Thursday, May 20, 2004

Oh Boykin!

President Bush's commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations only 12% of respondents surveyed believed that "Americans respect Arab/Islamic values." Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists.

Apparently, the Bush administration has not taken this report seriously, and a series of blunders, too numerous to mention, have only exacerbated this perception in the Muslim world. Sidney Blumenthal has written a short piece in The Guardian focusing on one aspect of this foreign policy disaster, the controversial role of General William Boykin.

General Boykin's name first appeared in the national spotlight in October of 2003, when it was revealed in various media outlets that the General had made dozens of addresses to evangelical Christian groups during which time he "allied himself with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier that advocates applying military principles to evangelism. Its manifesto - Warrior Message - summons "warriors in this spiritual war for souls of this nation and the world ... "

Among the more controversial aspects of the presentations General Boykin made while on the Evangelical lecture circuit, was how he "staged a traveling slide show around the country where he displayed pictures of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. 'Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army,' he preached. They 'will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.'"

Speaking of his battle with a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin stated, "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

Although not a denigration of the Muslim faith like his other statements, this statement, discussing the election of President Bush, does shed light on the religious fervor under which he operates: "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there."

While statements like these from a senior U.S. military official surely contribute to the perception that Americans do not respect Muslim people and the Muslim faith, especially while the U.S. is conducting two wars in two separate Muslim countries, the Bush administration has been loathe to discipline General Boykin let alone criticize him. When asked about these remarks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to condemn them, explaining, "We’re a free people." President Bush went a little farther by saying, that Boykin "doesn't reflect my point of view or the point of view of this administration."

Still, Boykin remained in the theater of operations. As Blumenthal reports, "he was at the heart of a secret operation to "Gitmoize" (Guantánamo is known in the US as Gitmo) the Abu Ghraib prison. He had flown to Guantánamo, where he met Major General Geoffrey Miller, in charge of Camp X-Ray. Boykin ordered Miller to fly to Iraq and extend X-Ray methods to the prison system there, on Rumsfeld's orders."

Boykin's role in setting the methods for interrogation and abuse at Abu Ghraib are slowly emerging, but given the track record of statements could it be any worse that this General in particular is involved. Could Osama Bin Laden have written a better script for his recruitment literature?

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