada. Notwithstanding personal requests by Canadian Parliamentarian the Honorable Dan McTeague, the U.S. Army demands that Rabbi Goldman return immediately to the United States to face these charges.

Joseph Heller must be looking down on us, laughing, as I write this, because he knows exactly what I am going to say next. Rabbi Goldman’s Green Card expired January 7, 2002. Rabbi Goldman’s service waiver expired January 7, 2003. Thus, for Rabbi Goldman to satisfy the Army he will need to cross the U.S. border illegally and remain illegally in this country until he has faced the Army’s charges against him.

Goldman is not a U.S. citizen, and is currently ineligible to serve in the U.S. Army in any capacity. Further, he could be arrested upon his return to Fort Stewart. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, after his arrest could then be sent without further charges to Guantanamo, where he could be detained without access to any legal help or media exposure for as long as our Dear Leader (President George W. Bush, of course!) desires.

The Guantanamo solution for Rabbi Goldman works, because Gitmo is the main place we send captured foreigners against whom we have no significant legal case and are unwilling to press charges, but simultaneously can’t agree to release to their native countries. Goldman would probably be the only Jewish detainee at Guantanamo, but I imagine he’d have much in common with the largely Muslim population behind bars in that infamous detention center. Perhaps he could even be interrogated about some purported crime against the United States. There would be plenty of time to get any number of confessions.

Captain Yossarian would certainly appreciate the current situation of Rabbi Goldman, in all its depth and breadth. One imagines that Yossarian would chuckle and begin to look for the most profitable angle.

Beyond a simple Catch-22, something far more wicked then bureaucratic bungling seems to be at play in the fields of the Department of Defense. Lack of DoD accountability for its mistakes is nothing new, and each day brings fresh hell in this regard. But when constitutional protections of employees are systematically trampled or ignored (whether concerning whistleblowers on intelligence and procedure, or religious intolerance and promotion of Christian evangelicalism in the U.S. military), we have a problem. When the U.S. military trades common sense and a Common Law tradition for a neo-Napoleonic Code of aggressive, autocratic State accusations against the presumed guilty, we have a problem.

Thus far, the U.S. Army demands that Rabbi Goldman return to face charges, even as they recognize his return to this country will require him to violate U.S. immigration laws. If this weren’t a true story, involving real people, it would be hilarious, preciously suited to an Abbott and Costello routine.

But it isn’t an Abbott and Costello routine. This is what you get with an out-of-control Leviathan state, led by zealots who obtusely confuse religious association with righteousness and good works.

Rabbi Goldman’s case, in many ways, parallels that of thousands of others detained or charged in absentia by the current American government. Again, Guantanamo and America’s gulag of detention centers around the world come to mind.

Perhaps this is the real reason the U.S. Army cannot practice common sense and leave Rabbi Goldman alone. Decriminalizing Rabbi Goldman might be the one legal precedent that could topple the house of cards this administration has contrived regarding the charging and detention of other innocent foreigners who just want to go home.

Note: Rabbi Jeff Goldman may be reached at [email protected].