Sen. Cotton Asks Pentagon Why Airman Who Self-Immolated Was Allowed To Serve

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has questioned why the Pentagon allowed an active-duty airman, who set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington on Feb. 25, to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin dated Feb. 28, Mr. Cotton sought answers from the Department of Defense (DOD) over the incident.

“You have made it a top priority to address ‘extremism’ amongst our total force, and this act of horrific violence—in support of a terrorist group—raises serious questions about how this individual was allowed to serve on active duty,” Mr. Cotton wrote.

Aaron Bushnell, 25, a member of the U.S. Air Force, self-immolated in protest against Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip that followed the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas.

Before setting himself on fire, he said he would “no longer be complicit in genocide” and would therefore “engage in an extreme act of protest,” repeating the phrase “free Palestine.”

The man passed away as a result of his severe injuries.

In a press release, Mr. Cotton said Mr. Bushnell’s actions show that he “obviously harbored extreme, anti-American views.”

sen cotton asks pentagon why airman who self immolated was allowed to serve

Mr. Cotton asked the DOD to provide information if its anti-extremism training program “addresses support for Islamic terrorist groups like Hamas.” He also wanted to know whether the airman showed any “extremist leanings” or “concerning behavior” before the self-immolation incident and if the DOD took any action to deal with such a concern.

The senator from Arkansas also wanted to know if the Pentagon found any Islamic terrorist support groups within the department and whether any service members were involved in anti-Israeli protests that violated DOD regulations on restricted political activities.

Mr. Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, asked if the man had access to classified information that undermined U.S. national security. The senator set a March. 7 deadline for the DOD to answer his questions.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.

The self-immolation incident comes more than four months into the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, which began in response to the Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel by the Hamas terrorist group. The attack killed 1,200 Israeli civilians and security personnel.

According to the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Bushnell was a cyber defense operations specialist for the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. He had been on active duty since May 2020.

The Air Force sent condolences to Mr. Bushnell’s family after the incident. “When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell,” Col. Celina Noyes, commander of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, said in a statement on Monday.

The incident happened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks cabinet approval for a military operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza, while a temporary cease-fire deal is being negotiated. Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, however, has drawn criticism, including allegations of genocide against Palestinians.

Israel has adamantly denied the genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in accordance with international law.

It is not the first self-immolation incident related to anti-Israel protests. Last December, a man also set himself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at the time that it was “an act of extreme political protest” and did not believe it was connected to terrorism.

Polls Show Majority of Americans Support Israel

Israel is a longtime U.S. ally and receives billions of dollars in military support annually from Washington. Since the start of the war, the Biden administration has been actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to prevent the conflict from escalating into a wider regional war.

A January poll by Gallup found that nearly 4 in 10 Americans—38 percent—think that Washington provides Israel with the right amount of support, 36 percent say that U.S. support is too much, and 24 percent say it’s too little. Regarding Palestinians, 31 percent of Americans think that they get the right level of support, and 33 percent say it’s too little.

According to another Gallup poll in November, 50 percent of Americans approved of Israel’s military operation against Hamas, and 45 percent disapproved. A poll by the Harris Poll and HarrisX in October showed that most Americans were in favor of Israel in the war and opposed the Hamas terrorist group. Eighty-four percent of Americans sided with Israel in the war, while 16 percent sided with Hamas.

Authored by Aaron Pan via The Epoch Times February 29th 2024