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THE NATION

General's Comments to Be Investigated

Two senators say his remarks denigrated Islam. Rumsfeld says a probe is 'appropriate.'

October 22, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Pentagon would conduct an internal investigation of a senior military intelligence official who has publicly described the war on terrorism as a battle between "a Christian nation" and Satan.

Rumsfeld said: "I think it's appropriate" to investigate the comments by Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian who serves as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence and war-fighting support. Speaking to reporters at a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld said Boykin himself requested the probe.

Rumsfeld said the Army inspector general's office may initiate the investigation, and that another inquiry by the Defense Department's inspector general's office might follow. But he offered no details on what investigators would be looking for, and he avoided specifically criticizing or condemning Boykin.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the committee's ranking Democrat, wrote to Rumsfeld on Friday urging that the Pentagon inspector general's office conduct a "thorough review of the facts" and make "a determination as to whether or not there has been any inappropriate behavior" by Boykin.

In their letter, released Tuesday, Warner and Levin wrote, "There are limits on the right of expression for service members.

"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 wrote.

Speaking later on the Senate floor, Warner recommended that the Pentagon reassign Boykin pending the outcome of the investigation.

The comments by Boykin, at churches and prayer breakfasts, have drawn outrage from Muslim organizations, some Democrats and civil rights groups. Dressed in his Army uniform, he told an Oregon religious group in June that radical Islamists hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

The United States' "spiritual enemy," Boykin told the group, "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."

Boykin told a Florida audience in January that a Muslim Somali warlord was captured because "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

Rumsfeld emphasized that he and President Bush did not see the war on terrorism as a war against Islam, but the Defense secretary did not specifically criticize Boykin.

"I have said what my convictions and beliefs are," Rumsfeld said. "And to the extent that they are in conflict with the views of anyone in this department, then they are in conflict with the views of anyone in this department."

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the news conference that Boykin approached him Monday to say "how sad he was that his comments have caused the furor that they have."

"There's no doubt in my mind, in talking to him, that if he could pick his words more carefully he would," Pace said. "It's also no doubt in my mind that he does not see this battle as a battle between religions. He sees it as a battle between good and evil -- he sees it as the evil being the acts of individuals but not the acts of any religion or affiliation with religion."

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