Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) proved he has not lost his knack for inflammatory rhetoric when he defended "really rough" treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, including the use of dogs against a prisoner "unless the dog ate him."
Lott, who lost his job as Senate majority leader in late 2002 after speaking favorably of the late Strom Thurmond's segregationist campaign for the White House in 1948, wandered into the danger zone again when asked about the prisoner-abuse controversy by WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss.
Lott condemned what he described as "physical perversion" of prisoners but defended tactics such as sleep deprivation and the use of dogs as sometimes necessary to "save some American troops' lives or a unity that could be in danger."
"Hey, nothing wrong with holding a dog up there, unless the dog ate him, scared him with a dog," Lott said. When WAPT news anchorman Brad McMullan noted that a prisoner died at Abu Ghraib, apparently after a beating, Lott responded, "This is not Sunday school; this is interrogation; this is rough stuff."
Some of the prisoners "should not have been prisoners in the first place, probably should have been killed," he added.
The 20-minute interview, which covered a number of subjects, was taped May 24 and aired May 26. Susan Irby, Lott's communications director, said Lott got an "incredibly positive" response to his remarks. McMullan said the station "got a lot of feedback," both positive and negative.
Irby defended Lott's remarks about the dogs, saying there has been no conclusive evidence that they attacked anyone. She said he mainly wanted to convey the message that the "safety of our soldiers is our overriding priority."
Anger Over Campaign's Call
Two religious watchdog groups cried foul yesterday over an e-mail from a Bush reelection staffer looking for churches and synagogues to serve as hubs for campaign activity in Pennsylvania.
"The Bush-Cheney '04 national headquarters in Virginia has asked us to identify 1600 'Friendly Congregations' in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis," the e-mail said. "In each of these friendly congregations, we would like to identify a volunteer coordinator who can help distribute general information to other supporters."
The e-mail was forwarded to news organizations by the Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, called it an effort to build "a church-based political machine" and said it could endanger the congregations' tax-exempt status, because IRS rules forbid churches from endorsing candidates or engaging in partisan campaigns.
Campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said, "This e-mail is being sent to individual Bush supporters asking them to organize other volunteers within their faith community, and people of faith have as much right to participate in the political process as any other Americans."
Staff writer Alan Cooperman contributed to this report.