Wednesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 5, 2004 1:24PM (EDT)

Abuse scandal widens
The Los Angeles Times reports that 25 Iraqi and Afghan war prisoners have died in U.S. custody in the last 17 months, including two Iraqi detainees who may have been murdered by Americans. As new details emerge of the U.S. military prison abuse scandal, President Bush will go on Arab TV today in an attempt at damage control.

"White House officials revealed that Bush was made aware in late December or early January of allegations of abuse at the [Abu Ghraib] prison. On Tuesday, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made statements condemning the abuse, saying the president had demanded that those responsible be held accountable. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans called for a congressional investigation of the military's handling of the scandal and strongly criticized the Pentagon's failure to inform lawmakers. There also were suggestions that similar problems existed at facilities used to house Afghan war prisoners as early as 2001."

The entire U.S. Army report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, cited in the Seymour Hersh New Yorker article earlier in the week, is here.

Plan to reduce troops in Iraq dropped
The Boston Globe reports on the Pentagon announcement that up to 138,000 U.S. troops will stay in Iraq through 2005, "the clearest acknowledgment yet that the continuing attacks by insurgents will prevent any immediate reduction of American occupation forces."

"The Pentagon earlier this year said the number of US soldiers in Iraq would be cut back to about 115,000 as the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority transferred political power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. But after the spike in insurgent attacks last month -- 136 US troops were killed in April, more than the total lost during seven weeks of major combat last year -- the Pentagon will be forced to maintain a large force of combat troops, the officials said."

"... The decision to maintain US troop strength comes amid continuing clashes with Shi'ite fighters in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, as well as bloody skirmishes last month against Sunni Muslim insurgents in Fallujah. Several allies in the US coalition have announced their withdrawal from Iraq amid the violence, including Spain, which had contributed more than 2,000 troops."

"Military specialists said yesterday that the recent setbacks in Iraq underscore how the US military that swiftly toppled the regime of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein did not sufficiently plan for the aftermath, which has been characterized by a violent and organized guerrilla insurgency by former Hussein loyalists and foreign fighters that have slipped into Iraq."

Bush loses on overtime pay
Five moderate Republicans jumped GOP ship to vote with Senate Democrats against a Bush administration proposal to cut overtime pay for millions of middle-class Americans, the Washington Post reports, "handing an embarrassing rebuff to the Bush administration on a politically sensitive jobs issue."

"The Senate voted 52 to 47 to scrap the new rules despite recent changes to address earlier criticism, an intense lobbying campaign by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and a last-ditch GOP effort to avert defeat by proposing a long list of jobs for which overtime pay could not be eliminated."

"Although the GOP's concessions were approved unanimously, they did not satisfy five moderate Republicans who broke ranks to vote with nearly all Democrats in favor of keeping the administration from cutting anyone's overtime pay."

" ... The issue has enormous resonance in an election year for workers in a vast array of jobs, including nurses, oil rig workers, insurance claim adjusters and restaurant managers. According to Democrats, they could lose overtime pay under the new administration rules."

"Condi's a jerk"
A new GQ article describes Secretary of State Colin Powell as "exhausted, frustrated, and bitter," uncomfortable with the ideological bent of the Bush administration and tired of fighting with the Pentagon.

Writer Wil S. Hylton spoke with Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson about whether Powell will return for a second term. Wilkinson said: "He's tired. Mentally and physically. And if the president were to ask him to stay on -- if the president is re-elected and the president were to ask him to stay on, he might for a transitional period, but I don't think he'd want to do another four years."

Powell's mentor from the National War College, Harlan Ullman, had frank comments about Powell's feelings about working with Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice: "This is, in many ways, the most ideological administration Powell's ever had to work for. Not only is it very ideological, but they have a vision. And I think Powell is inherently uncomfortable with grand visions like that ... There's an ideological core to Bush, and I think it's hard for Powell to penetrate that," Ullman said.

On Powell's relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney, Ullman said: "I can tell you firsthand that there is a tremendous barrier between Cheney and Powell, and there has been for a long time ..." And about Rice's insistence, after recent revelations that Powell and Cheney are estranged, that the men are "on more than speaking terms," and that they're "very friendly," Ullman said: "Condi's a jerk."

Landslide for Kerry?
In the Washington Monthly, The Hotline's Chuck Todd gets all contrarian about the conventional wisdom that the 2004 election will be a squeaker like 2000.

"There are perfectly understandable reasons why we expect 2004 to be close. Everyone remembers the nail-biting 2000 recount. A vast number of books and magazine articles describe the degree to which we are a 50/50 nation and detail the precarious balance between red and blue states. And poll after poll show the two candidates oscillating within a few percentage points of one another. There are also institutional factors that drive the presumption that the race will be tight. The press wants to cover a competitive horse-race. And the last thing either campaign wants to do is give its supporters any reason to be complacent and stay home on election day."

"But there's another possibility, one only now being floated by a few political operatives: 2004 could be a decisive victory for Kerry. The reason to think so is historical. Elections that feature a sitting president tend to be referendums on the incumbent--and in recent elections, the incumbent has either won or lost by large electoral margins. If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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