Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
May 3, 2004 5:36PM (UTC)

Buck stops where?
Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece on Abu Ghraib prison shows how the alleged abuse of detainees there was not isolated to a few MPs. It was systematic and encouraged by the intelligence community. The question is, how high does the responsibility go?

Hersh obtained a report on abuses at Abu Ghraib completed in late February by Major General Antonio M. Taguba. "Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of 'sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses' at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. ...Tagubas report listed some of the wrongdoing:

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Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

... As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Tagubas report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority."

Seven U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded for their alleged roles in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the AP reports. The AP also takes measure of how the Iraqi prisoner abuse photos -- spread and reviled worldwide -- hurt President Bush "as the United States tries to put down an insurgency, win Arab hearts and quell growing doubts at home about the war." Another AP story from Najaf, Iraq, features a former detainee at Abu Ghraib who was imprisoned twice by Saddam Hussein and once under the U.S. occupation. He says he prefers Saddam's brand of torture.

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Kerry: Get to know me
The New York Times reports that John Kerry is ready to unveil biographical ads as pollsters continue to say Americans just don't seem to know much about the senator, and some Democratic strategists fear Kerry has let Bush-Cheney '04 define him with millions of dollars worth of attack ads.

"The new effort comes as many Democrats have expressed concern that Mr. Kerry is not moving quickly enough to answer President Bush's sustained advertising attack and has not done enough to convey an overarching message. Republicans and Democrats who monitor advertising purchases said the Kerry campaign had committed to spend up to $27 million for more than three weeks. Mr. Kerry's aides would not comment on the exact size of the buy, except to say it would most likely set records.

The new campaign will not only run in the 17 or 18 battleground states where both candidates' ads have primarily been focused this year, but also in two states where Mr. Bush won comfortably in 2000: Louisiana and Colorado, people who monitor advertising purchases said. Campaign aides and other Democrats have argued for weeks that while Mr. Bush's heavy advertising barrage may have defined Mr. Kerry in a negative light for some voters, there is still plenty of time to change perceptions."

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Kerry lags with Latinos
The Los Angeles Times went to New Mexico and found that John Kerry has no staff or headquarters there -- nor does he have such campaign infrastructure in other battleground states where the Latino vote is key. President Bush does.

"Kerry's slow start in appealing to Latinos has complicated his quest to keep Bush from making inroads with a voting bloc that's expected to play a key role this year in determining who wins the White House, according to Democratic strategists and Latino backers of Kerry. 'It's like being in a foot race, and the other guy gets a 20-yard head start,' said Armando Gutierrez, an Albuquerque consultant who produced ads in Spanish for the Al Gore and Bill Clinton presidential campaigns.

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In the end, the Bush advantage might have 'a marginal impact' on the election, he said, but in an extremely close race that could matter a great deal. Kerry advisors attributed the candidate's delayed start of operations to Bush's wide lead in raising money. Kerry, who plans to campaign this week in Albuquerque and Phoenix, will open offices this month in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Ultimately, he will launch a major ad campaign in Spanish, his advisors said."

Bush cred in Middle East shattered
The Washington Post reports that the Likud Party's rejection of Ariel Sharon's deal to withdraw from Gaza, endorsed by President Bush two weeks ago, "has left the [Bush] administration's credibility in the Middle East in tatters. The tilt toward Israel will not soon be forgotten by the Arab world, but it will be harder for the administration to claim that Bush's support of Sharon has made a difference. Moreover, the Likud vote comes when the image of the United States is already greatly damaged by accounts of psychological and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by some U.S. soldiers.

'The real objective of giving Sharon the blank check he left with was to shore up his political support at home,' said a State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity. 'We paid a very high price and did not get a return.'

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Samuel W. Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said the vote yesterday 'is an embarrassment diplomatically' for the Bush administration and 'now they have the worst of both worlds.' He faulted the administration for giving in to many of Sharon's key demands, including saying that in a final peace deal some Israel settlements in the West Bank would be retained and that Palestinians would have to give up their right to return to lands they lost during Israel's war of independence. Instead, he said, Bush should have given just general support to the plan."

Bush governs by 'instinct'
The Los Angeles Times asked "experts in decision-making and presidential management" to analyze three recent insider accounts of the Bush presidency. They found a leader who doesn't analyze or deliberate. He's quick to act on his own instincts.

" ... The president appears to have a highly personal working style, with little emphasis on systematic analysis of major decisions. 'There seems to be almost an absence of any analytical or deliberative process for mapping the problem or exploring alternatives or estimating consequences,' said Graham Allison, a professor of government at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And Bush appears to give greater weight to his own instincts than to experts or other sources of advice and information. The president has a 'bias for action,' said Roderick M. Kramer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. 'I've been struck by [how] Bush's sense of personal identity as a leader shapes his decisions,' he said.

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For the last three years, experts on the presidency have largely withheld judgment about how the Bush White House -- considered the most secretive since Richard Nixon's -- makes major decisions. The experts thought they had inadequate information to reach general conclusions. That has changed. Scholars of management and government have begun to pore through this spring's crop of insider books and draw preliminary assessments of how Bush operates as president. And their main conclusion is that he makes decisions primarily on instinct, not analysis."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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