The Same General Boykin?

The Pentagon official, an evangelical, was nearly fired for insulting Islam. So far, conservative Christians stand by him.

BY: Deborah Caldwell


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Conservative Christian leaders and commentators have contended since last fall that Boykin's comments were taken out of context, or that he was being attacked because he is a Christian. Among his staunchest supporters were Focus on the Family's James Dobson; religious broadcaster Pat Robertson; the Family Research Council; the Christian Coalition; and the Rev. Bobby Welch, who will be nominated president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June.

"Every conservative Christian would understand the language that Gen. Boykin used to describe what is known as spiritual warfare. His words were consistent with mainstream evangelical beliefs and he had a right to express them," Dobson said at the time.

The Christian Coalition started an online petition in support of Boykin--and posted it on its homepage. Pat Robertson's 700 Club even went so far as to ask Chuck Holton, a former Army Ranger who served under Boykin in Somalia, to attend a church service at which Boykin spoke, record his speech, and then report on it for Christian Broadcasting Network.

Welch, in a column for Baptist Press, described Boykin's critics as "back-stabbers," writing: "I despise the unthinkable and asinine fact that some take cheap backstabbing shots at a real God-fearing American hero who continually risks his life to protect all of us."

In a 2002 Conservative columnist Tony Blankley described Boykin as a "victim" in the terrorism struggle. "For a quarter century, he has been fighting terror with his bare hands, his fine mind and his faith-shaped soul," Blankley wrote. "It is that last matter--his faith, and his willingness to give politically incorrect witness to that faith in Christian churches--that has drawn furious media and political fire."

Even if the evidence accumulates that Boykin was a key figure in the scandal, evangelicals may hold the line. "They've invested so much in Boykin," says John Green, an expert on the religious right and director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. People in the pews, however, may react differently. "No doubt some of them will be appalled," Green said. "And a denial reaction by their leaders might actually encourage an appalled reaction."

The Christian leader in perhaps the trickiest position is Welch, whose new position as president of the Southern Baptist Convention will give him a much higher profile. A friend of Boykin's, Welch has defended Boykin and also collaborated with him on evangelism projects.

Reached at his home, Welch declined comment on Boykin's connection to the Iraqi prisoner scandal, explaining that he knows nothing about Boykin's involvement. "I really don't want to comment on it because I don't have any idea what he does with those people. I don't have the foggiest idea. I've never inquired what he does. He is just an unbelievable patriot."

Last year, in collaboration with Welch, Boykin planned to host a gathering of Southern Baptist pastors at Fort Bragg, where he was running the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. "You will go with General Boykin and Green Beret instructors to places where no civilians and few soldiers ever go," Welch told pastors in a letter inviting them to attend the two-day Super FAITH Force Multiplier session. "We must find a group of men who are warriors of FAITH, pastors who have the guts to lead this nation to Christ and revival!" Welch said they would see Boykin's headquarters, a demonstration of "today's war-fighting weapons" and how "Special Forces attack the enemy inside buildings (live fire/real bullets)" as well as hear a speech and get "informal time" with Boykin.

After Americans United for Separation of Church and State heard about the planned gathering, they complained to the military, which scaled back the meeting.

In the interview with Beliefnet, Welch said he was troubled by the Iraqi abuses and said that he would be upset if Boykin is found to have approved or encouraged the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. "The only way a Christian would approach it-and I'm making no comment on Boykin-is that we have to abide by the law and there are definite laws about [prisoner abuse and torture] and those laws should be followed.

"The minute you begin to say Christians are outside the law, you have headed off into a place you cannot get back."

Despite the current controversy, Boykin is an indisputable military hero. During his 30 years of service, he was been involved in special operations and counter-terrorism efforts such as the Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980, invasions in Grenada and Panama, the hunt for drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, and the 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. He also has served with the Central Intelligence Agency and received a number of military medals, including the Purple Heart.

Yet Boykin has apparently been involved in other controversies, according to Hersh. In 1993, he led a Delta Force assigned to track down the drug dealer Pablo Escobar. It was illegal for Boykin's team to provide "lethal assistance" to the Colombian police without Presidential approval, but people in the Pentagon suspected that the team planned to take part in Escobar's assassination. The book "Killing Pablo" by Mark Bowden describes how Pentagon officials became convinced that Boykin had intended to violate the law. Though they wanted Boykin's unit pulled out, it remained.

Escobar was shot dead in Medellin, and, wrote Bowden, "within the special ops community...Pablo's death was regarded as a successful mission for Delta."

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