Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 11, 2004 1:36PM (EDT)

Worse before it gets better
Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who authored the now-famous Army report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, testifies today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. His testimony comes a day after President Bush viewed a selection of the 1,200 images depicting prisoner abuse in Iraq that have yet to be seen by the public. According to the Los Angeles Times, "a military official who has seen the photos said that one depicts soldiers sodomizing prisoners with chemical lights and another depicts sex between two U.S. soldiers. The official could not confirm a CNN report that said a video exists that shows guards fondling and kissing a female detainee."

Members of Congress are arranging to see the new photos in private, and a debate has ensued about whether and how they would be released to the public. Although Bush went to the Pentagon to affirm his support for Rumsfeld on Monday, disaffection with the defense secretary continues to grow. The L.A. Times said: "Outrage continued to percolate through the military. The Army Times and three sister publications, civilian-operated newspapers covering the armed forces, said in an editorial released Monday that responsibility for the scandal goes to the top of the command structure. 'This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level,' the newspapers said. 'This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability here is essential -- even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war.'"

"Just followed orders"
Lawyers for Army Pfc. Lynndie R. England say she has been a scapegoat for higher-ups who want to shirk responsibility for lawless behavior in U.S. military prisons in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that England's attorneys say she "was ordered by her superiors to pose with naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison ... so that the photos could be used to frighten and demoralize other prisoners. 'People told Pfc. England, 'Hold that leash,' told her to smile, so they can show the photos to subsequent prisoners,' said Carl S. McGuire, one member of a team of Denver-area lawyers defending England. The 21-year-old Army reservist, who was photographed holding a leash tied to the neck of a naked prisoner, faces a court-martial on 13 counts of misconduct."

"'They picked her to get the smallest, youngest, lowest-rank woman they could find, and that would increase the humiliation for an Iraqi man,' said Rose Mary Zapor, another member of the Denver-based legal team. In a news conference Monday night, England's attorneys also said that President Bush's public condemnation of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib makes it all but impossible for the accused soldiers to get a fair court-martial."

Secret world of interrogation
The Washington Post reports that the Abu Ghraib scandal is shedding light on a secret world of interrogation that exists in a worldwide network of U.S. military detention facilities.

"These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States."

" ... The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services -- some with documented records of torture -- to which the U.S. government delivers or 'renders' mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning."

"All told, more than 9,000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas, according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts, the vast majority under military control. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and, at least in the case of prisoners held in cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib, no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in U.S. jails."

Hiding from Congress
The Washington Post also reported today that lawmakers are increasingly concerned that the Bush administration bypassed Congress to buildup military operations in the Persian Gulf before invading Iraq last year.

"When Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio) went on an inspection trip to several Persian Gulf countries in the summer of 2002, he was dazzled by the state-of-the-art command centers, airstrips and other facilities being built there for the U.S. military."

"But he was also troubled. Some of what he saw or learned from military briefers had not been approved by the House Appropriations Committee panel on military construction, which he then chaired. 'I knew I didn't have that kind of money,' he quipped recently."

"Hobson's inquiries ultimately led to a modest tightening of controls over the Pentagon's ability to move money between military accounts without prior approval from Congress. But the episode has sparked concerns on the part of some lawmakers that the Bush administration largely bypassed Congress as it expanded installations in the Persian Gulf region before the war with Iraq."

"President Bush has acknowledged that months before Congress voted an Iraq war resolution in October 2002, he approved about 30 projects in Kuwait that helped set the stage for war, with 'no real knowledge or involvement' of Congress, according to Plan of Attack, a new book by Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post."

Nader sues to get on Texas ballot
Reuters reports that Ralph Nader didn't get enough signatures to put him on the Texas ballot -- his first ballot access test -- so he's suing, arguing the state's standards for independent candidates ate stricter than for third-party candidates.

"Nader's suit against Texas' secretary of state came after his campaign did not collect the required 64,076 signatures in time to meet a 5 p.m. CDT deadline on Monday. The figure is one percent of all votes cast for president in Texas in 2004. The consumer advocate collected more than 50,000 signatures in Texas, President Bush's home state and a bastion of support for his Republican party."

"The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Austin, charges that Texas' ballot access law is unconstitutional because it sets stricter standards for independent candidates than it does for third-party challengers. For example, third-party candidates are given 75 days to collect nearly 20,000 fewer signatures required for inclusion on the ballot, the suit says. Nader had 60 days to collect his signatures."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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