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October 20, 2003, 9:40 P.M.

Clarence Page wrote a column this week about Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” G. Boykin that caused me to wonder why this guy still has a job. Boykin, you will recall, is the guy who has been giving speeches in uniform, at evangelical Christian churches in which he spill forth simpleminded, short-sighted, religious tripe in an attempt to define the U.S. policy as a religious crusade.

Boykin has been speaking to evangelical Christian churches for several years now, and has voiced his opinion that Islamic extremists hate us because we are a “Christian nation.” Someone as blinded by his own narrow view of the world as this does not belong in any position of authority, let alone in a position of military authority where he can set policy. Just for the record, there are lots of reasons why extremists, Muslim and otherwise, hate us and most of them have nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Comments like these make our actions sound like we are engaged in a religious crusade, which incidentally, Osama bin Laden says we are engaged in, and which really inflames Muslim passion and rhetoric against us.

Even George Bush has tried to avoid using religion to justify our actions. In fact, Bush and his senior aides have been trying to avoid the appearance of a religious war for reasons that should be obvious, including the fact that religious wars don’t ever end. More to the point, however, this kind of rhetoric plays into the hand of Muslim extremists who want the world to believe that they are engaged in a holy war with the Great Satan.

Speaking of Satan, Boykin, speaking in Oregon last June refers to “our enemy” as “Satan.” I assume that Boykin means our enemy in what Bush terms the “global war on terrorism.” This has the net effect of lumping every country, group or faction in a single category: evil. Not a lot of room for discussion there. We are good, they are evil. We are right, they are wrong. Black and white, no gray.

Apparently, Boykin has agreed to curtail his speechmaking. He has also apologized, saying that he is “not anti-Islam or any other group.” This apology does not square with his earlier statements, like the comments in Clarence Page’s recent column. In describing his outlook when dealing with an Islamic militant warlord in Somalia, he said, “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” Not only does this statement belie an arrogance, but also an ignorance since, as Page correctly notes, Islam teaches that Allah is just another name for the God of Jews and Christians.

What’s most troubling is that the Pentagon continues to stand by this guy. The message to Muslim countries is that there is no chance of rapprochement with the U.S. That this really is a religious war, another crusade, if you will, and that the U.S. has taken the place of Europe as the principal standard-bearer for world Christianity. Included in this outlook is the lesson plan for children in those countries that says, “because you are hated, shunned and despised for your religious beliefs, you should join the holy war and die a glorious death in Jihad.” I don’t know that that is the lesson we want being taught, and I know it’s not the message most of us want to convey, especially the millions of Muslim citizens of this country.

Boykin is described by William Arkin, the Los Angeles Times reporter who uncovered this story, as “an intolerant extremist who has spoken openly about how his belief in Christianity has trumped Muslims and other non-Christians in battle.” Boykin believes that George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters (how true that is) but “he was appointed by God.” This guy is preaching Christian jihad, in uniform. I agree with Arkin’s conclusion that “General Boykin’s appointment to a high position in the administration is a frightening blunder at a time when there is widespread acknowledgment that the position of the United States in the Islamic world has never been worse.”

The truth is this guy has to be incredibly stupid to not realize the harm, real, tangible, long-term harm, that his remarks and his outlook will have on this country’s foreign policy. This is not just some run of the mill zealot, this guy is in a position to influence policy, so he should go. This is a story that the press needs to pick up and run with. We need to beat this drum until “Jerry” Boykin is retired General Boykin, when he can have all the opinions he wants, but can’t influence policy or inflame religious passions abroad.

Rod Paige, Bush’s Education Secretary, offered to pray for his critics when it was pointed out that his “Texas miracle” was a sham. I’m sure that General Boykin will offer to pray for his critics as well. Unfortunately, there is no amount of common sense or evidence that will convince a zealot to look at the world from anyone’s perspective other than his own. Boykin has not been convinced that his remarks were wrong, were not those of the majority or that any of that even matters. Because Boykin believes himself to be right, he will only pay lip service to those of us who see him as a dangerous idiot. Just as I said of Rod Paige, General Boykin, I don’t want your prayers, I want you fired, and I want the media to make sure it happens.

October 20, 2003, 3:30 P.M.

The detention, interrogation and isolation of U.S. citizens identified as “enemy combatants” pursuant to post-9/11 federal legislation is at the root of a significant constitutional debate, and we should all be paying attention. Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen living in Afghanistan, was captured by Northern Alliance forces and given over to American troops shortly after the collapse of the Afghan government. Hamdi admits only to living in a “war zone,” and not to being engaged in any activity against the U.S. or coalition troops. Instead, Hamdi is being held on an affidavit by a State Department official who has no actual knowledge of what Hamdi was doing in Afghanistan, and he is being denied his constitutional protections, due him as a U.S. citizen, simply because of where he was apprehended.

No one knows why Hamdi is being held because the government says it does not have to tell us. Why? Because Hamdi has been given “special status” as an enemy combatant. That is very different than a P.O.W. A prisoner of war is only required to provide his name, rank and serial number to his captors, and he cannot be tried for crimes against the captor nation other than for specific “war crimes” outlined in the Geneva Convention of 1949. Unlawful combatants can be tried in military tribunals. However, Hamdi has never been charged or tried, he is simply being held without the protection of his rights as a citizen.

Another “enemy combatant,” Jose Padilla, is also being held in a military brig without the benefit of or access to a lawyer, a right to speedy trial or even the right to be informed of the charges against him. In addition, Padilla was arrested on U.S. soil. The government says that Padilla was planning to unleash a so-called dirty bomb in Washington, D.C. Since there have been no charges, and since citizen Padilla has been denied any due process at all, the government’s claims have never been substantiated or tested.

At the same time, both Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, and Richard Reid, accused shoe bomber, neither of whom is a U.S. citizen, are being tried in federal civilian courts. What gives? U.S. citizens are not being tried in civilian courts while foreign born alleged terrorists are.

Yaser Hamdi asked a federal court in January of 2003 to intervene in his case, and to order the government to afford him treatment consistent with his constitutional rights. His request was denied. A later appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was also unsuccessful. Hamdi has now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case, and to determine if it is constitutionally permissible for the executive branch to hold U.S. citizens in communicado, without access to counsel and with no opportunity to be apprised of or to question the charges against him simply because he was seized abroad and was thus declared an “enemy combatant.” This is dangerous ground.

Would Hamdi have been held if he were in Afghanistan as a journalist, a student, an aid worker or a missionary? With a name like Yaser Esam Hamdi, it is certainly likely. How about if his name was Smith? Probably not. The problem is that we don’t know what Hamdi was doing in Afghanistan, or that Padilla was actually going to build a dirty bomb. We have only the government’s word and that’s not good enough where the rights of citizens are concerned. John Walker Lindh, incidentally, was captured on a battlefield and he got a lawyer.

There is no distinction in our constitution between “enemy combatant” citizens and ordinary citizens. There is simply no precedent in this country’s history or at law for what is happening. The 1942 Supreme Court case cited by the government in the Hamdi matter, Ex Parte Quirin, distinguished between lawful combatants (P.O.W.s) and unlawful combatants (terrorists), but still held that the latter are to be tried in military tribunals. The government has no intentions of trying many of these captives, and therefore it seeks to avoid the subject of their citizenship.

If the arguments were consistent or even reconcilable with the government’s position in other cases, such as those of Reid and Moussaoui, thair position would be at least understandable. There is no such consistency.

This is but another example of the Bush administration’s undermining of our civil liberties. It may well be that Hamdi and Padilla are truly bad guys. But if they are, the government needs to prove it. That’s the law, and no one, not even the President, is above it.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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