New evidence has emerged about U.S. soldiers abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners over the past year. The Washington Post has published new photos of abuse including one of a soldier holding a leash tied around a man’s neck in an Iraqi prison. The man is naked, grimacing and lying on the floor.
And the British human rights envoy to Iraq has said she found evidence to confirm reports that the US detained an elderly Iraqi woman last year and treated her like an animal. The envoy told the BBC the woman, who was in her 70s, was held for about six weeks without charge. During that time she was insulted and told she was a donkey. A harness was put on her, and an American rode on her back.”
President Bush attempted to control the damage of the prison abuse scandal Wednesday by granting two 10 minute interviews to Arab tv stations including the US-owned and operated Al Hurrah network. Bush did not apologize but said the abuse was abhorent.
Meanwhile White House aides said Bush privately admonished Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his handling of the issue. A senior administration official said “The president wasn’t satisfied when he saw those pictures on TV. And he made that clear to Secretary Rumsfeld. They should have been brought to his attention, and he shouldn’t have had to learn of them through the media.” While Bush may not have seen the photos until last week, the White House has confirmed he was first told of the prison problems in January. Rumseld has so far denied that the US tortured any Iraqi prisoners. He told reporters “My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture.” Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify on Friday before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. The BBC reports Rumsfeld is under the greatest political pressure of his life. At least one Senator, Democrat Joseph Biden, has suggested Rumsfeld should resign over the scandal. And a Washington Post editorial today condemns Rumsfeld’s rejection of the Geneva Convention and says his policies are jeopardizing the war on terror. The editors of the newspaper write “Rumsfeld’s decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered — and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable.”
The International Red Cross has also announced that it had previously warned the U.S. and Britain that what was going on in the Abu Ghraib prison was reprehensible. A Red Cross spokesperson said “The photos are certainly shocking, but our reports are worse.” Military officials also announced on Wednesday that the head of a U.S. military police unit at the Abu Ghraib prison is now under investigation following charges he secretly photographed naked female American soldiers at the prison.
In other Iraq news, Bush asked Congress for an additional $25 billion to meet the rising costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amount is believed to be just a portion of what will be needed to continue operations for the rest of the year. Bush said in a statement, “Recent developments on the ground and increased demands on our troops indicate the need to plan for contingencies.” Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said legislators should consider not funding the request. He said “The track record of the Bush White House in accounting for funds for Iraq is a record of confusion, obfuscation, bumbling, denial, and deception.”
In Baghdad, a suicide car bombing killed five Iraqis and an American soldier at a checkpoint at the Green Zone. It was the first suicide bombing in Baghdad since mid-March.
On Wednesday, the U.S. launched its largest attacks yet against followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. At least 15 Iraqis and one American soldier were killed in fighting in Najaf and Karbala. In the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk, gunmen assassinated the head of the local Agricultural Department.
In other news from the Middle East, an Israeli government report has found that Israel’s Housing Ministry secretly gave nearly $6.5 million to help expand illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. The report said the money was sent without approval by the cabinet or defense ministry.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been distributing leaflets to residents warning that if they did not provide the U.S. with information on Al-Qaida and the Taliban, they risked losing humanitarian aid. The Guardian of London reports the U.S. had to stop the practice after protests from international charities who say their work is independent of the military.
A new article in GQ Magazine quotes many of Secretary of State Colin Powell closest aides and confidantes openly criticizing the Bush administration. Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson says the US sanctions policy against countries such as Pakistan and Cuba is “the dumbest policy on the face of the Earth”. Wilkerson also said that Powell does not trust and has disdain for the hawks in the administration especially Paul Wolfowitz who Wilkerson compares to Vladimir Lenin for having utopian visions about the world. Powell’s mentor from the National War College, Harlan Ullman, is also quoted saying about Powell: “This is, in many ways, the most ideological administration Powell’s ever had to work for. Not only is it very ideological, but they have a vision. And I think Powell is inherently uncomfortable with grand visions like that.” Also in the article Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, said his boss’s speech to the United Nations making the case for war against Iraq has become “a source of great distress for the secretary.”
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