Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
May 14, 2004 5:21PM (UTC)

Bush faces conservative dissent on Iraq
President Bush sought to soothe his conservative base in a speech before the American Conservative Union last night, invoking the names Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater. But Knight-Ridder reports that Bush faces sharp dissent from conservatives "that could force him to change course on the war in Iraq and other issues or risk losing critical support for his re-election campaign."

"The complaints are rising from the traditional conservative wing of the Republican Party including such influential voices as Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and columnist George Will, who are challenging the 'neo-conservative' doctrine that the United States can remake the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein and nurturing a democracy.

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"...If dissatisfaction over the war and other hot-button issues -- such as soaring federal-budget deficits, an expensive new Medicare drug entitlement and a proposed near-amnesty for illegal immigrants -- spreads through conservative ranks, it could force Bush to change course or face the prospect that some conservatives might sit out what's expected to be another close election. Bush tried to rally his base last night, addressing the 40th annual meeting of the American Conservative Union in Washington. He stuck to his Middle East vision of a new democracy in Iraq."

" ... Days earlier, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested Bush's vision of America's role may be unrealistic and unwise. 'We need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts, a sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy, by force if necessary,' Roberts said in a speech."

Berg's father wants answers
Knight-Ridder reports on the many questions that still surround the circumstances of Nick Berg's final weeks, from being picked up at a police checkpoint to his grisly death.

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"Nick Berg's father angrily lashed out at President Bush -- and said he had a question for him: 'I would like to ask him if it's true that al-Qaeda offered to trade my son's life for another person,' Michael Berg told a small group of reporters early Thursday morning outside his West Chester home. Berg said he did not blame the terrorists for his son's violent death. 'Nicholas Berg died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld,' he said, shortly after posting a 'War is not the Answer' sign on his front lawn. 'The al-Qaeda people are probably just as bad as they are, but this administration did this.'"

In other developments:

"While U.S. officials continue to deny that Berg ever had been in U.S. military custody, Michael Berg produced e-mails from Beth Payne, the U.S. consular officer in Iraq, dated April 1, that said his son was being detained by the military."

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"An alternative, left-leaning blog, www.breakfornews.com, posted a story theorizing that the Iraqi police had detained Nick Berg because his company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service Inc., and his father had been named on a list of "enemies" of the Iraq occupation in March."

"Thursday, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that another reason that Nick Berg had been held for so long was that the FBI was checking into some contact he may have had with terrorists while he attended the University of Oklahoma ... A senior law-enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Nick Berg had volunteered information about the 2002 investigation when he was detained in Iraq. The official said that an e-mail address traced to Berg had been used by an unidentified individual with purported connections to terrorism."

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Troops grill Rumsfeld
"Moments after Donald H. Rumsfeld said how much more 'fun' it was to be questioned by the troops in Baghdad than the critics in Washington, the troops in the Iraqi capital hit the defense secretary with a barrage of serious, probing and sometimes personal inquiries, some of which, he confessed, he just could not answer," the Washington Post reports.

"One soldier asked when they would receive improved vests and better armor for the Humvees. It's those roadside bombs, he said. 'We lost some soldiers due to them.' Another asked whether it was true that the military would not pay their full air fare back home. Yet another wanted to know why his military medical coverage wouldn't handle physical therapy for his handicapped child. When, if ever, would the United Nations send some troops and where would they come from? Would Defense Department employees who are civilians working with the military be permitted to carry guns, asked a civilian working with the military?"

"The entire town hall meeting was televised live on CNN. And sometimes it did indeed sound to Rumsfeld like a televised news conference full of journalists back home. 'Mr. Secretary,' said a member of the audience. 'You have said you would like to reduce the number of troops in Iraq. Instead, more troops are being sent.'"

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"'You should be a journalist,' Rumsfeld told her, smiling."

Wolfowitz slammed by senators
Paul Wolfowitz went to the Senate yesterday to discuss new war spending and ended up getting skewered by Senate Democrats, the Washington Post reports.

"Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said, 'What I've heard from you is dissembling and avoidance of answers, lack of knowledge, pleading process -- legal process.' Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) then hit Wolfowitz, who is seen as a major architect of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq, with a virtual indictment. 'You come before this committee . . . having seriously undermined your credibility over a number of years now,' she said. 'When it comes to making estimates or predictions about what will occur in Iraq, and what will be the costs in lives and money, . . . you have made numerous predictions, time and time again, that have turned out to be untrue and were based on faulty assumptions.' She quoted to him from his previous testimony from the run-up to the war, in which he asserted that the Iraqi people would see the United States as their liberator, that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction and that the estimate of Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq was 'outlandish.'"

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Civilians wrote rules of engagement
The Los Angeles Times reports that "senior military lawyers were so concerned about changes in the rules designed to safeguard prisoners during interrogation that they sought help outside the Defense Department, according to a New York lawyer who headed a recent study of how prisoners have been treated in the war on terrorism."

"'They were extremely upset. They said they were being shut out of the process, and that the civilian political lawyers, not the military lawyers, were writing these new rules of engagement,' said Scott Horton, who was chairman of the New York City Bar Assn. committee that filed a report this month on the interrogation of detainees by the U.S. The report was released just days before the first photos were broadcast showing naked Iraqi detainees being abused at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad."

" ... Some international law experts, as well as some Senate Democrats, said the loosened rules violated the Geneva Convention, which forbids soldiers to use physical force to obtain information from detainees. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the rules had been examined and approved by lawyers for the administration. ... The military lawyers complained that the Pentagon was creating 'an atmosphere of legal ambiguity,' Horton said. 'What's happened is not an accident. It is exactly what they were warning about a year ago,' he said. None of the military lawyers would agree to speak publicly, he said, because to do so would threaten their careers."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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