Prison-Razing Plan Sinks Fast

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; 10:55 AM

The only nugget of news in President Bush's much-anticipated speech on Iraq Monday night was his announcement that the doubly-notorious Abu Ghraib prison would be demolished.

Well, don't count on it.

Jackie Spinner of The Washington Post writes from Baghdad: "There has been no groundswell of support here for razing the facility. In fact, earlier this month, the Iraqi Governing Council discussed the possibility of turning part or all of it into a museum."

Geoffrey York writes from Baghdad for the Toronto Globe and Mail: "George W. Bush might have imagined he was offering a great gift to Iraq when he promised to tear down the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, but many Iraqis say he is simply missing the point.

"The U.S. President cannot erase the prison-abuse scandal by razing the jail, Iraqis said yesterday."

And the British Press Association quotes the head of the Iraqi Governing Council as saying the demolition would be "a waste of resources."

That view is shared by some on Capitol Hill, writes Jonathan Weisman in The Washington Post. "President Bush grabbed headlines with his pledge to tear down Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, but Monday night's promise left the White House scrambling on Tuesday to persuade Congress to endorse something it specifically rejected last year."

Here's what Bush said in his speech Monday night: "A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values. America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."

Patrick Jackson of the BBC looks at the history of infamous jails, from France's Bastille (razed) to South Africa's Robben Island (turned into a museum.)

White House in a Panic?

Ken Fireman writes in Newsday: "President George W. Bush's political future is increasingly at the mercy of events in Iraq and elsewhere that are highly unpredictable and largely out of his control.

Political analysts say "that events in Iraq and the public's perception of them have moved past the point where a presidential speech can have impact. The only thing likely to alter voters' views, they said, is a change in events."

Carolyn Lochhead writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Even the staunchest supporters of President Bush's Iraq enterprise were less than cheered by his speech to the nation Monday night outlining the path forward, some describing the administration as being in a state of panic."

Mary Curtius and Maggie Farley write in the Los Angeles Times: "The White House scrambled Tuesday to reassure skeptics that the U.S. planned to transfer full sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, even as the Bush administration publicly disagreed with its closest ally about whether a new Iraqi government could block U.S. military operations."

David Morgan writes for Reuters: "The U.S. administration sought on Tuesday to project a unified, optimistic view of its plan to hand over power to an interim government in Iraq, even as President Bush faced criticism over a strategy many find lacking in crucial details."

Here's the text of yesterday's press gaggle.

Different Kind of Torture

Here is the text of Bush's remarks at a photo opportunity with seven Iraqi men whose hands were ordered cut off by Saddam Hussein.

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein. I'm with six other Iraqi citizens, as well, who suffered the same fate. They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant."

Message: At least we don't cut off people's hands!

Aparna H. Kumar reports for the Associated Press: "In recent interviews with the news media, the men have profusely thanked the United States and American troops for bringing hope for freedom and democracy to Iraq."

Gonzales v. Geneva

Joan Biskupic of USA Today writes: "White House counsel Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday rejected suggestions by critics on Capitol Hill that the recent abuse of prisoners in Iraq could have stemmed from a memo he wrote in 2002 that said foreign fighters captured in Afghanistan were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions."

"If you were to ask soldiers in the field if they ever heard of my draft memo," Gonzalez told Biskupic, "they would have said, 'What?' "

Cicada Watch

The president was chased by a cicada yesterday as he climbed up the steps to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, on his way to Ohio. Here's a Reuters photo of the cicada as it approaches, and another one of the cicada mere inches from the presidential head.

Pool reporter Jim Lakely of the Washington Times e-mailed his colleagues that "some cicadas were inadvertently smuggled onto AF1 by members of your pool, and were quickly escorted off because they did not have the proper clearance."

One cicada, successfully stashed away by a presidential press aide, made it all the way to Ohio. "Much fun was had by all during the 10 minute wait for POTUS to deplane as the poor Maryland immigrant bug was placed on nearly every shoulder and/or head in the pool. Scott McClellan felt the ugly critter's legs on his neck, too, thanks to a mischievous colleague."

Here's a Reuters photo of McClellan and the bug.

Not to stoke conspiracy theories or anything, but I had the opportunity the other day to walk around the White House grounds for a while and was struck by this fact: There are almost no cicadas there. I saw one, squirming on its back on a driveway, and that was about it.

Does President Bush have something against cicadas? Do cicadas have something against President Bush? Has the White House come up with some sort of cicada extermination plan? I have a call in.

Follow the -- Leader?

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes about President Bush's odd habit of showing up places right after Sen. John F. Kerry.

Kerry was in Youngstown, Ohio, a little while back, and -- what do you know? -- that's where Bush went yesterday, for another carefully managed outing.

"On the day after his prime-time address on the future of Iraq, Bush was speaking at Youngstown State University on a stage set built by the White House, with a backdrop made to look like a giant prescription slip with 'Strengthening Healthcare' emblazoned behind the president," Allen writes.

(See how nice it all looks in this White House photo?)

"The event was an official visit, not a campaign trip, but the tickets were tightly controlled and local labor leaders said they had been unable to obtain a seat," Allen writes. "Bush was sent off with a chant of 'Four More Years.' "

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush's appearance at Youngstown State University to discuss health care, only 18 hours after he addressed the country on Iraq, underscored how intent his campaign was to show that the war had not distracted him from the everyday concerns of voters."

Judy Keen of USA Today marvels at the president's demeanor yesterday. He was joking, laughing and teasing people on stage and off.

"You wouldn't think President Bush would have much to laugh about these days," she writes.

Here is the text of Bush's remarks in Ohio.

41 on 43's nifty "Morning Show Wrap" by Nick Schifrin and Jan Simmonds summarizes former President George H. W. Bush's interview on NBC's "Today" show this morning.

How difficult would it be to see his son lose his reelection campaign? "I'm not going to worry about that with him. I'm confident. I'm very confident. Elections are decided by the economy, and my problem was the economy was good but I couldn't get people to understand that. This economy is strong. It will be stronger in the fall. Even without that, I think the country is looking for a strong leader and it's got one and they will want him to serve more."

Was his son obsessed with waging war on Iraq? "That's a bunch of bull."

Scalia Watch

Gina Holland of the Associated Press reports: "Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has ordered a study of federal judicial ethics, a move that follows intense criticism of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional complaints that judges were lax in policing themselves."

Mike Allen and Brian Faler write in The Washington Post: "Several legal scholars said Rehnquist's panel has the potential to increase the accountability of the most secretive branch of government."

New Face

Washington Post columnist Al Kamen writes: "Marc A. Thiessen, longtime spokesman for former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and more recently chief speechwriter for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has moved over to the White House to be senior speechwriter for President Bush."

More Opinions on Bush Speech

I quoted several reactions to Bush's speech in yesterday's column. Here's a few more.

Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post: "Dear Mr. President: Your speech Monday night carried stirring visions of the change you want to bring to Iraq and the Middle East. What it lacked was more important: a clear recognition of the ever-widening gap between those uplifting visions and the explosive conditions produced in Iraq by what has become a self-defeating U.S. occupation policy. Your words lacked the minimal dose of honesty a leader owes his nation in times of crisis."

George F. Will in The Washington Post: The speech "had a minimum of Jeffersonian dogmatism about the universal eligibility for democracy, and instead stressed hardheaded Madisonian measures to strengthen incentives for civilized behavior."

Washington Times editorial: "Mr. Bush needs to reach out to a larger national audience than he did two days ago. An Oval Office address that is carried by the television broadcast networks would achieve this."

Newsday editorial: "Bush has a growing credibility problem. He did nothing to help it Monday night."

Jules Witcover in the Baltimore Sun: "Like a crapshooter losing his shirt but sticking doggedly to the same number, President Bush's stay-the-course speech the other night offered Americans nothing new in their growing anxiety over how he will get the United States out of the mess in Iraq."

Derrick Z. Jackson in the Boston Globe: "In need of blind obedience as he stays the course in Iraq, President Bush went to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., on Monday. Rows of military officers, with not a hint of dissent, clapped like choir boys. . . . "

Michael Goodwin in the New York Daily News: "Perhaps the President's subdued air Monday night means he, too, has seen the abyss. If he didn't when he started, he should have by the end of his speech. Even before a military audience, the most enthusiastic applause he got was for his plan to raze the prison that our troops made infamous. That's not worth fighting for."

Cal Thomas on "It's up to the president to keep our resolve strong. The Monday-night speech was a good start."

James S. Robbins on National Review Online: "The president lifted the discussion to the level of strategy in order to create clarity."

Richard Wolffe on "[N]o amount of rhetorical flourish can mask the disarray of the administration's policy in Iraq, and the president's continuing struggle to speak convincingly to the American and Iraqi people."

Late Night Humor

From CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" via Reuters:

"President Bush has promised he's going to establish elections in Iraq, he's going to rebuild the infrastructure and he's going to create jobs. And he said if it works there, he'll try it here."

© 2004