Religious groups on Thursday asked President Bush to reprimand a top Pentagon official who publicly described the war on terrorism as a conflict between Judeo-Christian values and Satan. But the nation’s top uniformed military official said Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin apparently broke no rules in making his remarks.
Questions about Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, dominated a Pentagon news briefing after his comments were highlighted by NBC News on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, putting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the defensive.
Dressed in his Army uniform, Boykin 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.” He told an audience in Florida 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.”
The United States’ “spiritual enemy,” Boykin told the Oregon group, “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”
Myers on Thursday told reporters at the Pentagon that “at first blush, it doesn’t look like any rules were broken.”
Rumsfeld said that he had only just learned of the comments and that he had too little information to say whether such statements by a senior uniformed officer were appropriate.
The reports of Boykin’s remarks drew outrage from Muslim organizations. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group, urged the Bush administration to remove Boykin from his post, where he is in charge of tracking down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets in the Muslim world.
“Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, no matter how ill-informed or bigoted, but those beliefs should not be allowed to color important decisions that need to be made in the war on terrorism,” said the council’s executive director, Nihad Awad. “Gen. Boykin should be reassigned to a position in which he will not be able to harm our nation’s image or interests.”
The Interfaith Alliance, a Washington-based group, wrote to Rumsfeld and Bush on Thursday, urging that Boykin be reprimanded.
“Given his discordant views on Islam -- as reported in detail -- and other religions, can Gen. Boykin serve the U.S. while in the Middle East with the necessary respect and diplomacy? At this point, I would have to say no,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the alliance. “The remarks of Gen. Boykin fly in the face of the pleas of the president and violate the basic principles of tolerance and inclusion that are implicit in the culture of this nation.”
Despite repeated questioning at the briefing, Rumsfeld declined to condemn Boykin, refusing to say whether he would take any action or whether he was even reviewing the comments.
“There are a lot of things that are said by people in the military, or civilian life, or in the Congress, or in the executive branch that are their views. And that’s the way we live. We’re a free people. And that’s the wonderful thing about our country. And I think that for anyone to run around and think that that can be managed and controlled is probably wrong,” Rumsfeld said. “I just simply can’t comment on what he said, because I haven’t seen it.”
But John Ullyot, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Rumsfeld was examining Boykin’s statements. “As soon as the secretary has completed his review, the Senate Armed Services Committee will examine his conclusions,” Ullyot said.
At the briefing, Myers said Boykin’s comments appeared to fall into a “very wide gray area of what the rules permit.”
“Generally, when you speak to groups, if you’re in a private capacity, it’s probably appropriate not to wear a uniform. But there are always exceptions to that,” Myers said. “And I’ve spoken in church before at a prayer breakfast, but other occasions, where they might be honoring the military, [it is] very appropriate to get up and speak in uniform.”