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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