WASHINGTON – President Bush on Wednesday repudiated the views of a top general who cast the war on terrorism in religious terms, but the Pentagon brushed aside congressional calls to reassign the general during an investigation.
Bush, talking to reporters on Air Force One as he flew to Australia, said he had discussed the comments of Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin (search) with Muslim leaders in Indonesia.
"I said he didn't reflect my opinion," Bush said. "Look, it just doesn't reflect what the government thinks. And I think they were pleased to hear that."
Bush's comments notwithstanding, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected the urging of the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (search), Sen. John Warner (search) of Virginia, and other members of Congress that Boykin be given another job during a Pentagon investigation of the matter.
"He has requested an inspector general review of the matter, and I think that was an appropriate thing to do," Rumsfeld said. "And we'll let that play out."
Boykin came under criticism last week when reports surfaced of his comments during several speeches at evangelical Christian churches. Boykin said the enemy in the fight against terrorism was Satan and that God had put Bush in the White House. He recalled telling one Muslim Somali warlord he captured, "You underestimated our God."
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 statement, which was vetted by Pentagon lawyers and spokesmen, also repeated Boykin's belief that the United States is a "Christian nation."
Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, agreed with calls on Boykin to step aside.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Rumsfeld on Wednesday morning, Turner said reassigning Boykin was important "simply to send the message, not only to the people of our country, but around the world, that we are firmly in accord that the war on terror is not a war against Islam."
Turner said the issue of Boykin's comments did not come up during the meeting between the defense secretary and a half-dozen congressmen who visited Iraq recently. Turner is the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.
"Any suggestion that the war on terror relates to a war against Islam is counterproductive, it's wrong, and it certainly needs to be condemned," Turner said.
Rep. Todd Tihart, R-Kan., supported Boykin and criticized Bush for repudiating the general's remarks.
"I am disappointed at the level of intolerance being shown to the general for speaking about his faith in a church," Tihart said.