WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A veterans’ advocacy group urged the U.S. Military Academy on Thursday to withdraw a speech invitation to a retired general who portrayed the U.S. fight against Muslims radicals as a battle with Satan.
VoteVets, which describes itself as the biggest U.S. progressive veterans’ organization, said West Point’s invitation to retired three-star general William Boykin to speak at a February 8 prayer breakfast endangered U.S. troops.
U.S. Army doctrine “instructs Army leaders to respect the Muslim culture as a part of counterinsurgency operations,” VoteVets said in a letter to West Point Superintendent Lieutenant General David Huntoon.
Boykin’s past remarks “threaten our relationship with Muslims around the world, and thereby, our troops serving in harm’s way,” said VoteVets, which represents veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Boykin, then a Pentagon intelligence officer, touched off a firestorm in October 2003 after giving speeches while in uniform in which he referred to the so-called war on terrorism as a battle with Satan.
He also said the United States had been targeted “because we’re a Christian nation.”
Boykin said later he was not against Islam or any other religion. An Army investigation found Boykin violated Pentagon rules by failing to clear speeches and that he should be punished.
Lieutenant Colonel Sherri Reed, a West Point spokeswoman, said the prayer breakfast would include participation by Christian, Jewish and Muslim cadets.
“We are comfortable and confident that what retired Lieutenant General Boykin will share about prayer, soldier care and selfless service will be in keeping with the broad range of ideas normally considered by our cadets,” she said in a statement.
VoteVets was founded in 2006 and has more than 100,000 supporters, according to its website.
It opposed the 2007 “surge” of troops in Iraq and has spent about $35 million on veterans’ advocacy and through its political action committee, Chairman Jon Soltz said.
Most of the political candidates it has supported have been Democratic. The five shown on its website as “Our Candidates” are all Democrats.
Editing by Daniel Trotta