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Reassignment of defense official sought

Religious remarks about war probed

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee called yesterday for the temporary reassignment of a Pentagon official who made church speeches casting the war on terrorism in religious terms.

Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said Lieutenant General William G. Boykin should step aside during a Pentagon investigation of Boykin's comments. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced an inspector general's inquiry yesterday, saying Boykin requested one.

Warner and the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, wrote to Rumsfeld on Friday asking for an investigation. Warner said on the Senate floor that he kept quiet about that request until yesterday so as not to put too much pressure on Rumsfeld.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill later yesterday, Rumsfeld said he hadn't seen the letter from Warner and Levin.

Several Islamic and religious freedom groups criticized Boykin last week when reports surfaced of comments he made during several speeches at evangelical Christian churches. Boykin said that the enemy in the war on terrorism was Satan and that God had put President Bush in the White House. He called a Muslim Somali warlord an idol-worshiper.

The Pentagon released a statement from Boykin apologizing and saying he did not mean to insult Islam. The three-star Army general is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Warner, a former Navy secretary, said Boykin should be temporarily reassigned so he can focus on helping the investigation. "When you start trying to explain what you did say, you need time out to do a little study," Warner said.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, also backed Warner's suggestion for Boykin to be temporarily reassigned. "Important questions need to be asked and answered about things he said and did," Durbin said.

Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference that it hasn't been determined whether that probe will be conducted by the Army's inspector general or the Defense Department's internal watchdog.

The letter from Warner and Levin warns that Boykin's comments could endanger US soldiers. "Public statements by a senior military official of an inflammatory, offensive nature that would denigrate another religion and which could be construed as bigotry may easily be exploited by enemies of the United States and contribute to an erosion of support within the Arab world, and perhaps increased risk for members of the US Armed Forces serving in Muslim nations," the senators said.

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