St. Petersburg Times – May 17, 2004
Religious remarks hound General Boykin
By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN
He said terrorists are trying to destroy the United States because, "We're a Christian nation." He told a Muslim warlord, "My God was a real God, and his was an idol."
In speeches and comments, Lt. Gen. William Boykin has shown what critics say is a clear disdain for the Islamic faith. Now Boykin, a top intelligence official in the Defense Department, has been linked to controversial recommendations for prying more information out of Muslim detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.
At last week's hearing on prisoner abuse, a Senate panel learned Boykin had briefed his boss on a report that said military police should help set conditions for the "successful exploitation" of detainees. Some senators and others say the report could have fostered a climate that encouraged subsequent acts of physical and sexual abuse.
"It's all part of this treatment of fellow man that has been part of the abuse issue from Guantanamo to Afghanistan to Iraq," said William Nash, a retired major general and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Boykin's episode, while not conclusive by any means, certainly doesn't lessen any of those charges of mistreatment or an arrogant view of Arabs and Muslims."
The fundamentalist Christian, who is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, should have been removed from his post after his religious views came to light last fall, an expert on Christian-Muslim relations says. "I'm amazed, given that we have such horrible press overseas and are spending hundreds of millions of dollars for propaganda, that President Bush would keep somebody who is definitely anti-Muslim and who possibly is in charge of interrogations," said Yvonne Haddad, a professor at Georgetown University.
In the chain of command, Boykin ranks above military intelligence officers in Iraq, some of whom have been implicated in the abuse scandal. His name briefly surfaced at the hearing when discussion turned to a report by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller on ways to improve intelligence-gathering at Abu Ghraib.
The report recommended that military police work closely with military intelligence officers in getting information from detainees that could be used to fight the anti-American insurgency. MPs should be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful interrogation and exploitation" of prisoners, the report said.
Dr. Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said Boykin had briefed him on the report. Cambone went on to say that neither he, Miller, nor Boykin thought the report was "tantamount" to asking MPs to engaged in abusive behavior.
According to the Los Angeles Times and NBC, Boykin told a group of Baptists in Florida last year about a victory over a Muslim warlord in Somalia, who had boasted Allah would protect him. "I knew my God was bigger than his," Boykin said. In June 2003, he told an Oregon congregation that America could not ignore its Judeo-Christian roots. "Our religion came from Judaism," he said, "and therefore (Islamic) radicals will hate us forever."
The remarks were embarrassing to the Bush administration, given the president's oft-stated view that Islam is a "peaceful religion" and that the war against terror is not a war against religion. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Boykin's boss, said the comments were made in a "private capacity." He also praised Boykin's "outstanding record," which spans 30 years in the Army's Delta Force, Special Forces and the CIA.
But Boykin's job "makes his Christian fundamentalist background especially sensitive: He is charged with speeding up the flow of intelligence on terrorist leaders to combat teams in the field so they can attack" those leaders, commentator Ramtanu Maitra wrote in the Asia Times. "It can easily be speculated that it is this urgency to obtain intelligence . . . that has led lower echelons in the U.S. military to adopt Saddam Hussein-like brutalities."