It might have been meant as a joke, but it became a gaffe that placed former Nebraska United States Senator and current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a negative light nationally.
After his policy speech at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Hagel took questions.
The first to step to the microphone and ask a question was an assistant professor at the university, Robin Gandhi, who is Indian and has dark skin.
“You’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?” Hagel asked.
After a long pause, Gandhi asked his question.
AUDIO: Sec. of Defense Hagel asks, “You’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?”
Pentagon spokesman George Little quickly issued a statement.
“Following a question related to the Taliban, the Secretary made an off-the-cuff joke before the next questioner was called or selected at an appearance at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Absolutely no slight toward any individual in the audience was intended. That’s the last thing the Secretary would do under any circumstance, in this or any other setting. He didn’t know who would be called next to pose a question.”
After the remark gained traction nationally, Gandhi even issued a written statement through the UNO communications department.
“I was honored to attend Secretary of Defense Hagel’s speech on Wednesday. I was able to ask a question, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his answer. Before I rose to ask a question, there was apparently some confusion that did not involve me.”