Gen. Boykin's friends in the Senate

Sen. George Allen wants to promote the general who believes that the war on terrorism is literally a battle against Satan.

Published April 5, 2006 1:53PM (EDT)

Say this for Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin -- he knows how to get ahead in this administration.

In the summer of 2003, Boykin donned military dress and appeared before an evangelical audience to talk about Christianity and the war on terror. It was one of at least 23 such talks he delivered to religious audiences, almost always in uniform. Islamists, he told his listeners, hate America "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

He meant that literally -- Boykin apparently believes that Satan's supernatural soldiers participate in the military operations of America's enemies, and that said soldiers can be captured on film. At several of his talks, he showed photos from the capital of Somalia, where he had commanded Delta Forces during the 1993 battle there. In the pictures, there were black streaks in the sky, photographic evidence, he said, of a "demonic spirit over the city of Mogadishu."

To some, this kind of delusion might suggest that Boykin is not well and should be relieved of his duties. Instead, George W. Bush chose to promote him to deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, where he was put in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In his new position, Boykin served as military assistant to Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and he helped his boss bring the kind of torture and degradation that went on at Guantánamo Bay to Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. As Reuters reported in May 2004:

"The U.S. Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by U.S. 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."

None of this hurt Boykin's career, of course. Instead, Virginia Sen. George Allen -- a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2008 -- is now recommending Boykin to lead the U.S. Special Operations Command. According to the Associated Press, Allen sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to nominate Boykin, saying he has the support of "many of my colleagues here in the Senate."

It will be interesting to see if John McCain is one of those colleagues. He has been a staunch opponent of torture (to write that is to wistfully remember when that went without saying for almost everyone in public life), but he's also desperate to score points with the religious right in preparation for his own presidential campaign.

As War Room noted on Monday, in 2000, McCain tried to separate himself from the dominant block within his party, denouncing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance." He told Tim Russert, "Governor Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. That's -- those aren't the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party." That kind of independence didn't work out too well for him, so this year McCain is embracing the forces he once disdained, giving the commencement speech at Falwell's Liberty University and telling Russert, "I believe that the Christ -- quote, 'Christian right,' has a major role to play in the Republican Party."

No doubt, the Christian right is going to line up behind Boykin. But will McCain back someone known for both his role in torture and his religious grandstanding? If he does, maybe it really is time to talk about the devil's role in human affairs, because the senator will have sold his soul.

By Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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