Wednesday's must-reads

Published May 26, 2004 1:42PM (EDT)

Times: We were had
The New York Times has finally caught up with many critics of its coverage of the threat Saddam Hussein posed, or rather didn't, in the months before the U.S. invasion. In a rare note to readers today, the Times admits its coverage was flawed and relied too heavily on now discredited Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles. But the paper doesn't single out any one employee for helping lead the country into an unnecessary war by backing up the administration's case for an Iraq invasion, nor does it propose punishments for editors or reporters.

" ... It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in. And until now we have not reported that to our readers. We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."

Much of the criticism of the Times coverage has focused on one reporter, Judith Miller, but the Times editorial doesn't name her, or anyone else, specifically: "Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."

"How not to do journalism"
Editor & Publisher assesses the adequacy of the Times' editorial note, finding: "While it does not, in some ways, go nearly far enough, this low-key, but scathing, self-rebuke is nothing less than a primer on how not to do journalism, particularly if you are an enormously influential newspaper with a costly invasion of another nation at stake."

"Todays critique is, in its own way, as devastating as last years front-page corrective on Jayson Blair, though not nearly as long. Nowhere in it, however, does the name of Judith Miller appear. ... Yet, clearly, even in the Times own view, Miller was the main culprit, though they seem reluctant, or ashamed, to say so. This is clear in analyzing todays critique. The editors single out six articles as being especially unfortunate, and Judith Miller had a hand in four of them: writing two on her own, co-authoring the other two with Michael Gordon. The only two non-Miller pieces were the earliest in the chronology, and they barely receive mention. Starting nearly a year ago, E & P called on the Times to re-assess Millers work, and renewed the call more often than any other publication."

Chatter: Al-Qaida may try to impact U.S. election
New threat information suggests al-Qaida is in the U.S. planning a new attack and may try to affect the U.S. election, the Washington Post reports.

"The concerns are driven by intelligence deemed credible that was obtained about a month ago indicating an attack may be planned between now and Labor Day. That information dovetails with other intelligence 'chatter' suggesting that al Qaeda operatives are pleased with the change in government resulting from the March 11 terrorist bombings in Spain and may want to affect elections in the United States and other countries."

"'They saw that an attack of that nature can have economic and political consequences and have some impact on the electoral process,' said one federal official with access to counterterrorism intelligence. Intelligence and law enforcement officials are trying to strengthen security at the presidential nominating conventions this summer in Boston and New York. They are also concerned about the possible targeting of other prominent events, starting with the World War II Memorial ceremony Saturday in the District, the Group of Eight summit June 8-10 in Sea Island, Ga., and the Summer Olympic Games in August in Athens."

Perle: Occupation "grave error"
Now that he's stepped down from the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle is badmouthing the consequences of the war he helped design, the Toronto Star reports.

"Richard Perle, until recently a powerful adviser to U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, described U.S. policy in post-war Iraq as a failure. 'I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation (of Iraq) to subside into an occupation. And I think that was a grave error, and in some ways a continuing error,' said Perle, former chair of the influential Defence Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon. With violent resistance to the U.S.-led occupation showing no signs of ending, Perle said the biggest mistake in post-war policy 'was the failure to turn Iraq back to the Iraqis more or less immediately.'"

"'We didn't have to find ourselves in the role of occupier. We could have made the transition that is going to be made at the end of June more or less immediately,' he told BBC radio, referring to the U.S. and British plan to transfer political authority in Iraq to an interim government on June 30. This public criticism of U.S. policy from one of the leading advocates of the war  and a firm political ally of U.S. President George W. Bush  indicates just how much Bush's political fortunes are being damaged by post-war chaos."

Fla. voters still off rolls
To get an idea of how things have not yet changed in Florida since the 2000 debacle, the Miami Herald reports that "with less than six months to go before the presidential election, thousands of Florida voters who may have been improperly removed from the voter rolls in 2000 have yet to have their eligibility restored."

"Records obtained by The Herald show that just 33 of 67 counties have responded to a request by state election officials to check whether or not nearly 20,000 voters should be reinstated as required under a legal settlement reached between the state, the NAACP and other groups nearly two years ago. Some of the counties that have failed to respond to the state include many of Florida's largest, including Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach."

"Those counties that have responded told the state that they have restored 679 voters to the rolls so far -- more than enough to have tipped the balance of the 2000 election had they voted for Al Gore. President Bush won Florida and the presidency by 537 votes. The fact that many counties have yet to add voters back to the rolls comes at the same time that election supervisors across Florida are being asked to look at purging more than 47,000 voters that the state has identified as possible felons who are ineligible to vote under state law."

"Bankrupt of vision"
The BBC reports on a new Amnesty International report that says the "US-led 'war on terror' is behind a surge of human rights abuses around the world ... The organisation said America's offensive against global terrorism was 'bankrupt of vision' and had 'made the world a more dangerous place.'"

"' ... Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses, have neither increased security nor ensured liberty,' she said. The report cites the hundreds of detainees from around 40 countries who are being held by the US without charge in Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan. The world should have expected the shocking photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Ms Khan said."

"'This is the logical consequence of the relentless pursuit of the war on terror since 11 September. It is the result of the US seeking to put itself outside the ambit of judicial scrutiny.'"

Widespread pattern of abuse
"An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known," the New York Times reports.

"The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on 'blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia.' Among previously unknown incidents are the abuse of detainees by Army interrogators from a National Guard unit attached to the Third Infantry Division, who are described in a document obtained by The New York Times as having 'forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information' during a 10-week period last spring."

" ... The details paint a broad picture of misconduct, and show that in many cases among the 37 prisoners who have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army did not conduct autopsies and says it cannot determine the causes of the deaths. In his speech on Monday night, President Bush portrayed the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers in narrow terms. He described incidents at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which were the first and most serious to come to light, as involving actions 'by a few American troops who disregarded our country and disregarded our values.'"

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that a former military police officer posing as an uncooperative prisoner during a training session at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last year says he was beaten so badly by four American soldiers that he suffered a brain injury.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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