Maybe too late, definitely too little

By Jeff Horwitz

Published May 7, 2004 4:07PM (EDT)

President Bush's apology on Thursday for the conduct of a "handful" falls far short of the necessary response to the Iraq torture scandal, says Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Chair of Arab studies at Columbia University.

"The thing that strikes me is that no one is talking about the possibility that this torture is the result of systemic attitudes of this administration toward the Geneva Convention and the law of war," he told Salon. While the abuses at Abu Ghraib have now received widespread exposure and condemnation, Khalidi worries that both the press coverage and the U.S. government response have focused on demonizing only the perpetrators, rather than addressing larger policy problems that may have helped provoke such behavior. "I'd really feel terrible if a few soldiers ended up carrying the can for policies laid down by the defense department and the administration," he says.

It's not yet clear whether the torture problem traces all the way up to policymakers inside the administration. But Khalidi believes that many Arab observers will see Bush's apology as nothing more than a Band-Aid placed over a much larger wound. "The torture is only the tip of the iceberg," he says. "This reaction has been building internationally for a long time, and to things that the president's apology didn't begin to address, such as America's refusal to abide by the laws of war under the Geneva Convention and its refusal to recognize the War Crimes Tribunal."

In Khalidi's view, President Bush must take a much more serious step now to begin to reverse the damage done by Abu Ghraib: "If the president were to signal a broad change in course, a return to a humbler foreign policy, by firing Rumsfeld or removing Cheney from the ticket, that would be a good thing in terms of world opinion."

Jeff Horwitz

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