WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army has taken action against Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who embarrassed the Bush administration by giving speeches in which he described the war on terrorism as a Christian battle against Satan.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody declined to give any details of the action taken in response to Boykin’s remarks, which violated Pentagon rules, but said it was not “significant.”
“I took the appropriate action based on the recommendations of the Inspector General,” Cody told Reuters while attending the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.
He did not say when the action was taken.
“If it was something significant, it would be something we would talk about. So that should give you an indication,” Cody said.
Boykin, who was at the meeting, declined comment.
The Pentagon inspector general concluded in an August report that Boykin should face “appropriate corrective action” because he failed to clear official data in some of the 23 religious-oriented speeches he gave after January 2002.
Although he initially described the war against terrorism as a “crusade,” President Bush has since worked to shore up relations with Muslim states and avoid the appearance of a Christian-Muslim struggle.
The Bush administration has come under fire from Muslim Americans for what they see as heavy-handed law enforcement in a crackdown against groups associated with al Qaeda, blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
ARAB AMERICAN ANGER
Recent polls have shown a strong swing against Bush among Arab Americans in the race to next week’s presidential election in which Bush is neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.
Boykin touched off a firestorm when he gave a series of speeches while in uniform in which he referred to the war on terrorism as a battle with Satan.
He said America had been targeted “because we’re a Christian nation.” He said later he was not anti-Islam or any other religion.
Muslim groups and lawmakers condemned Boykin’s comments and Bush said the remarks “didn’t reflect my opinion.”
The Muslim groups also raised questions about what role Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, may have played in creating U.S. military interrogation policy before a scandal erupted over the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
The Pentagon report said Boykin had been obliged to clear the speeches with the Pentagon, given “the sensitive nature of his remarks concerning U.S. policy and the likelihood that he would be perceived by his audiences as a DOD spokesman based on his official position and his appearance in uniform.”
Boykin also failed to issue a required disclaimer at the speeches that he was not representing official Pentagon policy, and failed to report his receipt of one travel payment exceeding $260 from a non-government source, it concluded.
In its 10-month internal investigation the Pentagon did not address whether the substance of Boykin’s remarks was appropriate for a senior Pentagon official or whether it compromised his fitness to perform his duties.
That question, it said, should be decided by senior Pentagon officials.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has praised Boykin’s “outstanding record” and refused to reprimand the general, who played a role in a 1993 battle with Somali warlords and the ill-fated hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980.