I knew this was coming.
You could smell it, sense it, feel it.
Someone was going to accuse the media of pushing an antiwar agenda by reporting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
On one level, this is hardly surprising. Every issue these days, and certainly any issue that touches on Iraq, is part of a highly charged partisan maelstrom. The country is even more divided over the war now than when President Bush ordered the invasion. News reports are therefore studied and scrutinized through an ideological lens: Is this helping or hurting our soldiers? Is it pro- or anti-Bush? Those who feel strongly one way or the other are certain that the media coverage is either with them or against them.
Still, you'd think that the sheer cruelty of the prison photographs, including the latest obtained by The Post, would blow away any doubts that this is an important, as well as deeply depressing, story. That is, even if you were an enthusiastic supporter of the war, you would not want this sort of news suppressed.
Check out this Wall Street Journal editorial:
"It seems to us that an overlooked story here, and ultimately the most telling, is the degree to which the U.S. military is investigating itself and holding people accountable.
"This isn't a popular thought just now, with the media and politicians in one of their bonfire phases. Every accusation against U.S. troops is now getting front-page treatment. Like reporters at a free buffet, Members of Congress are swarming to the TV cameras to declare their outrage and demand someone's head, usually Donald Rumsfeld's. 'System of abuse' and 'cover-up' are being tossed about without any evidence of either. The goal seems to be less to punish the offenders than to grab one more reason to discredit the Iraq war."
To discredit the Iraq war. Is that why these stories are running? Is that why lawmakers are expressing outrage? Wouldn't civilized people be appalled at prisoners being stripped naked, forced to simulate sexual acts and led around with a leash -- whether they opposed the war or not, and regardless of who was president?
The Journal outlines the investigative steps, continuing: "This is a cover-up? Unlike the Catholic bishops, some corporate boards and the editors of the New York Times or USA Today, the military brass did not dismiss early allegations of bad behavior. Instead, it established reviews and procedures that have uncovered the very details that are now used by critics to indict the Pentagon 'system.' It has done so, moreover, amid a war against a deadly insurgency in which interrogation to gain good intelligence is critical to victory -- and to saving American lives."
But the Journal raises a larger issue: Is this sort of mistreatment systemic, or does it represent the work of a few bad apples? Did military officials encourage the abusive behavior as a way of extracting information, or did these people act on their own? Much will turn on the answer to those questions.
Salon's Eric Boehlert says the press is changing -- and it's about time:
"April's unexpected chaos in Iraq may signal a shift toward bolder, grittier wartime press coverage. For an entire year before then, much of the mainstream American news media was dutiful, if not outright timid. There were still remnants of hesitation when the Abu Ghraib prison story broke last week, particularly in how major U.S. newspapers tentatively dealt with the disturbing images on their front pages."
Bush, appearing with Jordan's king, said he was sorry:
"Working to stem the growing furor over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. guards, President Bush today offered his first public apology for the humiliation the prisoners suffered, but also turned aside calls for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld," the Los Angeles Times reports.
"For the second consecutive day, the president expressed remorse over the treatment of the prisoners. . . .
"The furor caused by the incidents of abuse -- and by the pictures that have brought graphic exposure of the incidents to television screens and front pages around the world -- has sent the Bush White House into a suddenly defensive posture.
"Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, said Rumsfeld should resign."
And that was Topic A within the Beltway, says the New York Times:
"Washington was rampant with speculation over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, who was described by aides and friends as embarrassed and angry, would survive. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had regularly visited Abu Ghraib and had often complained to American officials over the last several months about the abuses.
"On Capitol Hill, where Mr. Rumsfeld is to testify on Friday about the prison abuse scandal at back-to-back briefings to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, members of both parties expressed anger over his failure to tell lawmakers about the photographs and about a classified Army report that outlined some of the abuses. . . .
"One defense official said Mr. Rumsfeld was badly shaken by the developments and looked as 'white as a sheet' at one point this week. But Mr. Rumsfeld's top aides quickly dismissed such characterizations."
You know you're in trouble when your own aides are leaking about you.
The Philadelphia Inquirer asks bluntly: "Is Rummy's head about to roll?"
"This scandal is a bad one. Politically, it's worse than the debate over weapons of mass destruction, which often hinges on divergent interpretations of murky intelligence. This scandal comes with pictures, irrefutable evidence to anybody on the street. And these are pictures that seriously undercut the President's stated mission in the Middle East.
"Bush wants to woo Muslims abroad, but it's tough to sell America as the beacon of human rights when some American soldiers have been caught abusing human rights. And it's tough for a president to boast that America has shut down a dictator's 'torture rooms' when American soldiers have been caught engaging in abuses."
The Wall Street Journal comes up with a damning document:
"A confidential and previously undisclosed Red Cross report delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year concluded that abuse of prisoners in Iraq in custody of U.S. military intelligence was widespread and in some cases 'tantamount to torture.'
"Among other allegations, the report says prisoners were kept naked in empty cells at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison; that prisoners were beaten by coalition forces, in one case leading to death; that coalition forces fired on unarmed prisoners multiple times from watchtowers, killing some of them; and that coalition forces committed 'serious violations' of the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war. . . .
"The February report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, presents a portrait of prisoner treatment in Iraq that is at odds with statements by administration officials that abuse wasn't condoned by military commanders and was limited to a handful of low-ranking soldiers.
"Instead, the report says, information gathered by the International Committee of the Red Cross 'suggested the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered a practice tolerated by' coalition forces."
Pretty sobering stuff.
Tom Friedman is ready to show Rummy the door:
"We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq. We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world. I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today. I was just in Japan, and even young Japanese dislike us. It's no wonder that so many Americans are obsessed with the finale of the sitcom 'Friends' right now. They're the only friends we have, and even they're leaving.
"This administration needs to undertake a total overhaul of its Iraq policy; otherwise, it is courting a total disaster for us all.
"That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- today, not tomorrow or next month, today."
Friedman's got plenty of company. The cover of the Economist has a picture of that hooded guy wired to electrodes and being forced to stand on a box, with the headline: "Resign, Rumsfeld."
"But of course," says Salon, "Abu Ghraib and what it represents isn't the only reason Rumsfeld should go. Rumsfeld was the architect of a war waged with a bogus rationale based on intelligence ginned up at a special office in his Pentagon -- and he clearly didn't have an adequate plan for what came next. He has alienated our allies in Old Europe, and he has belittled the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, which many see as laying the groundwork for the abuse that's come to light."
Which sidesteps the fact that Rumsfeld was working for the president.
Newsday frames the Rumfeld conundrum this way:
"Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has weathered a rising death toll in Iraq, and the president's falling poll numbers. The cost of the war -- in dollars and troops -- is growing, yet through it all, Rumsfeld has been riding high.
"But after three years when little of the Pentagon's bad news seemed to stick, Rumsfeld now is facing what even supporters say is the most serious threat yet to his hold on the secretary's job, the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison.
"That scandal -- or more accurately, his failure to inform the president about the dramatic photos of it -- earned Rumsfeld a rare personal rebuke by President George W. Bush on Wednesday in the Oval Office."
The Boston Globe's H.D.S. Greenway reels at the symbolism:
"Of course, it is ridiculous to compare these abuses committed by American prison guards with the crimes of Saddam Hussein against his own people, and prisons invariably bring out the sadists among us. But that these crimes were committed by foreigners occupying an Arab land is having an electric effect throughout the Arab world and beyond. That these acts took place in Abu Ghraib prison, which was so infamous for Saddam's misdeeds, carries its own freight. It is as if the US occupation force in Germany after World War II decided to use Dachau for their interrogation center."
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum suggests that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers, dropped the ball:
"CBS said in its original story that Myers had asked them 'two weeks ago' to delay airing the story because the situation in Iraq at the time was so explosive. That means that by mid-April, when CBS was originally planning to run the story, Myers knew the photos had been leaked.
"Now, Myers reports directly to both the president and the Secretary of Defense. And once CBS had gotten hold of the photos he had to know that (a) they were sure to become public fairly soon and (b) they were incredibly explosive. Unless Myers is a monumental political dullard -- unlikely in his position -- he had to to have known that.
"So: did Myers keep this looming PR disaster to himself? Did he tell Rumsfeld that the pictures were about to become public? Did either of them tell Bush? Did he/they keep it to themselves because they thought it wasn't that important? Or because they were afraid to tell the president?
"And whatever the case, what does all this say about the Bush management style?"
Josh Marshall is appalled by Rush Limbaugh's latest take on the mistreatment of prisoners:
" 'This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?'
"Another example of how a war for liberal democracy can't be run by the most illiberal people in our society.
"And just what is Rush's idea of a 'good time'?"
Andrew Sullivan says Kerry may be underestimated:
"The conventional wisdom in Washington right now is that Kerry is such an awful candidate that he is doomed in the fall. If Bush can stay even after the last three, horrendous weeks -- when he has shown that his administration has no real control over even the conduct of its own servicemembers and contractors in Iraq -- then Kerry is toast. I'm not so sure.
"My instinct is that this election will not, in fact, be close. Either Bush will convince people that he is winning the war on terror and turning the economy around and win handsomely, or he won't, and Kerry will win big. Recent history suggests that incumbent presidents either lose badly or win well. The crackhead Rasmussen tracking poll shows Kerry with a real lead again. My sense of the mood among Washington neocons is something bordering on real depression. Bush is campaigning in Ohio and Michigan as if he were in real trouble and knows it. Moreover, his approval numbers are now below 50 percent.
"In most critical states, the candidates are neck and neck, but Kerry keeps being nominally in the lead, as in New Hampshire, where he leads by four points. Maybe the new ads reintroducing Kerry will boost him some more (or maybe the more people see Kerry the more he will bore them to death). But he's been retooling himself for the center."
Hugh Hewitt, in the Weekly Standard, objects to Kerry's attire:
"When John Kerry took a spill from his bike this past weekend, it triggered thoughts of Jimmy Carter's collapse in a road race, Gerald Ford's much-mocked stumbles, and of Kerry's own misadventures on the ski slopes earlier this year. But it wasn't until the pictures of Kerry on his bike appeared that the real damage was done. The electric-lemon Lycra look probably won't play well outside the metrosexual caucus, and it can't be particularly inspiring to the troops living in holes outside of Falluja. Presidents can golf, and they can run, but they can't get dandied up and dart around on bikes in tights and fluorescent helmets.
"Kerry's obsessive, if ill-fated, displays of physical activity also raise issues other than decorum. I've seen this sort of behavior before in men of a certain age, usually from their early 50s to their early 60s. And then the thought stuck: Are John Kerry's presidential ambitions and the shape and images of his campaign more about a mid-life crisis writ very large than any underlying set of ideas?"
Finally, a major-league strikeout as even Spidey fans were disgusted by this:
"Spider-Man ads on bases didn't fly with baseball fans," says the AP. "A day after announcing a novel promotion to put advertisements on bases next month, Major League Baseball reversed course Thursday and eliminated that part of its marketing deal for 'Spider-Man 2.' ''