By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2004; 8:19 AM
Man, the latest Iraqi prisoner photos are just revolting.
One set of pictures, obtained by ABC News, show two American soldiers grinning like clowns as they stood over the ice-packed body of a dead Iraqi--one who died after being questioned by U.S. forces.
I don't want to hear about how the soldiers lacked the proper "training." And I don't want to read any more interviews in which neighbors say how nice they seemed. Anyone with half a brain would find this sort of thing sadistic. And they can't exactly argue that they're trying to extract information from a recalcitrant trainee, since the subject in question is quite clearly deceased.
Another, in this morning's Washington Post, has a soldier using a big dog to threaten a prisoner with hands tied behind him.
Equally stunning is the way the Bush administration has suddenly turned on Ahmed Chalabi. At one time, the Pentagon wanted the Iraqi exile to run the post-Saddam country, despite the fact that he hadn't been back there for decades. He was an influential voice in the war councils, egging the U.S. on about Hussein's WMDs with what turned out to be lousy intelligence. He and his group were getting $340,000 a month in taxpayer dollars. He was a prime source for the New York Times and most likely other news organizations.
Yesterday, U.S. forces raided Chalabi's home and two offices used by his Iraqi National Congress, seizing computers, files and dozens of rifles. The military got arrest warrants for 15 people on such charges as kidnapping and fraud.
Chalabi, a member of the Governing Council, was acting like Moses, declaring: "Let my people go."
Most amazing of all is the reaction of the administration, which can be summed up as: Ahmed who?
Scott McClellan refused to say what Bush now thinks of Chalabi, saying it wasn't the president's place, it's up to the Iraqi people, etc.
"It is not for me to comment on this," said Rummy, who usually has an opinion on everything.
They tout him as their golden boy, rely on him in the runup to war, then raid his house and act like he's just some schlepper not worthy of comment? Come on.
"By all appearances," says the New York Times, "Ahmad Chalabi reached the pinnacle of influence in Washington four months ago, when he took a seat of honor right behind Laura Bush at the president's State of the Union address. To all the world, he looked like the Iraqi exile who had returned home victorious, a favorite of the Pentagon who might run the country once the American occupation ended.
"In fact, as Mr. Chalabi applauded President Bush, his influence in Washington had already eroded.
"The intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that his Iraqi National Congress helped feed to senior Bush administration officials and data-starved intelligence analysts -- evidence that created the urgency behind the march toward war -- was already crumbling. Intelligence officials now argue some of it was fabricated. The much-discussed, much-denied effort by Pentagon officials to install him as Iraq's leader had already faded.
"By Thursday morning, when his home and office were raided by the Iraqi police and American troops seeking evidence of fraud, embezzlement and kidnapping by members of his Iraqi National Congress -- and perhaps an explanation of his dealings with Iranian intelligence -- Mr. Chalabi was already engaged in open political warfare with the Bush administration."
The Los Angeles Times portrays the Chalabi raid as the result of a very bad gamble:
"Over 15 years, the American-trained financier convinced Washington that he was a sophisticated Shiite Muslim who could Westernize a country in the heart of the Arab world and foster reform throughout the troubled region.
"Yet in recent months, Chalabi's support from the Bush administration tumbled as he increasingly challenged U.S. policy to improve his standing with Iraqis. "Though some U.S. officials denied that they were behind the raid, White House officials acknowledged privately that they had known such an action was coming, and they expressed dissatisfaction with their erstwhile ally...
"Although Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, may still find himself in an important role in Iraq, his split with U.S. authorities invalidated one of the administration's assumptions about the war. They had bet on the wrong man."
Says Salon's Andrew Cockburn: "Why did the Bush administration turn against its former favorite Iraqi? Almost certainly because it realized that Chalabi, maddened by the realization that he was being excluded from the post-June 30 hand-over arrangements, was putting together a sectarian Shiite faction to destabilize and destroy the new Iraqi government."
The Post account of new abuse details shows that scandal is far from over:
"Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.
"Some of the detainees described being abused as punishment or discipline after they were caught fighting or with a prohibited item. Some said they were pressed to denounce Islam or were force-fed pork and liquor. Many provided graphic details of how they were sexually humiliated and assaulted, threatened with rape, and forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers.
"'They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees,' said Hiadar Sabar Abed Miktub al-Aboodi, detainee No. 13077. 'We had to bark like a dog, and if we didn't do that they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy.'"
When you think about it, what did we really get from all this mistreatment? Who's more humiliated now?
Nation Editor Katrina van den Heuvel is firmly in the pullout camp:
"The facts on the ground are inescapable--the US occupation of Iraq must be ended. Over the last several weeks, many of the nation's pundits, policy-makers and military brass have concluded that 'the American position is untenable,' to quote former US ambassador to the United Nations and Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke. One Pentagon consultant spoke for many in the military when he referred to Bush's Iraq policy as 'Dead Man Walking.'...
"Support for the occupation among both Iraqis and Americans is also eroding quickly. Recent Coalition Provisional Authority polls found that 80 percent of Iraqis distrust the US. And, according to a USA Today/CNN/ Gallup, the majority of Iraqis now want the US to leave Iraq immediately, while only a third of Iraqis believe the US-led occupation is doing more good than harm. (And that poll was taken in late March and early April.)
"In the United States, the most recent polls found that 60 percent of Americans think that we've 'gotten bogged down in Iraq.' Moreover, by a 54 to 44 margin, Americans say that unseating Hussein was not worth the mounting cost in blood and money.
"America's politicians, of course, are trailing behind public opinion. In setting the parameters of this debate, neo-conservative hawks like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz -- and even some leading Democrats--have presented the world with a false choice. 'Stay the Course,' they urge, because if we leave Iraq now, we will consign the country to civil war and an Iranian-style dictatorship for years to come.
"At this point, there are no good options but Kerry, sadly, has bought into this assumption by making the case that the US must remain in Iraq lest it descend into chaos. Shorn of the neocons' pipedreams for a democratic Iraq, Kerry's rhetoric is, essentially, an 'Internationalization of Staying the Course.'"
Josh Marshall addresses the elephant in the Iraqi room:
"It's an obvious question really, but worth asking, worth considering: How long do we think the administration, the CPA, the UN and whoever else now has a finger in the pie will wait to announce what government, even what sort of government we'll be handing 'sovereignty' over to at the end of June?
"What's the absolute latest you can imagine? A month? A week? Could it be like one of Bill Clinton's state of the union addresses where they're fiddling with the small print until a couple hours before showtime?
"I'd be surprised if they came up with a plan by the end of this month and I cannot imagine they'd leave it until less than a week before June 30th.
"But just step back and look at how crazy this is: we've run Iraq for more than a year, spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the whole effort, lost many of our own sons and daughters as well as many Iraqis. And here you have what is arguably the big issue: who you hand the place off to and how you hand it off to them. And it's left to the last minute, with the powers that be having to ditch almost everything that has come up until this point and start from scratch."
The reason, I suspect, is that they don't have a workable plan at the moment.
Andrew Sullivan is troubled by the U.S. bombing of what Iraqis claim was a wedding party:
"It's very hard to know the facts about the carnage on the Iraq-Syria border, but whatever the occasion, it appears that the U.S. military was responsible for the deaths of several Iraqi women and children. It was almost certainly a mistake - either of target or of provocation.
"But it's another blow to the prestige of the U.S. military and their ability to avoid the kind of action which will, in fact, make their mission harder rather than easier. There are now many reports of U.S. soldiers feeling so beleaguered and jumpy that their first instinct is to fire, capture or mistreat captives. And so the cycle of distrust in some areas appears to deepen."
And what was Bush doing yesterday?
"President Bush made a rare trip to Capitol Hill on Thursday that was part pep rally, part pre-emptive strike,"says USA Today. "Republican lawmakers were beginning to voice growing unease over weeks of bad news from Iraq; party unity was beginning to fray under the pressure.
"Bush met in a packed basement room of the Capitol with Republican House and Senate members about to head home to face voters for 10 days. He spoke for about 40 minutes on Iraq, the economy and energy policy."
But: He didn't talk about prisoner abuse or Chalabi.
"Bush's decision to request an audience with the lawmakers on their turf was symbolically significant. A number of senior Republicans have complained that the administration has failed to consult with them on Iraq and other issues...
"Lawmakers who expected a give-and-take with the commander in chief were disappointed, however. Microphones were set up in the room, and they were told to line up if they had questions. But Bush left without taking any."
That fits my definition of a one-way conversation.
I've criticized the Boston Globe for its recent photo blunder, but this long post from Dan Kennedy shows that some are twisting the incident into something it wasn't:
"You will not be surprised to learn that the right is lying about the Boston Globe's role in promulgating those fake photos of American troops raping Iraqi women. The pictures were unveiled at a news conference last week by Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and black-community activist Sadiki Kambon. Click here and work backwards for the full story.
"To recap briefly: the Globe published an article about the news conference by reporter Donovan Slack that conveyed great skepticism about the pictures, and that quoted a military spokesman as saying the photos might well be an Internet fraud. In fact, it turned out that WorldNetDaily.com had already exposed them as frauds.
"Where the Globe went wrong was in running a George Rizer photo of Turner and Kambon in which the fake-rape pictures were clearly visible; and then, when editors realized what a mistake they'd made after the first edition rolled off the presses, shrinking the photo rather than removing it altogether from subsequent editions.
"A screw-up? Yes. A really bad screw-up? Absolutely! But not the one that right-wingers wish the Globe had made. That's not going to stop them, though. Here, for instance, is Mark Steyn, taking a break from the hard work of ridiculing triple amputee Max Cleland:
"'In the last few days, the Mirror, a raucous Fleet Street tabloid, has published pictures of British troops urinating on Iraqi prisoners, and the Boston Globe, a somnolent New England broadsheet, has published pictures of American troops sexually abusing Iraqi women. In both cases, the pictures turned out to be fake. From a cursory glance at the details in the London snaps and the provenance of the Boston ones, it should have been obvious to editors at both papers that they were almost certainly false.
"'Yet they published them. Because they wanted them to be true. Because it would bring them a little closer to the head they really want to roll - George W. Bush's.'
"Writing in National Review, John O'Sullivan accuses the Globe of 'Willing Gullibility,' adding:
From the Boston Phoenix:
"'Two newspapers - the Daily Mirror in Britain and the Boston Globe in the U.S. - have published fake photographs of British and American soldiers abusing prisoners. In the British case the fakes were quickly detected once they had been published, and in the American case, they had been detected before the Globe published them. Neither the media's vaunted "skepticism" nor simple fact-checking on the internet were employed in either case by the papers. The fakes were, in the old Fleet Street joke, "too good to check." There was a rush to misjudgment.' . . .
"Of course, none of these accounts is even remotely accurate, but they follow one of the right's favorite scripts: that the liberal media - in this case, the Globe - so hate America that they eagerly seize upon dubious claims of heinous behavior on the part of US soldiers. It doesn't matter that the Globe reported no such thing. It doesn't matter that the paper didn't 'publish' the fake pictures, instead accidentally capturing them in a photo of Turner and Kambon."
The Note rips JFK for his overly nuanced comment that he's not averse to appointing anti-abortion judges as long as they don't change the Supreme Court majority for Roe:
"John Kerry -- mystifying his friends and delighting his enemies by displaying the kind of pandering, flip-flopping verbal gymnastics over abortion that truly have the capacity to single-handedly keep him from winning the White House. Not a smooth slide to the center or a Sister Souljah -- just flailing."
Kerry later issued a clarification.
The New York Post sees Kerry twisting himself into a pretzel:
"Democrat John Kerry yesterday did a backward somersault and retreated from his suggestion just one day earlier that he might appoint right-to-life justices to the Supreme Court as long as the majority stayed pro-choice.
"'I want to make myself clear,' said a Kerry statement issued by his campaign. 'I believe that a woman's right to choose is a constitutional right. I will not appoint anyone to the Supreme Court who will undo that right.'"
"On Wednesday, Kerry sparked a brouhaha by telling the Associated Press he might appoint an anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court, but not if it had just a narrow 5-4 pro-choice majority."
All clear now?
© 2004 washingtonpost.com