The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh alleged in a speech in Qatar that key branches of the U.S. military are being led by Christian fundamentalist "crusaders" who are determined to "turn mosques into cathedrals."
Hersh was speaking at the Doha campus of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service earlier this week. He made the comments while discussing a forthcoming book he is writing. A writer for Foreign Policy magazine attended the event and reported his remarks.
"What I'm really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over," Hersh said.
He said that the attitude that "pervades" a large portion of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is part of the military's special forces branch and which has carried out secret missions to kill American targets, is one that supports "[changing] mosques into cathedrals."
Hersh also said that Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before his tenure as the top general in Afghanistan, as well as his successor and many other JSOC members, "are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta." Blake Hounsell, the reporter for Foreign Policy, speculated that Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Catholic organization.
"Many of them are members of Opus Dei," Hersh said. "They do see what they're doing...it's a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They're protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function."
He also criticized President Obama, saying, "Just when we needed an angry black man, we didn't get one."
The Washington Post asked Hersh about his comments after getting a denial from McChrystal that he was a part of the Knights of Malta.
"I'm comfortable with the idea that there is a great deal of fundamentalism in JSOC," Hersh said. "It's growing and it's empirical...there is an incredible strain of Christian fundamentalism, not just Catholic, that's part of the military." He said the "angry black man" comment was a joke which the audience laughed at.
The Post also talked to New Yorker editor David Remnick, who said, "Sy is one of the greatest reporters the country has ever known, and that is all I need to know about him."