Courts & Crime

Army finds no evidence of poisoning plot at Fort Jackson

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A U.S. Army program at the center of a probe into allegations that Muslim translator trainees threatened to poison soldiers at Fort Jackson was moved to a post in Arizona last month.

Spokeswomen at both Fort Jackson and Fort Huachuca, Ariz., confirmed the program -- which trains non-citizen native speakers of languages such as Arabic and Farsi to become soldiers and translators -- has been relocated.

The Army refers to the program, begun in 2003, as 09 Lima.

Fort Huachuca, located about one hour south of Tucson near the Mexican border, is home to the Army Intelligence Corp.

Both Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton and Fort Jackson spokeswoman Karen Soule said the move was not because of the ongoing investigation.

"Having (the trainees) work side by side with interrogators and military intelligence officers increases realism in training and understanding by the soldiers how to work as a team," she said.

On Thursday, a report by the evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network and Fox News stated that five Muslim translators had been arrested at Fort Jackson in December for threatening to poison other soldiers. The Army has not reported making any arrests.

A statement Friday from the Army's Criminal Investigation Division confirmed an investigation into the allegations has been ongoing "for almost two months."

"But ... we have not found any credible information to substantiate the allegations," the statements said.

Pentagon officials referred further questions to Fort Jackson.

Fort Jackson officials said the allegations involved "potential verbal threats" and at no time were soldiers there in danger. They referred additional questions to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.

Efforts to reach officials at Fort Monroe were unsuccessful.

Sensitivity to terrorist attacks by Muslims in the military has been heightened since the Fort Hood shootings in November.

Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major serving as a psychiatrist, is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 30 others at the sprawling base outside Kileen, Texas.

Hasan is an American Muslima of Palestinian descent.

The Fort Jackson accusations came just weeks after the attack in Texas.

Fort Jackson is the Army's largest training facility, giving basic training to more than 50,000 male and female recruits. Its fort has 13 dining halls that serve about 40,000 hot meals daily.

One local law enforcement official who had been briefed on the investigation told The State the men were considered "malcontents" and "not Army material ."

Linton, the Fort Huachuca spokeswoman, said she had no firsthand knowledge of the investigation.

"But that sounds realistic to me," she said. "In every group of people, there are always a few malcontents. Some adapt (to the Army) better than others.

"But I work with 09 Limas, and they are some of the most dedicated, patriotic soldiers I've ever met," she added. "Hopefully this is an isolated incident and the Army will get to the bottom of it."

The participants are not U.S. citizens and speak their native Middle Eastern languages. They are given pre-basic training to learn American culture, Army culture and improve their English.

They then enter regular Army basic training and become soldiers, assisting in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan as interpreters and translators.

Trained interpreters and translators are much-needed by Army ground forces, and the 09 Limas receive up to $29,000 in bonuses and a fast track toward U.S. citizenship.

Linton had no figures for total number of participants in the program, but said fewer than 200 were in the present class. A June 2008 story in the Army Times said that about 1,260 people had been through the program at that time.