Andrea Shalal-Esa / Reuters – 2004-05-13 09:02:58
WASHINGTON (May 11, 2004) — The US Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by US officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.
A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.
Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to “soften up” detainees before interrogation — a charge the Pentagon denies.
Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the U.S. war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam.
“This will be taken as proof that what happened at Abu Ghraib (prison) is evidence of a broader culture of dehumanizing Arabs and Muslims, based on the American understanding of the innate superiority of Christendom,” said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, a U.S.-based quarterly magazine.
One Senate aide, who asked not to be identified, said any involvement by Boykin could be explosive. “Even if he knew about the abuse, that would be a big deal,” he said.
Boykin has declined comment, and defense officials could not say what the extent of his involvement or knowledge about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners might have been.
Boykin touched off a firestorm last October after giving speeches while in uniform in which he referred to the war on terrorism as a battle with “Satan” and said America had been targeted “because we’re a Christian nation.” He said later he was not anti-Islam or any other religion.
President Bush distanced himself from Boykin’s remarks, but the Pentagon said it would not fire the general, who played a role in the 1993 clash with Somali warlords and the ill-fated hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980.
Calls for Boykin’s Reassignment
Hussein Ibish, communications director for the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said his group and others had repeatedly called for Boykin to be reassigned to a less sensitive job until the Pentagon inspector general completes his investigation of Boykin’s remarks.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner and congressional Democrats have also urged Boykin to step aside, but the Pentagon has defended his right to free speech.
Defense officials said the IG investigation, begun last fall, was nearly done and a report could be issued next month.
“I’m not saying Boykin is directly responsible. … But there is a collective failure here,” Ibish said. “There is a tolerance in our society, in our government, in our media for hateful rhetoric when directed against Arabs and Muslims.”It definitely contributes to a climate in which these young MPs apparently felt it was … OK to abuse Muslim and Arab men like this.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, chided the Pentagon for not acting promptly to discipline Boykin and the delayed engagement of top military leaders on the prisoner abuse scandal.
“It creates a climate in which … the perpetrators believe they’re carrying out the policies of those above them, whether those policies are explicit or not,” Hooper said.
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