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Profile: Brian Hughes

Brian Hughes was a participant or observer in the following events:

Al Jazeera, the Arab news outlet, reports that US soldiers in Afghanistan may have been encouraged to proselytize the message of Christianity to native Afghani citizens, who are largely Muslim. Bibles written in Pashto and Dari, the country’s main languages, are also apparently being distributed by military chaplains. Al Jazeera has obtained video footage from Brian Hughes, a former soldier who shot documentary footage in Bagram during 2008. The film shows Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, the highest-ranking chaplain in Afghanistan, telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.” Hensley told the soldiers: “The special forces guys—they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.… Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.” Other footage shows Sergeant Jon Watt, who was then training to become a chaplain, giving thanks for the work that his church has done in getting Bibles printed and sent to Afghanistan. In the film, Watt told a Bible study class: “I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out.” It is uncertain whether the Bibles were ever distributed, but Hughes notes that none of the people he filmed spoke either Pashto or Dari. “They weren’t talking about learning how to speak Dari or Pashto, by reading the Bible and using that as the tool for language lessons,” Hughes says. “The only reason they would have these documents there was to distribute them to the Afghan people. And I knew it was wrong, and I knew that filming it… documenting it would be important.” US CENTCOM regulations expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice.” In the film, the chaplains seem to have found a way around that regulation. “Do we know what it means to proselytize?” Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to a gathering of soldiers. “It is General Order Number One,” an unidentified soldier replies. Watt interjects, “You can’t proselytize but you can give gifts.” Watt also mentions distributing Bibles during his service in Iraq. [Al Jazeera, 5/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Brian Hughes, Al Jazeera, Jon Watt, Emmit Furner, Gary Hensley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) withdraws a request to have the federal government approve two new Florida redistricting amendments. Under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989), the Justice Department (DOJ) must approve any redistricting changes made by Florida to make sure they do not diminish minority voting access. Amendments 5 and 6 were approved by 63 percent of Florida voters in November 2010, the same election that awarded Scott the governorship. The amendments impose new standards for legislators to follow for redistricting in 2012. Then-acting Secretary of State Dawn Roberts submitted the new standards to the DOJ for approval. Scott does not explain his withdrawal, but media reports speculate that he is working with Florida Republicans, who have challenged the new amendments in court. Scott replaced Roberts with former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the head of Protect Your Vote, an organization which led the opposition to Amendments 5 and 6. Scott only says: “One of the things that we’re looking at is the amendments that were passed, how they’re going to be implemented. We want to make sure that with regard to redistricting, it’s fair, it’s the right way of doing it. So it’s something I’m clearly focused on.” Of Browning, he says, “My agents will do everything we can to make sure it’s fairly done.” The Florida Department of State denies any involvement by Browning in the decision to withdraw the request. Scott’s spokesman Brian Hughes says, “This withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and Congressional districts.” Florida Democrats say Scott is attempting to delay or block implementation of the amendments. Fair Districts Now, the organization that proposed the amendments, issues a statement accusing Scott of trying to subvert the will of the people. It says: “Within its first days in power, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, took extraordinary steps to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of Florida voters who voted for redistricting reform in Florida. On, November 2, 63 percent of Florida voters amended the Florida Constitution to include new non-partisan redistricting standards. When new laws affect voting as these do, the Voting Rights Act requires that the standards be reviewed and ‘pre-cleared’ by the Justice Department (DOJ). It is the duty of the state to request DOJ pre-clearance. Governor Crist ordered that a formal request for pre-clearance be filed. The Florida secretary of state’s office filed that request on December 10, 2010. On January 7, 2011, as one of its first acts, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, in an apparent attempt to thwart the will of the voters, wrote to DOJ withdrawing the amendments from review.” Fair Districts Now may sue Florida to have the new standards reviewed by the DOJ. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich says Scott should follow the “will of the voters,” and adds: “The governor got elected with 48 percent and he calls that a mandate. I think that the amendment passing with 63 percent is definitely a mandate.” NAACP board member Leon Russell, who supports the two amendments, says Scott is abusing his power “to prevent implementation of these needed reforms.” Regardless of what is and is not done, the redistricting plans will have to receive “pre-clearance” under the VRA before being implemented. Scott does not inform the media of his withdrawal, and reporters do not learn of it until almost the end of January. Scott makes the withdrawal three days after being sworn in as governor. [Miami Herald, 1/25/2011; The Ledger, 1/25/2011; Florida Independent, 1/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Leon Russell, Dawn Roberts, Charles Joseph (“Charlie”) Crist, Jr, Brian Hughes, Fair Districts Now, Kurt Browning, Protect Your Vote, Rick Scott, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nan Rich, Florida Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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