General’s linking of religion, war draws fire

WASHINGTON — Remarks by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin casting the war on terrorism in religious terms drew rebukes Thursday from politicians and military specialists and calls from religious groups for his reassignment or reprimand.

But the Pentagon’s top military commander defended Boykin, saying he didn’t think any military rules had been broken.

The controversy followed “NBC Nightly News” and Los Angeles Times reports citing Boykin, an evangelical Christian, speaking in uniform to church audiences over the past two years. He spoke of Islamic extremists hating the United States because “we’re a Christian nation,” adding that our “spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

Boykin spoke in the Midlands on June 28 and 29 at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, Pastor Dick Lincoln said Thursday.

He told about his experiences in the military, said Lincoln, who was unaware of Boykin’s making comments similar to those that have drawn criticism.

“He didn’t say anything like that. I honestly don’t think he said anything like that,” Lincoln said.

A much-decorated veteran of covert military operations, Boykin became deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence in June, and heads a new Pentagon office focused on hunting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets.

His tendency to frame the fight against terrorism as a religious battle contrasts with the Bush administration’s attempts to avoid such language for fear it could sound inflammatory to Muslims and play into Islamic extremists’ efforts to portray themselves as engaged in a holy war.

The Interfaith Alliance appealed to Bush to reprimand Boykin. The Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded his reassignment.

Staff writer J.R. Gonzales contributed information for this report.

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