According to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, and new reporting from the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the prison abuse scandal grew out of a decision to give greater influence to the Defense Intelligence unit, led by Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence--and his deputy, Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin.Boykin made headlines last fall when it was revealed he had made numerous statements suggesting that America, as a Christian nation, is engaged in a battle against idolatrous Muslims. Enemies like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus," Boykin said during an Oregon church gathering last year.
Appearing in uniform during a speech at the Oregon church, Boykin said: "Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us? Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we're a Christian nation." In another speech he recounted the time he chased down a Muslim Somali warlord who was bragging that the Americans would not capture him because Allah would protect him. "My God is bigger than his God. I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol," Boykin said.
In 2002, at a church in Oklahoma, he showed slides he took in Somalia just after 18 Americans were killed in the "Black Hawk Down" debacle. Pointing to a dark shadow of Mogadishu's skyline, Boykin said it was "a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy."
When word of Boykin's beliefs were made public last fall, some American Muslim groups, such as the Muslim Public Action Committee and CAIR called on President Bush to fire Boykin, but Bush declined. Even Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Boykin should resign temporarily while his actions were reviewed by the Inspector General's office. That investigation is expected to be completed next month.
There is still much to be learned about Boykin's role in the current scandal, including the pivotal question of whether his anti-Muslim views may have made him more prone to dehumanizing Muslim prisoners. What is already clear, however, is that Boykin's evangelical supporters now find themselves in an awkward position. They have supported Boykin steadfastly but are wary about defending prisoner torture.
Here is what is known so far about Boykin's role in the prison abuse scandal: He is a main strategist for Cambone, who oversees a secret program with the goal of capturing and interrogating terrorism targets. According to an article by Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker, the unit brought "unconventional methods" to Abu Ghraib as a way of getting better information about Iraqi insurgents.
By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the CIA had had enough. "They said, `No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan-pre-approved operations against high-value terrorist targets-and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled of the streets,' the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails."
Cambone told a Congressional committee last week that neither he nor Boykin thought they were giving the go-ahead for military police to abuse prisoners. Boykin himself has not testified and declined to be interviewed for this article.
In addition to adding another wrinkle to the diplomatic catastrophe of this scandal--many Muslims overseas already believe Americans are engaging in an anti-Islam crusade--it raises difficult political and moral questions for conservative Christians. Last fall, they stoutly defended Boykin, and by extension President Bush, yet they also condemn abuse and torture.
So far, Christian leaders are standing by Boykin.
"A lot of our people are just so tired of hearing about that whole situation, especially now that we've seen [the beheading of Nicholas Berg]," Michele Ammons, spokeswoman for the Christian Coalition, said last week. "I think it's time to get over it. And that's what I'm hearing."