Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 25, 2004 2:07PM (EDT)

Repackaging "stalled policy" in 5 steps
The morning after President Bush's speech intended to boost waning support for the war in Iraq amid violence and instability, the analyses are in. How did he do? The Washington Post says "Bush did not provide the midcourse correction that even some Republicans had called for in the face of increasingly macabre violence in recent weeks ... nor did Bush try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq. After promising 'concrete steps,' the White House basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan."

"In effect, the president said his current plan is good enough to win, and he set out to rally Americans to his cause with rousing language that placed the conflict in Iraq in the context of the larger, more popular battle against terrorism ... Still, the questions left unanswered last night could continue to make the administration vulnerable to criticism."

What Would Kerry Do?
The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein puts the onus on John Kerry to articulate a plan for Iraq now.

"In a statement, Kerry dismissed the speech as a rehash of Bush's previous arguments. 'The president laid out general principles tonight, most of which we've heard before,' said Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. 'What's most important now is to turn these words into action by offering presidential leadership to the nation and to the world.'"

"But if anything, some analysts say, Bush's recitation of what he called 'the specific steps we are taking to achieve our goals' could increase demands for Kerry to offer more specifics of his own. Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who studies public opinion on national security, said Bush's speech would 'raise the bar' for Kerry and other critics to explain their plans. 'It will be hard to identify something in [Bush's speech] that is wrong-headed that will allow a critic to say, here's a better way to do it,' he said. The speech seems unlikely to turn the tide in public opinion on Iraq -- if only because no single address, or even any single event, has shown the power to win lasting backing for the war."

Leaked memo shows U.K. reservations
The Scotsman reports that a leaked U.K. government memo exposes the first cracks in Britain's coalition with the United States over the occupation of Iraq. The memo "revealed deep misgivings about America's 'heavy-handed' tactics in the war-torn country."

"The damning document, produced by a team working for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, disclosed private reservations within Tony Blair's administration about Washingtons approach to the post-war occupation. The detailed memo, sent to senior ministers and top officials last week as a 'progress report' on the occupation, stressed the need for the UK government to press the Americans to soften their approach and avoid aggressive responses 'which would jeopardize our objectives.'"

"It also talked of 'the need to redouble our efforts to ensure a sensitive and sensible U.S. approach to military operations.' The revelations shatter the governments long-held insistence that there are no differences between Downing Street and the White House over Iraq."

"'We should not underestimate the present difficulties,' the document states, in a section headed 'Problems.' 'Heavy-handed US military tactics in Fallujah and Najaf some weeks ago have fueled both Sunni and Shi'ite opposition to the Coalition and lost us much public support inside Iraq.'"

Guardian: Evidence of Chalabi/Iran ties
The Guardian newspaper reports that "an urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the U.S. into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday. Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbor, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq."

"According to a U.S. intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions. The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands. The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war."

CIA hid "ghost detainees"
The New York Times obtained a memo that shows Army and civilian military officials were so concerned about the CIA practice of keeping "ghost detainees" off the rolls of Abu Ghraib, they reached an agreement to stop.

"An undated copy of the memorandum was obtained by The New York Times. It was described as an agreement between the Army intelligence unit assigned to the prison and 'external agencies,' a euphemism for the C.I.A., to halt practices that bypassed both military rules and international standards."

"Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the Army officer who first investigated the prison abuses, concluded in his classified report that the practice of allowing what he called 'ghost detainees' at the prison was 'deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law.' He complained that military guards were being enlisted to hide the prisoners from the Red Cross."

"The memorandum provides the clearest indication to date that military officials were troubled by the practice even before General Taguba wrote his report."

The Times also reports that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. officer in Iraq, who oversaw Abu Ghraib prison, will be replaced. "While the move may not have come purely as a result of Abu Ghraib, General Sanchez has been under pressure recently in Iraq, especially as the insurgency has posed increasing military challenges in the central town of Falluja and in several southern towns."

" ... Some lawmakers have criticized General Sanchez, among other top officers, for failing to give Congress an early warning about politically explosive photographs of American military police officers abusing Iraqi prisoners that were turned over to military investigators in January. A spokesman for General Sanchez said the general 'stands by his testimony before Congressional committees' that he did not learn of the abuses until January, months after they began."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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