Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
May 10, 2004 5:51PM (UTC)

Red Cross warned of systematic cruelty
A 24-year old military policeman from Pennsylvania will be the first to be court-martialed in the prisoner abuse scandal, in a trial that will be open and covered by the press, including Arab news media. The rare spectacle is part of the Pentagon's attempt to show the world it is getting tough with the so-called "few bad apples" who perpetrated the alleged abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib.

But a confidential Red Cross report, published in the Wall Street Journal, shows that the Abu Ghraib abuses were part of the established procedures to "extract" information from detainees arrested in connection with "suspected security offenses or deemed to have an 'intelligence' value" -- and the organization started issuing warnings more than a year ago that the conduct breached international humanitarian law. The Journal posted the Red Cross report on its Web site.

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While Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. military and government officials insist they had no idea what was happening at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons until January, the Red Cross started raising flags even before the initial phase of the war ended last year, the Journal reports. "It isn't always clear to whom and how high up those warnings went. The complaints, the first of which was lodged in March 2003, included a formal complaint to senior officers of the U.S. Central Command last summer."

" ... For much of 2003, as the U.S. scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and for Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military's major concern was finding ways to make prisoners more cooperative in interrogations -- not improving conditions for detainees. In late August of 2003, for instance, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller conducted an inquiry of interrogation and detention procedures in Iraq. That report suggested that military police, in addition to safeguarding prisoners, also could help create conditions that would make them more likely to cooperate with interrogators, an internal Army report has found. Both before and after that suggestion, according to the Red Cross, military police guards supervised by intelligence officers subjected prisoners to 'ill-treatments ranging from insults and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion that in some cases might amount to torture.' The report adds that 'several military-intelligence officers confirmed' that holding prisoners 'naked in a completely dark and empty cell' was 'standard operating procedure' to extract information."

"A huge leadership failure"
Seymour Hersh's latest piece in the New Yorker -- accompanied by a photo depicting a detainee about to be attacked by snarling Army dogs -- shows how the climate of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, with its penchant for "secrecy and wishful thinking," allowed the abuses to continue and hindered investigations.

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"In interviews, retired and active-duty officers and Pentagon officials said that the system had not worked. Knowledge of the nature of the abuses -- and especially the politically toxic photographs -- had been severely, and unusually, restricted. 'Everybody I've talked to said, 'We just didn't know' -- not even in the J.C.S.,' one well-informed former intelligence official told me, emphasizing that he was referring to senior officials with whom such allegations would normally be shared. 'I havent talked to anybody on the inside who knew -- nowhere. It's got them scratching their heads.' A senior Pentagon official said that many of the senior generals in the Army were similarly out of the loop on the Abu Ghraib allegations."

"Within the Pentagon, there was a spate of fingerpointing last week. One top general complained to a colleague that the commanders in Iraq should have taken C4, a powerful explosive, and blown up Abu Ghraib last spring, with all of its 'emotional baggage' -- the prison was known for its brutality under Saddam Hussein -- instead of turning it into an American facility. 'This is beyond the pale in terms of lack of command attention,' a retired major general told me, speaking of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. 'Where were the flag officers? And Im not just talking about a one-star,' he added, referring to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander at Abu Ghraib who was relieved of duty. 'This was a huge leadership failure.'"

"The Pentagon official told me that many senior generals believe that, along with the civilians in Rumsfeld's office, General Sanchez and General John Abizaid, who is in charge of the Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, had done their best to keep the issue quiet in the first months of the year. The official chain of command flows from General Sanchez, in Iraq, to Abizaid, and on to Rumsfeld and President Bush. 'You've got to match action, or nonaction, with interests,' the Pentagon official said. 'What is the motive for not being forthcoming? They foresaw major diplomatic problems.'"

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The best defense secretary "ever"
As Donald Rumsfeld's future continues to be uncertain, Dick Cheney gave him his own vice presidential thumbs up, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"'As a former secretary of Defense, I think Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of Defense the United States has ever had,' Cheney said through his spokesman, Kevin Kellems. 'People ought to let him do his job.' Kellems went on to call the Washington debate over whether Rumsfeld should resign 'overheated and out of sync with the rest of America,' where, he said, Rumsfeld is viewed as a central figure in fighting terrorism. 'The guy in glasses they see on television is the guy who's protecting their children.'"

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"Cheney's endorsement of Rumsfeld, made in response to a question from The Times, came as Pentagon officials struggled with the problem of how to share with members of Congress and others hundreds more incendiary images of prisoner abuse in Iraq. On Friday, in congressional testimony in which he apologized for the abuse, Rumsfeld warned of more 'horror' to come. Pressure to brief at least key congressional leaders is growing -- whether by showing them the photos and videos or conveying their nature in some other way. But defense officials said some of the new photos depict serious criminal acts and that future prosecutions could be jeopardized if the pictures become public. Releasing the photos could also violate provisions of the Geneva Conventions that bar depiction of prisoners of war in humiliating conditions."

Bush's right-wing honeymoon over
The Washington Post reports that the "conservative intelligentsia" is growing more restive about the president's policies.

"Last Tuesday, columnist George F. Will sharply criticized the administration's Iraq policy, writing: 'This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.' Two days earlier, Robert Kagan, a neoconservative supporter of the Iraq war, wrote: 'All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now.'"

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"The complaints about Bush's Iraq policy are relatively new, but they are in some ways similar to long-standing criticism about Bush's domestic policies. In a book released earlier this year, former Bush Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill described Bush as 'a blind man in a room full of deaf people' and said policymakers put politics before sound policy judgments."

"Echoing a criticism leveled by former Bush aide John J. DiIulio Jr., who famously described 'Mayberry Machiavellis' running the White House, O'Neill said 'the biggest difference' between his time in government in the 1970s and in the Bush administration 'is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis, and Karl [Rove], Dick [Cheney], [Bush communications strategist] Karen [Hughes] and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics.'"

Dissent in the senior ranks
The Washington Post also reported over the weekend that "deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq. Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time."

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"Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, 'I think strategically, we are.' "

"Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. 'Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically,' he said in an interview Friday."

Nader's Texas trial
The Dallas Morning News reports on Ralph Nader's attempt to get on the Texas ballot -- the first ballot access test for the candidate.

"In some cities, Nader supporters have had to get letters from city lawyers to collect signatures at various sites. 'We find ourselves on street corners,' he said. Obstacles like these have Nader backers unsure whether they will hit their target in Texas: The longtime consumer advocate and 2000 Green Party presidential nominee needs 64,076 signatures by today to be on the ballot this fall as an independent. The total represents 1 percent of all the votes cast in Texas in the last presidential election. To complicate matters, anyone who voted in the March 9 primary is not eligible to sign Mr. Nader's petition. And Mr. Nader will also have to list his running mate and delegates on the petition."

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"The Lone Star State is the first ballot access test for the Nader campaign; so far, most of its field resources have been focused here. But its success or failure will go a long way toward determining whether Mr. Nader can marshal the forces needed to get on ballots across the country. From an electoral standpoint, Texas is not important to Mr. Nader. It's the home of President Bush, and any votes Mr. Nader wins are unlikely to remove it from the Republican's column. But from a symbolic standpoint, Nader supporters say, it's important for the consumer advocate to launch a campaign from the back yard of his nemesis. And getting on the ballot after encountering a stacked deck would lend the campaign credibility."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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