Center for Strategic Communication

Two members of Congress want to know why Army Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley, above, wasn’t allowed to continue teaching his class on Islam at the Joint Forces Staff College. Photo: Thomas Moore Law Center

Two members of Congress want to know if the U.S. military’s top officer was too hasty in effectively ending the career of an Army lieutenant colonel who taught a controversial course on Islam.

Before Army Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley taught that U.S. military should consider using “Hiroshima tactics” for a “total war” on Islam, which prompted Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to cancel the elective course Dooley taught at the Joint Forces Staff College in Virginia (JFSC), Dooley didn’t have a blemish on his service record. But in a recent letter to Dempsey, Reps. Thomas Rooney (R-Florida) and Duncan Hunter (R-California), say that the black mark Dooley received after the course was canceled all but pushes Dooley out of the Army.

“We would like to know why the DoD [Department of Defense] was compelled to further discipline LTC Dooley by jeopardizing his reputation and his future in the service,” Rooney and Hunter write in a letter first reported by the Washington Times. “We respectfully request a response addressing why suspending the JFSC elective was not the final course of action in this matter, or any information and/or actions the DoD considered in issuing LTC Dooley a negative OER,” or Officer Evaluation Report.

A spokesman for Dempsey, Marine Col. David Lapan, said the chairman would respond directly to the legislators and declined to speak for this story.

Dempsey shut down Dooley’s elective course in the spring, as Danger Room first reported, after his staff learned about it from an officer at the college who complained about the course’s subject matter. The course mused about the U.S. military targeting “civilian populations whenever necessary” as part of a war provoked by Muslims; mooted the destruction of Islamic holy cities; and described Islam as a “barbaric ideology,” rather than a religion. Marine Lt. Gen. George Flynn, Dempsey’s deputy for military education, called Dooley’s course “inflammatory” and ordered an investigation into how the Joint Forces Staff College permitted it to be taught. Dempsey, a former chief of Army training and doctrine, said the course was “totally objectionable, against our values and it wasn’t academically sound.”

By contrast, Dooley’s lawyers believe that the Pentagon cowardly shut down an attempt by Dooley to teach officers across the military services that “there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam.’” They’ve portrayed Dooley as a First Amendment martyr: A recent press release accuses Dempsey of compromising “the final bastion of America’s defense against Islamic jihad and sharia, the Pentagon” to “the enemy.” While Dooley’s lawyers threaten legal action against Dempsey, Lapan says no lawsuit has been filed against the chairman.

It seems that the legislators aren’t going as far as Dooley’s lawyers. Their letter doesn’t make a case about the propriety of what Dooley taught; it’s more concerned about whether Dooley received too harsh a pusnishment. In a military with an “up or out” promotions model, negative evaluations can put an officer’s career on ice.

“Right or wrong, it’s one thing for the Army the suspend the elective,” Hunter tells Danger Room, “but the fact that Colonel Dooley is now facing serious disciplinary action is an excessive overreach among his superiors.”

The legislators, both of whom sit on the House Armed Services Committee, aren’t committed to any further action in Dooley’s defense. They’re waiting for Dempsey’s response first.