After days of resisting apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, President Bush finally "expressed his regrets in the White House Rose Garden at the side of King Abdullah II of Jordan after they met in the Oval Office," saying, "I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families." According to the WP, aides had advised the president to apologize the day before in televised appearances on Arabic news channels. Senior officials were puzzled when he did not and had to push "for him to say he was sorry during his news conference with Abdullah."
MORE THAN WORDS: An apology is a step in the right direction, but it will take more than words to restore damaged American credibility. President Bush needs to follow up his apology with strong action. The Center for American Progress announced a strategy for progress in Iraq this week, calling for the prison systems to be opened to international inspection. Also, the report called for a "Permanent Committee for Monitoring Prison Conditions to be established with representatives from the international security force, the Iraqi caretaker government, Iraqi civil society, the International Committee of the Red Crescent and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The new Iraqi Ministry of Interior should establish a citizens' liaison to compile and keep a centralized database of all detainees in Iraqi prisons."
RED CROSS SOUNDED THE ALARM: The explosive U.S. Army report wasn't the only alarm bell the administration received about abuse. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered a confidential report, obtained by the WSJ, to the White House earlier this year which "concluded that abuse of prisoners in Iraq in custody of U.S. military intelligence was widespread and in some cases 'tantamount to torture.'" It also charged coalition forces with "serious violations" of the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war. Yesterday, the group publicly said it had been aware of the situation in Abu Ghraib and "repeatedly asked the U.S. authorities to take corrective action." It is unclear who had read the report; Pentagon officials "declined to comment, saying that they had a confidentiality agreement with the ICRC that prevented them from discussing the report." But "a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East, said the command had not received the report." Excerpts of the 24-page confidential report are online.
COLIN POWELL SOUNDED THE ALARM: One official who did try to get to the bottom of the abuse charges: Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the WP, Secretary Powell repeatedly raised the issue of treatment of detainees, asking "to release as many detainees as possible -- and, second, to ensure that those in custody are properly cared for and treated." Secretary Powell "urged action in several White House meetings that included Rumsfeld."
PAUL BREMER SOUNDED THE ALARM: The WP reports that top officials say the chief administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer was "kicking and screaming" as early as last fall that "the United States was detaining too many Iraqis for too long and in poor conditions." According to interviews, Bremer raised his serious concerns "both in one-on-one meetings with Rumsfeld and other administration leaders, and in group meetings with the president's inner circle on national security."
RUMSFELD RESIGNATION REQUESTS: Calls for Rumsfeld's resignation filled news reports today. From the cover of this week's Economist (which reads Resign, Rumsfeld) to the NYT editorial page (headlined, "Donald Rumsfeld Should Go") the pressure is on for the Secretary of Defense to step down from his cabinet post. When asked if Rumsfeld should go, American Progress fellow Larry Korb told PBS's NewsHour last night: "I think so. I think he owes it to the men and women in the armed forces because he didn't ensure that they were properly trained and equipped to do a lot of things over there, including run the prison. I think he owes it to them because he didn't get out ahead of this story and react -- waited until the news media broke it and by doing so he endangered them over there by giving more fuel to the insurgents. I think he owes it to the president who he serves for not making him aware earlier of how serious this was in allowing him to get out ahead of it. And most of all, I think he owes it to the country because we're engaged right now in this war against terrorists, to win the hearts and minds of people in Muslim world. And unless somebody of Secretary Rumsfeld's stature goes, they will not think we're serious about these horrible things that happened in the Abu Ghraib Prison."
BOTTOM LINE - THE BUCK STOPS WITH BUSH: One thing to keep in mind: At the end of the day, ultimate responsibility lies with the Commander-in-Chief, George Bush. EJ Dionne writes in the WP, "[D]umping Rumsfeld...is not enough. Ultimately the buck stops with President Bush. No, I don't think for an instant that Bush knew anything about this. That's the problem. Reports of prisoner abuse have been around since the war in Afghanistan and the opening of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The president needs to explain why he wasn't more curious about what was happening, and whether his management style delegates so much authority that the White House could be caught so unprepared for this catastrophe."
Rumsfeld in the Hot Seat
Amid growing pressure to resign from his cabinet post, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will testify in front of the armed services committees of both houses of Congress today about reports of abuse in Iraqi prisons and the Pentagon's role in keeping the scandal under wraps. Here are some questions for the Secretary. (For more questions, read this Rumsfeld Testimony Viewing Guide.)
WHY DIDN'T YOU MENTION THE U.S. ARMY REPORT IN YOUR BRIEFING TO SENATORS LAST WEEK? Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Wednesday he found it "interesting" that on the day the story broke on CBS, "Secretary Rumsfeld was over here briefing the Senate and made no mention of this situation whatsoever. I think that's an indication of the complete lack of communications between the Pentagon and the Congress. And we have been deprived of our oversight responsibilities, and they are responsibilities." Follow-up question: If CBS had not aired the photographs, would the Defense Department have informed Congress?
HAS ALL OF THE INFORMATION FROM THE INVESTIGATION BEEN RELEASED? WHAT ELSE IS THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT KEEPING FROM PUBLIC VIEW? According to Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, there are as yet unaddressed allegations of a separate unit at Abu Ghraib prison reserved for women and children.
AFTER JUNE 30, WHO WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE 10,000 DETAINEES CURRENTLY UNDER CONTROL OF THE U.S. MILITARY? According to Reuters, confusion reigns over control of detainees after the arbitrary June 30 transfer of power date. "It is unclear who would control the 10,000 Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody, particularly after the world recoiled from pictures of abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and reports of similar brutalization elsewhere."
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DRASTIC DIFFERENCE IN THE GUARD-TO-PRISONER RATIO BETWEEN GUANTANAMO AND IRAQI PRISONS? In Guantanamo, 800 guards were used for 600 detainees. In Iraq, that ratio was 130 guards for every 8,000 detainees, enabling rogue elements to operate.
GIVEN THE REPORTS OF ABUSE OF PRISONERS WHICH ARE COMING OUT OF IRAQ, WHAT STEPS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO ENSURE THE FAIR AND HUMANE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS IN GUANTANAMO AND AFGHANISTAN? According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it is the government's position that even if it was torturing and executing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, no court could intercede: "Indeed, at oral argument, the government advised us that its position (that the Guantanamo base was outside the rule of law) would be the same even if the claims were that it was engaging in acts of torture or that it was summarily executing the detainees."
WILL YOU EMPLOY THE SAME LEVEL OF PUBLIC TRANSPARENCY INTO THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF THE ACCUSED ABUSERS AS WAS ALLOWED IN THE INVESTIGATION OF CAPT. JAMES YEE? On September 20, 2003, the Washington Times reported that the Army had arrested Capt. James Yee ten days earlier and was investigating him on charges of sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage, and failure to obey a general order. The very next day, the spokesman for US Southern Command identified Yee by name and said no formal charges had been filed. On 9/24/03, two weeks after Yee's arrest, and four days after it was publicly announced, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers said that security procedures at Guantanamo Bay were being reviewed. Joint Chiefs Vice Chair, Marine General Peter Pace, implied that Yee could be part of a radical Islamic spy ring that sought to penetrate the Guantanamo Bay prison. Finally, on 9/27/03, just seventeen days after Yee's arrest, the Pentagon announced the entire military chaplain program was under review. All charges against Yee were eventually dropped or thrown out; he is now back on duty. The ultimately unproven allegations against Capt. Yee prompted the Pentagon to review the entire military chaplain program seventeen days after his arrest. The reports of abuse by two Major Generals at prisons in Iraq have still not led to a Pentagon review of the military prison system months after the reports were delivered to military commanders.
Still in a Hole
The April job report was welcome news, but the Bush administration's job record is still dismal and characterized by broken promises. In February 2002 – after the recession and 9/11 – the administration made projections that, by this point into his term, Bush would have created 5.5 million jobs. Instead, he has lost 1.5 million. That's a 7-million-job deficit from the administration's own projections. According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor statistics, "Three years after the start of the recession in March 2001 and 28 months into the official economic recovery, 35 states still have not recovered the jobs they lost." Moreover, "49 states have seen their working age population grow faster than jobs since the recession began." Further complicating an economic rebound: the soaring budget deficit. See this week's American Progress report on the current disturbing job losses and weak recovery.
GREENSPAN – BUSH'S SOARING BUDGET DEFICIT A BIG PROBLEM: According to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, President Bush's reckless fiscal policies threaten America's economic future. Greenspan said yesterday that the skyrocketing federal budget deficit was "a significant obstacle to long-term stability." The deficit is projected to exceed a half-trillion dollars this year. Alluding to the president's relentless pursuit of tax cuts for the wealthy even as current spending far outpaces revenues, Greenspan quipped, "the free lunch has still to be invented." He also noted, in decades past, federal debts reaching levels like the current one "have triggered serious financial disruptions, such as a falling dollar or rising interest rates and inflation" – and could do so again in the near future.
DEFICIT SITUATION EVEN WORSE THAN ADVERTISED: A new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities exposes the shell game the Administration and conservative congressional leaders are playing with the so-called "Alternative Minimum Tax" (AMT). The AMT "is a parallel tax system originally designed to ensure that a very small number of tax filers with high incomes do not avoid paying income taxes" through exploiting loopholes in the traditional system. But since the AMT wasn't indexed to inflation, over time more and more middle-class Americans are becoming subject to the tax, even though there is a bi-partisan consensus it wasn't meant to apply to them. But the Bush administration refuses to own up to the true cost of solving this problem. This year the House passed a one-year AMT fix that would cost a relatively modest-sounding $17 billion. But over ten years, the fix would actually cost $376 billion. If the President's 2001 tax cuts are extended – as conservatives are calling for – the actual cost of the fix would be $549 billion over ten years. But the administration refuses to adopt a long-term solution to the problem in an effort "to sharply understate the likely size of future deficits" and ease the passage of further tax cuts.
AMERICANS STILL WORRIED ABOUT THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY: While the administration relishes a month of decent job growth, a major WSJ poll released on Thursday finds that only 40% of Americans see the economy getting better in the next 12 months; 60% agree with the statement that the economy is headed for trouble. Those saying recent stock-market gains are a sign of broad economic growth (versus benefiting only businesses and investors) fell to 27% in May, down from 41% in December.
IRAQ – NO WAY TO BE A LEADER: The LA Times writes that many of the problems the United States now faces in Iraq may be the direct result of President Bush's leadership style. "[H]is administration's tightly held process of setting and sticking by policy — described by administration insiders in several recent books — has contributed to some of the problems it faces after the end of major combat in Iraq. Critics say administration planners gave short shrift to signs that stabilizing Iraq would require more time, money and manpower than they expected. 'It is not a deliberative or particularly rational process, and it's seldom open to new information,' said Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. 'That was responsible for the lack of planning for what was to follow the war.'" Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) concurred: "There is a general sense out there that the administration does not tolerate any points of view that are contrary to theirs...Good, sharp critical thinking is absolutely imperative to good policy."
IRAQ – CUTTING OUT COLIN: Um...whoops. USA Today reports this morning that nobody told Colin Powell the administration was planning to request an additional $25 billion for Iraq this week. "Shortly before Bush administration officials presented Republican congressional leaders with a request for $25 billion in Iraq funding...Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling members of the Congressional Black Caucus that no such request would be forthcoming." This underscores a point made in the current GQ magazine, which "quotes numerous Powell associates complaining about efforts in the Pentagon and vice president's office to cut Powell and the State Department out of decision making on Iraq and other issues." The article describes Powell as "frustrated, exhausted and bitter."
RIGHT-WING CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think the other point that no one is making about the abuse photos is just the disproportionate number of women involved, including a girl general running the entire operation. I mean, this is lesson, you know, one million and 47 on why women shouldn't be in the military. In addition to not being able to carry even a medium-sized backpack, women are too vicious." -- Ann Coulter, missing the point for the one million and 47th time.
RIGHT WING CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE QUOTE OF THE DAY, PART II: "Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver... Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context." – Rush Limbaugh, congratulating the abuse tactics and human rights violations in Iraq.