Monday, October 27, 2003

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee “agree to disagree” over whether Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin should resign temporarily while his actions are under review, says an official close to Mr. Rumsfeld.

A Pentagon spokesman said Friday that Gen. Boykin continues to do his job despite a statement by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, that the general should step aside pending the outcome of a Defense Department inspector general review.

Mr. Warner, who served in World War II and the Korean War and is a former Secretary of the U.S. Navy, is the most powerful overseer of the Pentagon in Congress.

“Chairman Warner and Secretary Rumsfeld have known each other for a long time. They served in the Nixon administration together and have had a tremendous working relationship,” said the defense official, who spoke with The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.

“But inevitably, people disagree on things,” the official said. “On this one, the secretary believes that the investigation should be able to run its course without the general stepping down.”

Gen. Boykin, an evangelical Christian serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and special operations, has been quoted as saying the war against terrorism is a battle between good and evil with terrorists representing “Satan.”

The comments came under fire this month when NBC News broadcast segments of speeches he made at Christian functions while in uniform. A Los Angeles Times columnist secretly had recorded the comments during the general’s witnessing in churches in Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who has said that he backs the internal investigation of Gen. Boykin, has not spoken publicly about Mr. Warner’s position on the matter and has given no indication that he intends to discipline the general.

On Oct. 17, Mr. Warner and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld requesting an internal investigation to determine whether there was any “inappropriate behavior” by Gen. Boykin.

Saying “there are limits on the right of expression for service members,” the letter warned that Gen. Boykin’s comments could endanger U.S. soldiers.

“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 letter said.

Asked about the letter four days after it was mailed to his office, Mr. Rumsfeld denied having seen it.

“It may be somewhere around the building, but I am not aware of it,” he said.

Mr. Warner then appeared on the Senate floor, saying he was “not demanding, but recommending … [Gen. Boykin] be detailed from his present position, a position that deals with the war on terrorism throughout the world, that he be detailed elsewhere temporarily until such time as the inspector general comes back with his report.”

Gen. Boykin — who holds the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit and Purple Heart — served as an elite Delta Force member in several combat operations. Named Delta Force commander in 1992, he headed the team sent to hunt down Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and, in 1993, commanded the famed “Black Hawk Down” raid in Mogadishu, Somalia, where he was wounded by mortar fire.

In one of his speeches, he referred to Islamic warlord Osman Otto of Mogadishu, who had said U.S. forces would never catch him because Allah would protect him. “Well, you know what,” Gen. Boykin said, “I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”

Dispute over the comments has resulted in an outpouring of support for Gen. Boykin. Pentagon officials say Mr. Rumsfeld’s office has been flooded with phone calls backing the general and at least 18 members of Congress have written the secretary urging that the general not be fired.

But some lawmakers, Muslims and Arab leaders have expressed outrage at the comments. At the Saudi Arabian embassy last week, Abdel al-Jubeir, a senior adviser to Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, said that if the religions were switched, Gen. Boykin’s comments “could have been said by Osama bin Laden.”

Mr. Warner would not comment for this report. His spokesman, John Ullyot said the senator’s “comment is in his letter” to Mr. Rumsfeld and in “what he said on the Senate floor.”

In a brief statement on Friday, Mr. Warner said he’d met with Mr. Rumsfeld and had a “productive and frank discussion” on a range of topics.

The official close to Mr. Rumsfeld told The Times, “We respect Senator Warner’s views and the secretary respects the senator’s views, but the decision has to be the secretary’s, and they just happen to agree to disagree on this issue.”

“If the reports about what Gen. Boykin said were accurate, the secretary would disagree with what he said,” the official said. “But we just don’t believe that things should be done in a summary fashion. … When you have somebody who has the kind of background experience Gen. Boykin has, you’ve just got to make sure that you’re fair.”

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