Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
May 12, 2004 5:56PM (UTC)

"What the hell was happening?"
What happened to Nick Berg from the time he was released from police custody in Mosul after being picked up at a checkpoint, and how he ended up taken hostage by the Islamic militants who executed him, is still unclear. But more details are emerging of Berg's final days. The Washington Post says that Berg last spoke to his parents in West Chester, Pa., on April 9, when he said he would fly home through Jordan "but that a violent insurgency erupting in western Iraq had made driving there impossible."

"Hearing nothing further, Berg's family spent the next few weeks searching frantically for information. They opened his e-mail account and sent notes to his business associates. They requested his cell phone records from Iraq. No one had any leads. The next time they heard any news was when the consul called [to inform them Berg's body had been found.]"

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"According to a clerk at Baghdad's Al Fanar Hotel, on the east bank of the Tigris River, Berg checked in on March 22, left for Mosul the next day, returned to the hotel on April 6 and checked out on April 10. Berg said he was going home, the clerk said, and walked down Saddoun Street, a major artery, because the road was closed to vehicular traffic. He left behind in his room a yellowed and folded page from a book by Jon Burmeister, a South African writer of thrillers who died in 2001."

"The page carries a short prose poem titled 'The War That Wasn't.' It describes a man named Jericho, who is awakened by machine-gun fire, 'his heart hammering thunderously against the ribcage as though trying to escape.' The poem ends: 'What the hell was happening? God knows, he thought. But it seemed clear that the war had arrived -- the war that wasn't coming here...'"

No monopoly on outrage
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the horrific video showing the beheading of Nick Berg bears different meanings for those in support of or in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq.

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"For some, the gruesome image of hooded murderers beheading an unarmed American civilian serves as a vivid reminder of why the nation is at war. For others, the same horrific picture demonstrates why the U.S. mission in Iraq is doomed to failure. The grisly video, surfacing just as the world was absorbing pictures of Americans brutalizing Iraqi prisoners, provoked conflicting reactions. Some said it was precisely this sort of evil among Iraqi terrorists that prompted -- if not justified -- the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. Others said it was the abuse at the prison that perpetuated the evil."

"Neither camp could claim a monopoly on outrage over the public slaughter of 26-year-old Nick Berg, nor could they predict how the gut-wrenching video would affect world opinion or American resolve. Yet many warned that the shocking images, along with the Abu Ghraib pictures, portend even more violence ahead. 'They're not soldiers, they're monsters ... and we are not going to rest until every last one of them is in a cell or a cemetery,' said House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas."

" ... Anger at Iraqis -- those responsible for Berg's murder, those detained at the Abu Ghraib prison and even those who have no connection to either -- would be a natural reaction for many Americans, though public opinion experts said the blur of horrific images is likely to further erode American support for the war in the long run. 'My impression is that it will add overall to the growing discontent with the war,' said Professor John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University. Americans' support for the Vietnam War surged just after the Tet Offensive in 1968, he said, but opposition to the war began to build again shortly thereafter."

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Taguba, Rumsfeld aide clash
The New York Times reports on the unusual public disagreement on display at the Senate hearing on Iraqi prisoner abuse yesterday that pitted Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba against the senior Pentagon civilian sitting next to him.

"[Taguba] told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it had been against the Army's doctrine for another Army general to recommend last summer that military guards 'set the conditions' to help Army intelligence officers extract information from prisoners. He also said an order last November from the top American officer in Iraq effectively put the prison guards under the command of the intelligence unit there. But the civilian official, Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, contradicted the general. He said that the military police and the military intelligence unit at the prison needed to work closely to gain as much intelligence as possible from Iraqi prisoners to prevent attacks against American soldiers. Mr. Cambone also said that General Taguba misinterpreted the November order, which he said only put the intelligence unit in charge of the prison facility, not of the military police guards."

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"While General Taguba depicted the abuses at the prison as the acts of a few soldiers under a fragmented and inept command, he also said that 'they were probably influenced by others, if not necessarily directed specifically by others.' His report called for an inquiry into the culpability of intelligence officers, which is still under way."

Did bogus 9/11 connection feed vengeance?
The AP looks at whether rhetoric and symbols that connected the toppling of Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, prevalent among troops and on tanks and other equipment during the initial invasion of Iraq last year, may have contributed to a belief among GI's that Iraqis were involved with 9/11, therefore fueling the prisoner abuse problem.

"More than a year after Saddam's ouster, no proof of his ties to al-Qaida or September 11 has materialized. Some skeptics suggest that the avenging rhetoric and imagery instead may have fostered an atmosphere conducive to the maltreatment of Iraqis who had no connection to international terrorism. Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International-USA, said the Bush administration bears some responsibility for blurring the lines between September 11 and the Iraq war."

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"'The tone that was set, all the way to the top, and the climate in which these soldiers operated was an invitation to this kind of abuse,' Goering said. 'Governments have the obligation to take appropriate steps to protect their citizens, but they have to take these in a manner consistent with respect for fundamental human rights.'

"The Army's own investigative report, by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, suggested that interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay were applied inappropriately in Iraq. Taguba concluded that there were many common criminals at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, but probably no detainees linked to al-Qaida or other international terrorist groups. In a separate report, the International Committee of the Red Cross suggested that most Abu Ghraib prisoners were detained by mistake."

Dems divided on Kerry
USA Today reports that "Democrats following the presidential campaign are divided into two factions these days: people who are frustrated that John Kerry isn't crushing President Bush in polls, and people who say Kerry is in great shape compared to past challengers."

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"Gas prices are up, the stock market is down, Iraq is a mess, and John Kerry is saying to himself, 'How am I going to beat this guy?' " David Letterman joked Monday night on CBS, summing up the sentiments of the first group. Kerry's team says it's amazing that he's tied with a wartime president after a $60 million ad campaign against him. "They (the Bush campaign) thought they would unleash this and we would be standing before you dead. That is not the case," Kerry's campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, said in an interview Tuesday."

"Bush has been under siege for weeks over violence against Americans in Iraq and the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal."

Surveying the battleground
The New York Times reports that both Bush and Kerry's campaigns are "pouring resources into more than 20 states in a struggle to master what both sides describe as one of the largest and most complex electoral playing fields in nearly 20 years."

"The broad map, including such unusual additions as Arizona, Colorado and Louisiana as well as the traditionally contested states like Ohio, is partly the result of the vast amount of money each candidate has raised and their decision to quit a campaign finance system that would put a ceiling on their spending. That has allowed Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry to spend -- and experiment -- in states they might otherwise have been forced to ignore, campaign aides said. The new map also reflects demographic shifts that have put places like Arizona, a nominally Republican state, in play because of its growing Hispanic population, as well as polling that has found an increasing number of states that are nearly evenly divided. Campaign aides also say they feel pressure not to repeat what they view as Al Gore's mistake of abandoning states that ended up being decided by a few thousand votes."

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"The two campaigns are, as of now, looking at 22 states between them, a playing field that is about one-third larger than it was at this point in 2000. Analysts say it could expand even more in the months ahead, before undergoing the contraction that inevitably takes place after Labor Day, as the campaigns take stock of where they stand for the remaining 60 days of the contest."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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