Pentagon to probe general’s religious comments about war on terror

WASHINGTON (October 21, 11:46 a.m. ADT) – The Pentagon will investigate a general’s church speeches casting the war on terrorism in religious terms, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

The announcement came days after two prominent senators asked Rumsfeld to launch a probe of Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin.

Several Islamic and religious freedom groups criticized Boykin last week when reports surfaced of his comments during several speeches at evangelical Christian churches. Boykin said the enemy in the war on terrorism was Satan, that God had put President Bush in the White House and called one Muslim Somali warlord an idol-worshipper.

The Pentagon released a statement from Boykin apologizing to those who were offended and saying the three-star general did not mean to insult Islam.

Boykin had asked Tuesday for an internal investigation of his comments, Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. Rumsfeld said it hasn’t been determined whether that probe will be conducted by the Army’s inspector general or the Defense Department’s internal watchdog.

The two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee had written Rumsfeld on Friday, requesting an inspector general investigation of Boykin.

The letter from the chairman, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel’s top Democrat, warns that Boykin’s comments could endanger U.S. soldiers.

“Public statements by a senior military official of an inflammatory, offensive nature that would denigrate another religion and which could be construed as bigotry may easily be exploited by enemies of the United States and contribute to an erosion of support within the Arab world, and perhaps increased risk for members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in Muslim nations,” the senators said in the letter.

The letter asks the inspector general to determine whether Boykin’s behavior was inappropriate. A copy of the letter was released Tuesday.

Boykin is the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Rumsfeld for a second time declined to offer an opinion on Boykin’s statements, saying he watched a network news video of some of the speeches in which Boykin’s words were unintelligible.

“I’m going to wait for the inspector general to complete their review and come back to us,” Rumsfeld said.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he talked to Boykin Monday.

“He mentioned to me how sad he was that his comments created the fury they had,” said Pace, who joined Rumsfeld at the news conference. “He does not see this battle as a battle between religions, he sees this as a battle between good and evil, the evil being the acts of individuals.”

Reports of Boykin’s comments came as the Bush administration continued its drive to persuade Muslims that the war on terrorism was not a fight against their religion. Rumsfeld repeated that view Tuesday.

But the defense secretary would not say why Boykin’s Pentagon-approved statement included a defense of his statement that the United States is a “Christian nation.”

“My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable,” Boykin’s statement said.

“It is not our statement, it is his statement,” Rumsfeld said.

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