WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (search) called on Tuesday for the temporary reassignment of a Pentagon official who made church speeches casting the war on terrorism in religious terms.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin (search) should step aside during a Pentagon investigation of Boykin's comments. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Tuesday announced an inspector general's inquiry, saying Boykin requested one.
Warner and the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, wrote to Rumsfeld Friday asking for an investigation. Warner said on the Senate floor that he kept quiet about that request until Tuesday so as not to put too much pressure on Rumsfeld.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill later Tuesday, Rumsfeld said he hadn't seen the letter from Warner and Levin.
Several Islamic and religious freedom groups criticized Boykin last week when reports surfaced of his comments during several speeches at evangelical Christian churches. Boykin said the enemy in the war on terrorism was Satan, that God had put President Bush in the White House and called one Muslim Somali warlord an idol-worshipper.
The Pentagon released a statement from Boykin apologizing to those who were offended and saying the three-star general did not mean to insult Islam. The three-star Army general is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Warner, a former Navy secretary, said Boykin should be temporarily reassigned so he can focus on helping the investigation.
"When you start trying to explain what you did say, you need time out to do a little study," Warner said.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., also endorsed Warner's suggestion for Boykin to be temporarily reassigned.
"Important questions need to be asked and answered about things he said and did," Durbin said.
Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference that it hasn't been determined whether that probe will be conducted by the Army's inspector general or the Defense Department's internal watchdog.
The letter from Warner and Levin warns that 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 senators said in the letter.
The letter asks the inspector general to determine whether Boykin's behavior was inappropriate.
Warner said he hoped the investigation will calm the furor over Boykin's comments.
"When we have young men and women patrolling the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan, it's best we try and take this matter, hopefully, off the front pages with the representation to the American public that the proper authorities are reviewing it," Warner said.
Rumsfeld for a second time declined to offer an opinion on Boykin's statements, saying he watched a network news video of some of the speeches in which Boykin's words were unintelligible.
"I'm going to wait for the inspector general to complete their review and come back to us," Rumsfeld said.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he talked to Boykin Monday.
"He mentioned to me how sad he was that his comments created the fury they had," said Pace, who joined Rumsfeld at the news conference. "He does not see this battle as a battle between religions. He sees it as a battle between good and evil. He sees it as the evil being the acts of individuals, not the acts of any religion."
Reports of Boykin's comments came as the Bush administration continued its drive to persuade Muslims that the war on terrorism was not a fight against their religion. Rumsfeld repeated that view Tuesday.
But the defense secretary would not say why Boykin's Pentagon-approved statement included a defense of his statement that the United States is a "Christian nation."
"My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable," Boykin's statement said.
"It is not our statement; it is his statement," Rumsfeld said.