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U.S.: Pentagon To Investigate General's Islam Comments

Washington, 22 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Pentagon will investigate comments a high-ranking general made about the Islamic religion.

Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington yesterday that Lieutenant General William Boykin requested the investigation into his comments after they drew widespread criticism from outside the military.

Boykin is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and is in charge of the hunt for ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the top Al-Qaeda leader.

Boykin, a Christian, made comments at churches and prayer breakfasts that his critics say cast the U.S. war on terrorism in religious terms. In one speech, the general reportedly said that the war on terror is a Christian fight against Satan.

Rumsfeld was asked about the general's comments at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. "He has requested an inspector-general review the matter. It seems to me thats a perfectly responsible thing for him to do on his part. That is what is going to take place, is an inspector-general review," Rumsfeld said.

Boykin made a speech recently in which he talked about a Muslim militia leader in Somalia who had boasted in 1993 that he would never be defeated because Allah was protecting him. According to private videotapes, Boykin told his audience: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol."

The general's statements contrast U.S. President George W. Bush's insistence that the U.S. war against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups does not represent a struggle between Eastern and Western cultures.

Following critical newspaper and television reports, Boykin issued a written statement that said, "I am neither a zealot nor an extremist, only a soldier who has an abiding faith." Boykin also apologized to those who were offended by his remarks.

The investigation into the general's comments could be carried out by the Army and Defense Department inspector-general's offices. Rumsfeld did not reveal the scope of the probe or indicate if he believed Boykin had done anything wrong.

Marine Corps General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon briefing that Boykin told him on 20 October, "how sad he was that his comments have caused the furor that they have."

Pace said he had the impression that if Boykin could pick his words more carefully he would. He also said that Boykin sees the war on terrorism "as a battle between good and evil -- he sees it as the evil being the acts of individuals."