WASHINGTON (BP)–A Kansas congressman and 17 colleagues are rallying to the support of Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, who came under fire in mid-October for his Christian beliefs.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Oct. 22, asked Rumsfeld not to discipline the three-star general, saying that elected officials and military leaders have talked about God and spiritual matters throughout U.S. history. Tiahrt’s letter was co-signed by 17 other representatives.
“As elected officials serving in the United States Congress, we recognize the vital importance our personal faiths play in helping us make decisions,” Tiahrt said in his letter. “We ask that any actions taken in response to Lt. Gen. Boykin’s remarks not, in any way, intimidate the free religious exercise of his faith.”
Boykin himself, meanwhile, has requested an internal investigation involving his comments in various religious settings in recent years.
Rumsfeld announced during a Pentagon news conference Oct. 21 that it hasn’t been determined whether the probe will be conducted by the inspector general of the Army or by the inspector general of the Defense Department.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., sent a letter to Rumsfeld calling for an inspector general to determine whether Boykin engaged in inappropriate behavior.
“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’ letter said, according to the Associated Press.
Warner then asked Oct. 21 that Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, be reassigned for the duration of the investigation.
“When you start trying to explain what you did say, you need time out to do a little study,” Warner, a former Navy secretary, said.
In an initial response to the criticism he has received over his comments, Boykin issued a written statement Oct. 17 to clarify his choice of words and apologize to those who have been offended.
In his statement, according to CNN.com, Boykin said for 33 years he has defended every American’s right to “worship as he or she chooses” and the “right of free speech and a free press” and that he will continue to do so.
Boykin said his primary message to audiences has been to pray for America’s leaders.
In regard to comments he had made at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., Boykin said in the statement that his comments to a warlord in Somalia were not referencing the man’s worship of Allah but his worship of money and power, which Boykin considers idolatry. “He was a corrupt man, not a follower of Islam,” the general stated.
Boykin, in his statement, noted his belief that America is a Christian nation, commenting, “My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable.”
He concluded with an apology, CNN reported. “For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology,” the general said.
Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have not criticized Boykin for his remarks.
“We do know that he is an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States Armed Forces,” Rumsfeld said of Boykin during an Oct. 16 Pentagon briefing.
The secretary of defense went on to say that “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,” he said. “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. … Saddam Hussein could do it pretty well, because he’d go around killing people if they said things he didn’t like.”
Myers said there is a “very wide gray area of what the rules permit” in regard to military personnel and private speaking engagements.
“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 — very appropriate to get up and speak in uniform.”
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on the Oct. 19 edition of ABC’s “This Week” that President Bush’s views on the war on terrorism are absolutely clear.
“This is not a war between religions,” she said. “No one should describe it as such.”
Rice attempted to diffuse Boykin’s comments and re-emphasize the White House’s stance.
“This is a group of people, a group of killers and murderers, who take a great religion like Islam and pervert its teachings to kill and maim,” she said.
“Islam is a peaceful religion. The president is respectful of those who practice the Islamic faith,” Rice added.
The original charges brought against Boykin are critical of what many have considered to be typically normative views among many evangelical Christians.
At various speaking engagements in church settings over the last couple of years, Boykin has related his Christian beliefs to his experiences as one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the United States.
During his 30 years in the military, Boykin has been involved in special operations and counter-terrorism efforts such as the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980, invasions in Grenada and Panama, the hunt for drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, and the 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. He also has served with the Central Intelligence Agency and received a number of prestigious military medals of honor, including the Purple Heart.
Among the comments that have angered his opponents are those Boykin made while describing a set of photographs he had taken of Mogadishu just after the “Blackhawk Down” incident that left 18 American soldiers dead. Boykin noticed in the photographs and later had confirmed what he calls a strange dark mark over the city.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy,” Boykin said to those gathered at an Oklahoma church in 2002, according to The Los Angeles Times, which along with NBC News first made Boykin’s beliefs an issue. “It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.”
When speaking at First Baptist in Daytona Beach in January, Boykin told about the Mogadishu warlord who laughed at America’s Delta Force commandos and said he would never be captured because Allah would protect him.
“Well, you know what?” Boykin said, according to The Times, “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
In June, Boykin showed a church group a series of slides while speaking.
“Is he [Osama bin Laden] the enemy? Next slide. Or is this man [Saddam Hussein] the enemy?” Boykin said, according to MSNBC.com. “The enemy is none of these people I have showed you here. The enemy is a spiritual enemy. He’s called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan.”
And Satan wants to destroy America, Boykin said, because it’s a Christian nation.
At other times, Boykin has said the majority of Americans didn’t vote for President Bush but God put him in the White House “for a time such as this.”
Among Boykin’s supporters are some prominent Southern Baptists. Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, wrote in an Oct. 20 Baptist Press column that without question Boykin “is an all-American hero of the first and finest order.”
Welch said history is on Boykin’s side because great generals such as Douglas MacArthur and George Patton called on God to defeat their enemies and gave God praise and glory for victories won.
“Not a single one of those military leaders were ever belittled, harassed or chastised for speaking out with their spirituality,” he wrote.
Welch also said people should applaud Rumsfeld and Myers for their good sense in supporting Boykin, and “we should be ashamed of those who so foolishly attacked him.”
Cal Thomas, a veteran columnist syndicated by Tribune Media Services, commented on the truth of Boykin’s remarks in an Oct. 20 column.
“The Bush administration is making a fundamental mistake when it promotes the fiction that our enemies can be made less threatening by what America says and does,” Thomas wrote.
The idea that religion is not central to the hatred directed at America qualifies as extreme denial, Thomas wrote.
“Throughout the Muslim world, America is condemned not mainly because of its ideas but because Islamists believe we are infidels opposed to God,” Thomas noted, citing examples from the Palestinian Authority.
He then illustrated his overall point with a story.
“There are two dogs; one is vicious and the other friendly. The vicious dog regularly attacks the friendly dog,” Thomas wrote. “The owner of the friendly dog decides to muzzle his dog, hoping this will demonstrate to the vicious dog that the friendly dog means him no harm. The vicious dog sees his opportunity and kills the muzzled friendly dog.
“In muzzling Boykin, the Pentagon has not converted those who believe they have a religious mandate to destroy us,” he continued. “It is silencing, instead of sounding, the alarm that this enemy is bigger than any threat America has ever faced.”
The following is an excerpt from an Oct. 16 Pentagon Briefing with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Transcript courtesy of the Defense Department.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, Lieutenant General Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, has been quoted and seen giving speeches to various religious groups casting the war on terrorism in fairly religious terms; among other things, saying radical Islamists are attacking the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo- Christian.” The enemy is “Satan.” I won’t read all of these quotes, but he also says that the president is in the White House not because of the voters, but because God put him there. Your reaction to these comments, and what is the policy about people in your office, or in the military overall, about giving these speeches casting the war on terrorism this way?
RUMSFELD: Well, that’s a lot of questions. I’ve not seen the videos, which I understand are pieces of a speech or speeches that he made and, therefore, I not only have not seen that, but I have not seen the full context of what it was he said. We do know that he is an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States armed forces.
The — I’m trying to think what else you asked. Oh, the policy. The policy is, as President Bush has stated, that we believe in this administration that — oh, it — whatever he did was — I’m told was in his private capacity as a person. But the president has said, and I think correctly, that the — that this is not a — the war on terrorism is not a war against a religion, it is not a war against a people or a country, it is a war against a group of people who have taken the subject of terrorism and tried to hijack a religion and make it look like that’s part of their religion, which it is not. And I think the president set exactly the right tone and tempo on it.
Q: He was seen in a military uniform when he was giving these speeches. And is it harmful to have these kind of statements out, especially in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim population?
RUMSFELD: (To Gen. Myers) You going to comment? Well, let me comment first on the latter part, and then you can comment on the uniform, because — I mean, General Myers tells me he wears his uniform to the National Prayer Breakfast. So — so I don’t know what — what — that he’s violating any rule in that regard.
How do you answer this? I’m trying to think.
The — 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. It just like — just isn’t like that in our country. Saddam Hussein could do it pretty well, because he’d go around killing people if they said things he didn’t like. We — and as I say, I just simply can’t comment on what he said, because I haven’t seen it.
Dick, do you want to comment?
MYERS: Well, the only thing I would say, Brett, is that there is a very wide gray area of what the rules permit. I mean, a very wide gray area, and the secretary just mentioned one. Generally speaking, you know, you can’t criticize the chain of command in public; there are other ways to do that. 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. And I’ve spoken in church before at a prayer breakfast, but other occasions where they might honoring the military — very appropriate to get up and speak in uniform.
So, all different kinds of shades of gray here. I don’t — at first blush, it doesn’t look like any rules were broken. That’s just from what I’ve read and what we’ve discussed this morning.