Time for Bush to Talk About Torture?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; 11:11 AM

Two sobering news reports today suggest that while Saddam Hussein's torture chambers may indeed be closed, some Iraqis continued to be abused under new management.

It's a jarring counterpoint to President Bush's second inaugural address, in which he spoke so passionately of the role of the United States in advancing liberty and freedom across the globe.

So maybe now would be a good time for Bush to publicly clarify his views on liberty, and on torture, and on whether they can coexist.

Unpunished Brutality

R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White write in The Washington Post about newly released Army documents chronicling many more alleged acts of brutality and abuse of Iraqis at the hands of military personnel, none of which resulted in criminal charges.

"The newly released reports detail allegations similar to those that surrounded the documented abuse at Abu Ghraib -- such as beatings with rifle butts, prolonged hooding, sodomy, electric shocks, stressful shackling, and the repeated withholding of clothing and food -- but they also encompass alleged offenses at military prisons and checkpoints elsewhere in Iraq."

Is it possible the White House didn't know? No, apparently that's not it. Somebody over there at least knew about at least one of these newly disclosed cases.

Smith and White write: "Another case involved a 73-year-old Iraqi woman who was captured by members of the Delta Force special unit and alleged that she was robbed of money and jewels before being confined for days without food or water -- all in an effort to force her to disclose the location of her husband and son. Delta Force's Task Force 20 was assigned to capture senior Iraqi officials.

"She said she was also stripped and humiliated by a man who 'straddled her . . . and attempted to ride her like a horse' before hitting her with a stick and placing it in her anus. The case, which attracted the attention of senior Iraqi officials and led to an inquiry by an unnamed member of the White House staff, was closed without a conclusion."

There's a string of redacted e-mails in the file on that case in which military officials discuss the White House's interest.

One officer writes to another: "Any update? I realize you are doing your best; however MOI [Ministry of Interior] guys are under a lot of pressure from the White House. . . . Any information you have on progress would help placate those that are seeking the answers and keep the pressure off us."

The other officer asks: "When you say White House, what exactly are you referring to?"

The first officer replies: "When I say the White House, I mean that this request is being handled by the President's personal staff. This request was forwarded to the President from Prime Minister [redacted]'s office. [Redacted] Special Assistant [redacted] has taken a personal interest in this woman and her case."

But that investigation, like the others, did not result in any criminal charges. I wonder if Special Assistant [redacted] ever mentioned that to anyone higher in the chain of command.

'Saddam's Torture Chambers are Closed'

Bush has said that "because our coalition acted, Saddam's torture chambers are closed."

But Doug Struck writes in The Washington Post that Human Rights Watch says Hussein's torturers are back in business.

"Twenty months after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled and its torture chambers unlocked, Iraqis are again being routinely beaten, hung by their wrists and shocked with electrical wires, according to a report by a human rights organization.

"Iraqi police, jailers and intelligence agents, many of them holding the same jobs they had under Hussein, are 'committing systematic torture and other abuses' of detainees, Human Rights Watch said in a report to be released Tuesday."

Here's that report.

And Speaking of Torture

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "Trying to show that they remain a force despite their reduced numbers, Senate Democrats on Monday threatened new hurdles for President Bush's cabinet choices."

Case in point: "[A] growing number of Democrats are raising issues about the selection of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, a nomination initially headed for quick approval. . . .

"Democrats continue to seek more documents and more precise answers from Mr. Gonzales regarding his role in formulating policies on the treatment of foreign prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Drawing particular scrutiny has been Mr. Gonzales's role in the writing of a 2002 Justice Department legal opinion -- since disavowed -- that provided a narrow definition of torture."

As for Iraq

Bradley Graham writes in The Washington Post: "Senate and House aides said yesterday that the White House will announce today plans to request an additional $80 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would come on top of $25 billion already appropriated for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. White House budget spokesman Chad Kolton declined to comment."

Just how much is $80 billion? Knight Ridder Newspapers breaks it down. It's $2,500 a second!

That Inaugural Address

Fresh reporting on Bush's second inaugural address is nowhere to be found today. Too bad, since there's a lot more ground to cover. For instance, was no one in the White House worried that it might be misinterpreted? Were the internal advocates of realpolitik unheard or overruled? How many outsiders were consulted during the writing of the speech? Did anyone express a dissenting view? What countries does Bush consider tyrannies, and what's our foreign policy approach to each one? What's the U.S. approach been to democratic movements that threaten friendly autocrats? And where do we go from here? (That's just off the top of my head.)

Luckily, opinion writers continue to try to make sense of it.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. in The Washington Post: "Bush's Freedom Shuffle -- he's an idealist on Thursday and a realist on Friday -- may come as a relief to the many foreign policy specialists allergic to grand visions. . . . But the Freedom Shuffle is a terrible mistake for Bush, because the greatest barrier to Bush's success in his second term is the intense cynicism he has inspired about his motives."

Joshua Muravchik in the Wall Street Journal: "A foreign policy that makes freedom a touchstone will of course entail some self-contradictions and hypocrisies and doubts about our sincerity. . . . [But d]espite the skeptics, all historical evidence suggests that democracy can indeed spread further, that America can serve as an agent of its advancement, as it has done all over the world, and that democracy's spread will make the world safer."

Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times: "In Bush's neocon lexicon, the fight for freedom has been transmogrified from a noble, but complex and often elusive, historical struggle for human emancipation into a simplistic slogan draped over the stark contradictions and tragic failures of this administration's foreign policy."

William J. Bennett in the National Review: "Since the address, many concerns, cautions, and qualifiers have been raised -- unfortunately, most of them by people in the White House. One troubling after-event has been the attempted 'calming' of those who took President Bush's words literally. It has now been explained to us that this should not be done, that there are shadings and nuances of time and modality. . . . Well, I am not budged; go to the text. . . . There is no vacillation here, or really any nuance. . . . In the end, it is not the words that are in question, but, rather, our fidelity to them."

Newsday editorial: "What's going on here? Was the White House trying to assure some nervous dictators that they weren't in the cross-hairs? The elder Bush's appearance was particularly noteworthy because of his long-standing ties with the regime in Saudi Arabia, a regime that could be -- some would say, should be -- Exhibit A for what the address decried."

Chicago Tribune editorial: "President Bush has laid out his vision of how supporting the expansion of democracy will make America and the world safer. He should waste no time showing the world that he intends to commit more to the cause than rhetoric."

Tod Lindberg in the Washington Times: "Well, I suppose somebody in the administration had to tell China and Taiwan that the speech didn't mean we think Taiwan should declare independence this week. But anybody who thinks the speech lacks policy salience is at precisely stage two, denial, of coming to terms with the overwhelming existential fact that is George W. Bush."

Hanna Rosin in The Washington Post Style section: "As Emily Litella used to say, 'Never mind.'"

An 'Oval Office Test'?

In Peter Baker's article in the Sunday Washington Post about the Bush Doctrine, he writes: "The inspiration for Bush's thinking lately has been Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet political prisoner turned conservative Israeli politician. Bush read Sharansky's book 'The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror' and invited him to the White House in November to talk about its ideas. Since then, Bush has been recommending the book to nearly everyone he sees, from friends to journalists to foreign leaders, telling CNN last week that 'this is a book that . . . summarizes how I feel.'"

"In the book, Sharansky outlines what he calls the 'town square test,' meaning that a country is not free if its citizens cannot go to a public place and express dissent from the ruling power without fear of reprisal -- a test Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice embraced during Senate testimony last week."

I just noticed that in an interview broadcast Jan. 12, Colin Powell told NPR's Juan Williams: "A President is well-served when he has cabinet officers who have different points of view and who are secure enough in who they are, and who are secure enough in their relationship with the President that you can argue out these points of view. A President is not well served when he has people in his cabinet who have points of view but are not prepared to argue those points of view forcefully for fear that it might leak or it looks like members of the cabinet are squabbling."

So by that logic, you could posit a corollary to the "town square test," called the "Oval Office test," meaning that a president is not well served if people cannot go into his office and express dissent from the ruling power without fear of reprisal.

But Bush might not do so well on that one. And Powell is a case in point.

As Guy Dinmore recounted in the Financial Times on Jan. 13: "According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. 'We're losing,' Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave."

Dinmore's report was apparently sparked by comments Freeman made at a Jan. 11 forum organized by the Middle East Policy Council. Here's the transcript.

This is how Freeman told the story: "Anyway, the other day I understand that someone went into the Oval Office -- someone known to everybody here, a rather senior person who is on his way out of the administration -- and was asked by the president what was going on in Iraq, and said, with his characteristic bluntness, we're losing -- and was asked to leave the office forthwith and not continue the discussion.

"So there's a question about what is going on in Iraq, and perhaps the competition between reality-based analysis, much disparaged in Washington these days, and hallucinatory optimism, which is the alternative."

Dinmore quotes a senior White House official as saying he had no knowledge of such an exchange and adding: "The president acknowledges there are significant challenges. He does not characterise them as insurmountable. Others do."

Social Security Watch

Edmund L. Andrews and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "The Bush administration, facing opposition from Democrats and unease among Republicans over its plan to overhaul Social Security, is looking at new ideas for cutting future benefits that would hit wealthy retirees harder than those in the middle or bottom ranks of wage-earners, people involved in the discussions say.

"But despite signs of reluctance from Capitol Hill, the White House remains confident that it can find a consensus on legislation that President Bush can sign into law, administration officials and advisers to Mr. Bush said."

Trouble ahead: William M. Welch writes in USA Today: "The nation's largest seniors' lobby will oppose any proposal that takes tax money out of Social Security to create private investment accounts for today's workers, the head of AARP said Monday. That puts the group on a collision course with President Bush and Republicans in Congress."

And trouble behind. David D. Kirkpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times: "A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Mr. Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage."

Kirkpatrick and Stolberg quote extensively from a letter the group sent senior adviser Karl Rove: "We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."

So send in the . . . who? Jackie Calmes and John D. McKinnon write in the Wall Street Journal: "The White House is enlisting former Treasury Department officials to sell the president's initiatives on Social Security and taxes -- a sign of the agenda's importance and the administration's difficulty in recruiting for a demoralized department. . . .

"A knowledgeable Republican jokingly likened the White House's overture to the veterans to 'The Blues Brothers,' the 1980 comedy film about former band members reuniting."

Abortion Watch

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush told thousands of antiabortion marchers yesterday that his administration is making progress toward fostering a 'culture of life' by enacting measures that limit abortion and stem cell research while expanding the legal definition of life. . . .

"Although banning abortion is a top priority of the Christian conservatives who make up the core of his electoral base, Bush chose to make his remarks by telephone from the presidential retreat at Camp David rather than address the protesters in person, and he spoke only indirectly about the goal of outlawing abortion."

Here is the text of his remarks.

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Times: "President Bush supports congressional proposals requiring abortionists to warn some women that their unborn children will feel pain and banning adults from helping pregnant minors cross state lines to circumvent abortion laws requiring parental notification, the White House said last night."

Today and Tomorrow

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush is opening the White House this week to black leaders including pastors and legislators, a second-term overture to a community that overwhelmingly opposed his re-election.

"'I believe in fresh starts,' said Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has had an adversarial relationship with Bush but has a chance to get off on a better footing at a meeting Wednesday.

"The meeting with black lawmakers comes after Bush is to receive about 20 black pastors and other community leaders Tuesday afternoon at the White House. Bush administration officials would not reveal identities of those at the meeting except to say the group includes some of the president's black supporters."

Bush tomorrow also participates in a "conversation on health care initiatives" in Washington.

Meanwhile, Barry Schweid reports for the Associated Press that today, "In a daylong debate, Democratic senators are using President Bush's nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state to rake his Iraq war policy over the coals."

Nominations Watch

John Mintz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday nominated an executive with a leading engineering company to be the second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security. The executive, Michael P. Jackson, also served as the deputy secretary at the Transportation Department from 2001 to 2003. . . .

"Jackson, a former political science professor at Georgetown University, worked for President George H.W. Bush, first as Cabinet liaison at the White House and later as chief of staff at the Transportation Department when now-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. was transportation secretary."

Doug Palmer writes for Reuters: "The U.S. Senate approved Kellogg Co. chief executive Carlos Gutierrez by a voice vote on Monday to head the Commerce Department, where he will face pressure to trim the mammoth U.S. trade deficit and stop the loss of manufacturing jobs to China."

Europe and the Dollar

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "After a first term in which terrorism and war dominated President Bush's foreign policy agenda, his allies in Europe and Asia suspect that his next confrontation with the world could take on a very different cast: a potential currency crisis, in which a steep plunge in the value of the dollar touches off economic waves around the world....

"[A]cross Asia and Europe, a wide range of officials and analysts worry that Mr. Bush's economic team may not be up to the challenge of grappling with the issue."

The turning point could come in a couple of weeks, when Bush sends his budget to Congress. Will Bush hold down spending? Will he get serious about deficit reduction?

Sanger writes: "While the budget is a domestic document, assessments of whether it will realistically grapple with the underlying problems and whether Mr. Bush has the political will to push tough measures through Congress may determine whether investors around the world stick with the American economy or head for the exits."

Chris Giles reported in the Financial Times yesterday: "Central banks are shifting reserves away from the US and towards the eurozone in a move that looks set to deepen the Bush administration's difficulties in financing its ballooning current account deficit."

Europe, Ho!

Nedra Pickler reports for the Associated Press: "President Bush plans to have dinner with French President Jacques Chirac during a European trip next month, beginning the first overseas trip of his second term by working on a relationship that was damaged in his first term."

Bush vs. Catwoman

Catwoman and the commander in chief were among the nominees Monday for the 25th annual Razzie Awards yesterday.

Bush and some of his advisers received worst-acting nominations for their appearances in news and archival footage in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The Razzies mock the worst in film. David Germain of the Associated Press quoted Razzies founder John Wilson: "It wasn't Mr. Moore's editing. It's the raw footage of these people just making fools of themselves."

The News From New Haven

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "A highway sign used to welcome people to New Haven, birthplace of President George W. Bush. But it was vandalized so much, it was finally taken down for good.

"Now a lawmaker wants to rename a stretch of highway through the heart of the left-leaning city the President George W. Bush Highway. . . .

"'We should name a traffic jam after him, not a highway,' said Mayor John DeStefano, a Democrat running for governor."

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