An Army general criticized last fall for making anti-Muslim remarks in evangelical churches is now being linked to the prison-abuse scandal in Iraq.
A Senate hearing into alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib prison heard Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin briefed a civilian Pentagon official last summer on how to get more information from Iraqi prisoners of war, according to Reuters.
Some say that suggests a green light from senior-level military for sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, a charge the Pentagon denies.
Boykin’s identity with abuse of Muslim prisoners could be particularly explosive, observers fear, because he is already viewed as a Muslim-hater by those in the Arab world who believe the U.S.-led mission in Iraq is a war against Islam.
Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a top post in the U.S. war on terror, was criticized last October for inflammatory comments contrasting Christianity with Islam.
In one church, Boykin called the god of a Muslim warlord he once hunted down in Somalia an “idol” and remarked that he knew “my God was bigger than his.” In another, he said terrorists hate America because it is a Christian nation. He also said President Bush is in office because God placed him there. He said America’s real enemy is not Osama Bin Laden, but spiritual “forces of darkness.”
Boykin wore his military uniform during several appearances, which critics said implied that he was speaking for the U.S. government. Boykin said his remarks were misunderstood and denied being anti-Muslim.
The White House distanced itself from Boykin’s comments and put the general under review but refused calls to transfer him to a less strategic job. Like Boykin, President Bush is an evangelical Christian, but he has been careful to send a message that America’s enemy is terrorism and not the Muslim world.
American Muslim leaders have complained that failure to discipline Boykin revealed a double standard, because someone making similar comments about blacks or Jews would have been fired. Others have suggested that president’s evangelical ties with Boykin cloud his judgment about U.S. credibility around the world.
Reuters said no one is saying that Boykin is directly responsible for prisoner abuse but quoted one source who said that language like his contributes to a climate in which young military police would apparently believe it was “OK to abuse Muslim and Arab men.”
Among Boykin’s defenders last fall was Florida pastor Bobby Welch, who is expected to be nominated as the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention next month in Indianapolis. Welch wrote a “first person” column in Baptist Press, which accused critics of the general’s remarks as stabbing him in the back after he risked his life to defend the U.S.
“America needs to thank God for sparing this brave, good man who can help our nation at such a time as this,” said Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where Boykin has been a guest speaker.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.