Pentagon: General to tone down religious rhetoric

Oct. 17, 2003  | WASHINGTON (AP) — A top general has said he will tone down his rhetoric after being criticized for casting the war on terror as a religious battle, Pentagon officials said Friday.

But Defense Department lawyers, public affairs officials and others were meeting Friday to try to figure out whether that would be enough to calm the storm of criticism surrounding Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, who has said the counterterror war is a battle with Satan.

His comments came in speeches — some made in uniform — at evangelical Christian churches.

Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary for intelligence, has said he will curtail his speechmaking, officials said. But he has not been put forward by the Pentagon to make a public statement, a development officials said they might try to orchestrate later Friday.

Boykin said of a 1993 battle with a Muslim militia leader in Somalia: “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”


He did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he had not seen Boykin’s comments, but he praised the three-star general as “an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States armed forces.”

Despite repeated questions at a Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld declined to condemn Boykin’s statements or to say whether he would take any action.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had spoken in uniform at prayer breakfasts, adding he did not think Boykin broke any military rules by giving talks at churches.


“There is a very wide gray area on what the rules permit,” Myers said. “At first blush, it doesn’t look like any rules were broken.”


But Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-R.I., said that if media reports accurately quoted Boykin, the general’s comments were deplorable.

And a Muslim rights group called for Boykin to be reassigned from his job, which includes overseeing the continuing hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Iraq’s deposed President Saddam Hussein and other Muslim figures.

“Putting a man with such extremist views in a critical policy-making position sends entirely the wrong message to a Muslim world that is already skeptical about America’s motives and intentions,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Awad’s statement noted that a verse in the Quran says Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians.

Boykin’s church speeches, first reported by NBC News and the Los Angeles Times, cast the war on terrorism as a religious battle between Christians and the forces of evil.

Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian. … And the enemy is a guy named Satan.”

Rumsfeld on Thursday repeated the Bush administration position that the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam but against people “who have tried to hijack a religion.” The defense secretary said he could not prevent military officials from making controversial statements.

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Associated Press, USA
Oct. 17, 2003
www.salon.com

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