Now we get to the politics of prisoner abuse.

That didn't take long, did it?

The shock hasn't worn off -- those pictures are just so revolting -- but the finger-pointing and second-guessing and campaign maneuvering are under way.

With President Bush going on Arab TV, Donald Rumsfeld marching to the morning shows (and the Hill) and Joe Biden declaring that "if it goes all the way to Rumsfeld, he should resign," it's clear that this is no one-week story. It's too soon to know whether the damage is limited to these morons who photographed themselves humiliating prisoners or whether higher-ups have any responsibility.

This can of worms could be crawling around Washington for some time to come, especially if evidence surfaces that military intelligence pushed for such methods as a way of extracting information.

We've been plunged into another apology debate, soon after the 9/11 hearings, only this time Americans -- some Americans, anyway -- are the perpetrators. Rumsfeld's use of the A-word on "Today" was carefully parsed: "Anyone who sees photographs does in fact apologize to the people who were in fact abused. That was wrong, that was unacceptable, that was un-American. That apology is there for anyone who was abused."

The apology is there? From whom? And why didn't the administration get out in front of this when the investigative report came back in February, rather than waiting for CBS to break it?

And there was Sean Hannity last night, saying John Kerry has no right to criticize the administration's handling of the debacle because he said he committed atrocities in Vietnam.

If that wasn't enough, the head of the U.S. military police unit at the prison is under investigation for secretly photographing naked American female soldiers. Wasn't anyone supervising these people?

Something tells me this is going to get uglier before it gets better.

The buck stops . . . at the Pentagon, this New York Times | report suggests:

"President Bush on Wednesday chastised his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, for Mr. Rumsfeld's handling of a scandal over the American abuse of Iraqis held at a notorious prison in Baghdad, White House officials said.

"The disclosures by the White House officials, under authorization from Mr. Bush, were an extraordinary display of finger-pointing in an administration led by a man who puts a high premium on order and loyalty. The officials said the president had expressed his displeasure to Mr. Rumsfeld during a meeting in the Oval Office because of Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to tell Mr. Bush about photographs of the abuse, which have enraged the Arab world.

"In his interviews Wednesday with Arab television networks, Mr. Bush said that he learned the graphic details of the abuse case only when they were broadcast last Wednesday on the CBS program '60 Minutes II.' It was then, one White House official said, that Mr. Bush also saw the photographs documenting the abuse. 'When you see the pictures,' the official said, 'it takes on a proportion of gravity that would require a much more extreme response than the way it was being handled.'

"Another White House official said, 'The president was not satisfied or happy about the way he was informed about the pictures, and he did talk to Secretary Rumsfeld about it.'"

Question: How often does this happen in the Bush administration? Answer: Never.

USA Today | takes a broader view of the man once depicted as the Pentagon's rock star:

"Hailed as a conquering hero after last year's quick victory over Saddam Hussein's army, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is fast becoming the focus of intense criticism over his handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

"Some leading Democrats, including presidential candidate John Kerry, are suggesting he should resign. Though President Bush professed confidence in his Defense secretary Wednesday, few Republicans in Congress have rushed to support him."

Goodness gracious, could he be in trouble?

The Los Angeles Times |,1,4058993.story?coll=la-home-headlines asks who knew what when:

"The abuse of Iraqi prisoners sparked so much concern that President Bush was told about an investigation during the winter holidays, White House officials said Tuesday. Within months, the scandal damaged the military career of an Army Reserve general and several other officers.

"Now, people at the Pentagon and across official Washington are asking how high the blame will reach. With outrage growing over the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, the military's main prison in Iraq, accountability has become an overriding question.

"Already, mid-level military officers implicated in the case are accusing higher-ups of attempting to shirk responsibility."

Seems likely that some heads will roll.

The Chicago Tribune |,1,6836397.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed zeroes in on the A-word:

"In an age when the public confession, the tear-streaked interview and the mournful pose of remorse are as common as a cable channel, President Bush has great difficulty uttering these words: 'I'm sorry.'

"Though the president went to extraordinary lengths to address the Arab world Wednesday about the abusive behavior of some American soldiers in an Iraqi prison, he seemed equally determined to leave apology to others."

The Note | sees "all the elements of a politically damaging, fully engulfing Washington scandal. . . .

"1. Endless process and procedures for the media to cover -- investigative, legal, journalistic.

"2. A chance for Senators Biden and McCain to demand answers ad infinitum on any TV show that will have them.

"3. Bipartisan outrage and calls for accountability, including from Republican leaders such as Tom DeLay.

"4. New 'characters' emerging every day.

"5. Blind-quote-fed intra-Administration fighting and finger pointing.

"6. Questions about 'what did the president know and when did he know it?'

Christopher Hitchens vents in Slate: |

"Either these goons were acting on someone's authority, in which case there is a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws and codes and standing orders. Or they were acting on their own authority, in which case they are the equivalent of mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field. This is why one asks wistfully if there is no provision in the procedures of military justice for them to be taken out and shot."

Andrew Sullivan | grapples with the enormity of what happened:

"Like most of you, I've had a hard time coming to grips with the appalling abuses perpetrated by some under U.S. command in, of all places, Abu Ghraib. We can make necessary distinctions between this abuse and the horrifying torture of Saddam's rule, but they cannot obliterate the sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. Those of us who believe in the moral necessity of this war should be, perhaps, the most offended. These goons have defiled something important and noble; they have wrought awful damage on Western prestige; they have tarnished the vast majority of servicemembers who do an amazing job; and they have done something incontrovertibly disgusting and wrong.

"By the same token, this has been -- finally -- exposed. We have a chance to show the Muslim and Arab world how a democracy deals with this. So far, the punishments meted out have not been severe enough; and the public apology not clear and definitive enough."

The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman | says the Hill won't get much out of Rummy:

"GOODNESS GRACIOUS, SENATOR, I REMAIN INEXPERT ON THAT QUESTION, WHICH AS YOU OF COURSE KNOW CONTAINS AN UNKNOWN NUMBER OF UNKNOWNS: The military's congressional overseers, rightly furious that Seymour Hersh learned of the Taguba report on torture at Abu Ghraib before they did, are seeking answers. . . .

"The impulse to hold the Defense Department accountable for the human rights debacle in Iraq is commendable, fundamentally democratic, and in keeping with the finest American traditions. The problem is that Donald Rumsfeld, the official lawmakers want to question, isn't any of these things. When has Rumsfeld ever answered an uncomfortable question, from Congress or from the press?"

Today's poll fix comes from USA Today |

"Americans are more dissatisfied with the nation's direction than at any time in more than eight years and President Bush's job approval rating has sunk into a tie for his worst-ever showing, according to a new Gallup Poll.

"The poll, released Thursday, indicates 62% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. . . .

"In the survey, 49% of Americans said they approved of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 48% said they disapproved. The approval number ties the lowest figure Bush has reached in his president, and the disapproval number ties the highest figure."

As for the horse race, Bush is in a statistical tie with Kerry.

A Wall Street Journal poll has Bush's approval rating at 47 percent.

American Prospect's Robert Kuttner | waves a red flag at JFK:

"If Kerry is not careful, Bush's quagmire could turn into Kerry's.

"In his speeches, Kerry has warned that we need to remove the 'Made in America' label from the occupation. Kerry would give a UN High Commissioner for Governance and Reconstruction dominant role. He would replace the US force with a NATO force under an American military commander. So far, so good.

"But in other remarks, Kerry has occasionally suggested that having blundered into this mess, we owe it to the Iraqis to 'stay the course.' He told CNN that he thought the administration's June 30 deadline for turning over authority was unrealistic, implying a longer US occupation. At times, Kerry has even suggested that for a time we might need to put in more troops to protect the ones already there.

"The trouble with this stance is that the Iraq occupation is turning out to be a complete disaster -- for Bush and for America's role in the world. The war stands condemned as both a practical failure and now, with revelations of something close to torture of Iraqi prisoners, a moral failure as well.

"Public opinion is very rapidly turning against this needless war. If Kerry does get elected, he will need to drastically change the policy. But in the meantime he has to be very careful not to make the war his own."

Columbia Journalism Review | blows the whistle on the Wall Street Journal:

"Before an article is laid to bed at a magazine or newspaper, editors squabble over something called the pull-quote (also known variously as the billboard, or teaser, or blurb). Boxed off and printed in a larger font, the pull-quote is a typographical device that calls attention to a particularly biting passage in a piece, or highlights the underlying theme. It's standard practice to 'pull' the passage verbatim from the article, and to put quote marks around it if it is in fact a direct quotation.

"Unfortunately, at The Wall Street Journal, standard practice went down the toilet yesterday with the pull-quote the newspaper employed in an op-ed article by known Kerry critic and Vietnam veteran John O'Neill.

"We can't show you the print edition of the Journal. . . . The pull-quote . . . is set off, boxed, placed in boldface italic type, and surrounded by quotation marks, smack in the middle of the piece.

"Here's the pull-quote verbatim:

" 'I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam. He doesn't deserve to be commander in chief.'

"We understand the appeal that passage had to an editor. It's a memorable quote. It would be even more memorable if it were something O'Neill wrote.

"But it isn't. Those words are nowhere to be found in the accompanying article.

"What O'Neill does write is that, while he was 'on' the same boat that Kerry commanded, he wasn't there when Kerry was. As he makes clear, he in fact was shipped in to succeed Kerry as commander of the boat once Kerry was removed from the combat zone.

"Additionally, while it's safe to conclude that John O'Neill isn't going to be voting for John Kerry anytime soon, at no point in the article does he write the words, 'he doesn't deserve to be commander in chief.' "

Fred Barnes | is rarely mistaken for a Democratic cheerleader, but the Weekly Standard executive editor sees a glimmer of hope for the party:

"The odds are still against it, but Democrats now have a legitimate shot at winning back the Senate in this November's election. They've already done two things well: recruit good candidates, especially in Republican-leaning states, and avert costly primary fights. Democrats need to net two seats if President Bush is re-elected or only one if John Kerry wins the White House. Either way, that would flip the current 51-49 Republican advantage to 51-49 for Democrats. It's now possible.

"To pull it off--and assuming a two-seat gain is required--Democrats must achieve three goals. First, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle must be re-elected in South Dakota. Second, Democrats have to limit their loss of Senate seats in the South to two. Third, they need to capture all four of the vulnerable Republican seats. Capturing the Senate won't be easy, but Democratic chances have dramatically improved as the four Republican seats turned soft.

"What would a Democratic Senate mean? If President Bush is re-elected, he would face a hostile body that could bottle up his nominees -- not just conservative judges -- and block legislation to make tax cuts permanent and reform Social Security. If John Kerry wins the White House, he'd have a friendly chamber to offset the Republican House, something Bill Clinton lacked in the last six years of his presidency."