First Lieutenant Ize Alimi is the second Muslim African-American first lieutenant with a previously exemplary record facing discharge from the Army at Fort Polk, Louisiana. This stands in sharp contrast with a March 2020 Officer Evaluation Report (OER) recommendation that he be promoted to captain. And that, in turn reminds us that discrimination in the military hurts the military as well as those being discriminated against.
Alimi’s case is in some ways even more striking than that of First Lt. Khadijah X, who was accused of posing a terrorist threat after she changed her last name from Simmons to X (my Salon story here). But both reflect the same underlying reality, described by Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is representing both of them.
"Tragically, there exists inside the Department of Defense (DoD) an unconstitutionally pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of systemic anti-Islamic oppression at all levels of the chain of command.” Weinstein said in a press release. “1Lt. Ize Alimi is another victim of this evil as is 1Lt Khadijah X. What generally fuels this unbridled hatred, bigotry and prejudice within DoD is fundamentalist Christian nationalism, supremacy, exceptionalism and exclusivity."
Lt. Alimi’s problems stem from a hostile command environment, using a bogus accusation of an anti-gay slur (refuted by two eye-witnesses and a gay character witness) to in turn generate a harshly negative OER that egregiously violated regulations, and should have been expunged. The fact that it hasn’t been highlights a grave problem for the Army as well as for Muslim service members, particularly those who are Black, foreign-born, or both.
The press release—from MRFF and CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)—announced a letter sent to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, seeking an immediate review of Alimi’s case, and suspension of his discharge pending that review. Almost immediately, there was good news. Fort Polk’s commander, Brigadier General David Doyle, appointed an official investigating officer for an Equal Opportunity complaint Alimi had filed on June 1. “Maybe I will finally get justice!” He wrote in an email to MRFF. “This is not a coincidence! I have not heard anything about the complaint in a week…. I believe that the right people in the US Army Higher Echelon received the clear message that MRFF along with CAIR conveyed today.”
Weinstein was more cautious, however. “That may very well just be a CYA—cover your ass—kind of thing,” he told Crooks and Liars.
Two things make Alimi’s case particularly striking: his rise through the ranks and the clearly illegitimate nature of the attacks against him. A native of Benin, in West Africa, Alimi moved to the United States in 2008, learned to speak English, enlisted in the Army in 2013, rose to the rank of sergeant in two years, and graduated from Officer Candidate School two years after that. On March 13, 2019 his military future looked bright. That's the date he received a positive OER (Officer Evaluation Report) which said, "1LT Alimi has shown tremendous development in a challenging role....actively prepares himself for future positions of increased responsibility....possesses potential to lead Soldiers and accomplish the commander's intent.... Promote and school with peers.”
But all that changed quite suddenly the next month. His next OER was harshly negative, seeming to describe a completely different person, and clearly intended to end his career: “[H]is personal values do not align with the Army Values…. Do not promote, do not put in charge of soldiers.” It also appears to have been improperly done—by the wrong raters, over the wrong time period, with an improper motive—and profoundly mistaken in light of his next OER, which said, “He has unlimited potential to continue to excel and advance within the Army. Promote to Captain and send to Captains' Career Course in preparation for company command.” The OER made no mention of the Army Achievement Medal he earned at that time, but blatantly lied in the “Achieves” section: “1LT Alimi can be trusted to accomplish only the most basic tasks.”
In March 2019, when he got his previous positive OER, LT Alimi was working at the brigade level. “We get data from battalion and we send it to division and I was in charge of doing that,” he explained. “We had issues with one battalion that constantly failed to send their report on time. And I kind of put them on blast a couple of times...and the officer in charge of that shop didn't like it.”
There was nothing personal, as far as Lt. Alimi was concerned. But, that’s not how it was taken. On April 2, “I was transferred to the batallion I had issues with. So, basically, I was given to my enemies,” he said. In a statement included in the letter to Secretary Wormuth, he described what happened: “During my first encounter with MAJ
Lt. Alimi tried to adjust. “I was new in the unit, the leadership didn't like me, I was having some issues with my peers, at the time, and they were spreading bad--they started tarnishing my image,” he said. “So I tend to let everybody know that I'm approachable, I'm easygoing, I'm open-minded, but there is a strong line that you don't cross. You don't disrespect me.”
But one PFC (private first class) repeatedly did disrespect him. “I used to see her in the hallway, every time we work, and she won't say anything, just pass by,” he said. When he was an enlisted man, “The way our leadership would train us, when you see somebody, when you're an E4 you see an E5, you give them the greeting of the day, you show respect.” He let it slide a few times, but then, “I corrected her. She didn't like my correction.”
The next week, at the end of a day’s work, a group of soldiers were talking, looking forward to going home for summer leave. One soldier said, “he didn't want to go home, because his only cousin that was left at home was homosexual, and he didn't like the way he act,” Lt. Alimi recalled. After some back-and-forth “He asked did we have homosexuals in Africa…. I told him, that yeah, we do have homosexuals in Africa, but it's not as open in the Western society. You can't be open[ly] gay. People will get—they will kill you. They will send you to jail. So that's what I explained to him.”
He didn’t think much about it at the time, but, “A couple of weeks later, I could feel that something was off. I didn't know what they were up to.” Then, “On May 27, almost a month later, I just got a call, saying that a month earlier I made some comments, some slur against homosexuals… It just blew my mind. I saw that they conducted a biased investigation. They knew what they were looking for, they knew how they were going to make it happen, and that's what they did. We fought as hard as we could, to no avail.”
A Bogus Charge, A Bogus Investigation
As noted in the letter to Secretary Wormuth, “The PFC’s sworn statement has been directly and specifically contradicted by” statements from two eyewitnesses and a gay character witness. Specifically:
-another 2LT’s sworn statement that “On April 30 2019, during Company EXEVALS at Hohenfels, I was present for the conversation between 1LT Alimi, SGT Harris, PFC Karr and PFC Moore in the tent next to the Expando van. During that conversation, 1LT Alimi never used any derogatory language regarding sexual orientation, such as ‘gay’ or ‘faggot.’”
-a sworn statement by a Specialist (SPC) in the unit that another first-hand witness to the incident told them that “I don’t remember him [1LT Alimi] using the word ‘Faggot’ or ‘Fag’ or saying negative things against homosexuals. All I remember is that he talked about homosexuals in Africa and how they were treated.”
-an extremely positive character statement from a SGT who described themselves as “an open member of the LGBTQ+ community who has personally worked with 1LT Alimi, I have never known him to say anything disrespectful or hurtful about an LGBTQ+ member.”
To find someone guilty with so much evidence to contrary seems ludicrous. But even if it weren’t, what happened as a result was not just outside the norms of military discipline, but an apparent violation of military regulations.
In an attachment to the letter to Lt. Alimi called attention to “a lack of equity in disciplinary actions between white/ American Born Soldiers and Foreign Born Soldiers,” going on to say:
For instance, while stationed in Germany, an American Born Hispanic Officer (2LT) received a GOMOR [General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand] and a referred OER for a DUI.. He admitted to drunk driving. A little after, the GOMOR was removed from his files (They claimed that the GOMOR served its purposes). He used the GOMOR removal Memorandum to remove the negative OER and got promoted to First Lieutenant. He is a Captain today, whereas I have been denied the rank of Captain for a Comment that I never made 3 years ago. Again he admitted to drunk driving.
But his treatment wasn’t just discriminatory, it apparently violated Army regulations regarding OERs in multiple ways, as he explained in a detailed email to Crooks and Liars. OERs “are independent assessments of how well the rated Soldier met duty requirements and adhered to the professional standards of the Army’s Officer Corps within the period covered by the report.” They are carried out by designated rating officials (rater, intermediate rater, and senior rater) as published in a document known as a rating scheme “showing rated soldiers, their rating officials, and the effective date on which the rating officials assumed their role,” as well the “THRU date,” meaning the ending date of the period covered.
Lt. Alimi went on to say an OER accepted into a soldiers human resource record “is presumed to—
(1) Be administratively correct.
(2) Have been prepared by the proper rating officials.
(3) Represent the considered opinion and objective judgment of the rating officials at the time of preparation.”
But none of those conditions were met. The officers who rated him, “MAJ (Major) Adam C. Keller and LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) John Morris were not proper rating officials,” he wrote, providing a copy of the rating scheme listing MAJ James R. Antonides and LTC Matthew J. Cole as his rater and senior rater respectively.
The rating period was also wrong, in a more complicated way. He was interviewed on May 27, 2019, and suspended from duty, which made him ineligible for being rated after that. So May 27 should have been his THRU date. Instead, they used a THRU date of July 3, in order to meet a set of requirements for what’s known as a “Senior Rater Option report”:
(1) The senior rater has served in that position for at least 60 calendar days.
(2) The rater meets the minimum 90-day requirement
(3) The Soldier has not received an OER or NCOER in the preceding 90 calendar days.”
But on May 27, he had only been with the unit for 56 days—so neither of the first two conditions could be met. And his previous OER THRU date was 82 days earlier, so the third condition wasn’t met, either. The THRU date of July 3 solved all these problems—but it violated the more basic requirement that he be performing his duties throughout the whole period.
“The purpose of the SR-Option report is to prevent an Officer record from going without an OER due to transfer of personnel,” LT. Alimi explained. “The regulation does not contemplate that this Senior Rater Option OER type would be used in cases of misconduct or relief because a code 5 OER is mandatory in those cases. A code 05, “Relief for Cause” OER, is required when an officer is relieved for cause, regardless of the rating period involved.”
There were a slew of additional problems Lt. Alimi spelled out (including bias and conflict of interest regulations) as if these aren’t enough to make your head spin. His efforts to redress the situation were thwarted by further violations:
My former unit (1-3rd Aviation Reconnaissance Battalion, 12TH Combat Aviation Brigade) intentionally deleted the rating scheme of July 2019 that could help remove the OER from my files and claimed that it could not be found. I requested the rating scheme within the two years that It was supposed to be kept.
Andy Kasehagen, dubbed MRFF's ‘Baron of Bureaucracy’, has extensive experience in labor law, administrative law and personnel compensation and evaluation systems. The military evaluation system is just one of many he's familiar with. He read Lt. Alimi’s account, and had some additional thoughts.
“Based on my own experience (17 yrs. civilian local government) with personnel evaluation systems, there are numerous small red flags here, and one huge red flag in how this personnel evaluation process was applied in situation,” Kasehagen said:
Huge red flag: employee requirements and standards do not exist with the goal of bureaucratic ‘busy work’ to justify jobs, but to keep/correct/improve/inspire employees… (termination should be the last use of the oer employee evaluation tool… it’s an incredibly expensive waste of sunk costs [recruitment/hiring/training] and highly disruptive in any organization…labor economics 101).
The investigation timing and Alimi’s immediate removal from assigned duties are clues that this was intended from the get-go as a rapid termination and not to keep/correct/improve/inspire 1LT Alimi.
He went on to say that the raters “drove the negative OER by conducting what was obviously a ‘Relief For Cause OER’ (designed for quick terminations due to SERIOUS employee violations of requirements/standards that could damage the organization) while calling it unethically and possibly illegally a ‘Senior Rater Option OER’ (designed for use to monitor compliance with requirements/standards that may have been identified as needing improvement by the employee in previous reviews).”
If they’d been honest, and called it a ‘Relief For Cause OER,’ that would have given him the opportunity to directly challenge accusations, Kasehagen explained. “This was done clearly in my opinion to speed a pre-determined objective (i.e. Get Alimi Gone) before he could make any fuss or legal challenge,” he said. “I see ulterior motives here, not an attempt to achieve the organizational goal to create and maintain the most lethally efficient protection of our national security possible.”
This is precisely what Lt. Alimi’s civilian attorney, Marshall Griffin, argued in a document Kasehagen then quoted from:
“1LT Alimi now sees that his prior command was not operating in good faith. Their decision to use an optional code 8 SR Option OER rather than the mandatory code 5 Relief for Cause OER shows that. They did not have a lawful choice here, but they chose anyway. Policy mandates one and gives an option for the other. There is simply no basis in law or policy to choose the code 5 under these circumstances. When you combine their actions with the loss of due process, you get bad faith.”
In light of all this, “We not only want him reinstated,” Weinstein said. “But we want those who perpetrated bigotry and this prejudice and hatred to be investigated and aggressively prosecuted.”
But something more should be done as well. MRFF put together a table comparing the three OER’s Lt. Alimi received between March 2019 and March 2020. The negative one differs strikingly from the two highly positive ones, not just in what it has to say, but in how it says it. The specific, detailed nature of positive evaluations stands in stark contrast with the negative one, which repeatedly mentions the alleged gay slur and/or makes broad derogatory claims, such as the example cited above, the blatantly false “Achieves” section entry “1LT Alimi can be trusted to accomplish only the most basic tasks,” that ignored the Army Achievement Medal he earned at that time, These differences can be explained by seeing it as an accusatory Relief for Cause OER, but that’s not what it pretended to be. Read as an SR Option OER, it stands out like a sore thumb. The content casts Lt. Alimi in a very bad light, but the form casts the raters in a bad light as well. Alarm bells should have gone off. A high-level review should have been triggered automatically, because the Army itself was being harmed, as well as Lt. Alimi. As Kasehagen noted, “it’s an incredibly expensive waste of sunk costs.”
The military is absolutely right to see diversity as a source of strength and added value—especially at the higher ranks. A more diverse leadership will see a wider range of possibilities—opportunities as well as threats. Everyone will benefit as a result. When minorities are being discriminated against, everyone is being made to suffer—we just may not see it yet. And that’s precisely the problem that the military needs to fix.