Burning Bush?

Burning Bush?

Burning Bush?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 3 2004 5:00 AM

Burning Bush?

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with members of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's Likud Party rejecting his plan to withdraw from Gaza. The referendum is non-binding, but it puts Sharon and his proposal on shaky ground. A few hours after the polls opened, a family of five Israelis in Gaza—a pregnant mother and her four children—were shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen. Last night, Israel killed four suspected militants in the West Bank.The Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and USA Today lead with a wrap-up from Iraq: Eleven U.S. servicemen were killed over the weekend, six of them in a mortar attack west of Baghdad. Thirty soldiers were also wounded in the strike. As USAT headlines, Thomas Hamill, the civilian truck driver who had been kidnapped three weeks ago, escaped Sunday and was picked up by U.S. troops. One GI and three Italian security guards are still believed to be being held hostage. Two American contractors are also missing.

While 60 percent of Likud voters rejected Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, polls show about two-thirds of Israelis support it, and Sharon said he's going to push forward. He might call for a national referendum on the proposal or try to change his governing coalition. But as it stands now, Sharon is stuck. "He cannot bring the decision to his government because he does not have a majority" in his Cabinet, one analyst told the Post.

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News analyses in the LAT and WP see the vote as a blow for the White House, which has pushed the plan. The Post says the rejection, coupled with Bush's recent statements that Palestinians will have to curtail their visions for a state, has "left the administration's credibility in the Middle East in tatters." Said one gloating State Department official, "The real objective of giving Sharon the blank check was to shore up his political support at home. We paid a very high price and did not get a return."

But the White House may have gotten what it wanted. After Bush's statements two weeks ago suggesting a limited Palestinian state, the NYT reported, "Administration officials held out hope that Mr. Sharon had embarked on a process of withdrawal that would be rejected by Mr. Sharon's far-right coalition partners, which would force him to bring the left-of-center Labor Party into the government and create a political climate the Palestinians might consider more hospitable."

Everybody fronts the now multiple investigations into abuses of Iraqi prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib. The LAT and NYT both now have the internal Army report that that TheNew Yorker uncovered and don't add much new: The Army report, which the LAT posts excerpts of, suggests that the abuse appears to have been a more systemic problem than military officials have said publicly. The report concludes that intelligence officers and private contractors pushed guards, who weren't trained in interrogation, to "loosen up" prisoners.

The Post actually speaks to some former Iraqi prisoners, who said abuse was routine. One former prisoner said men were shot with rubber bullets if they were outside their tents after 9 p.m., even to use the bathroom. He showed two dime-scars on his arm. "How can we not hate the Americans after the treatment we have received?" said one 19-year-old, who alleged he had been electrocuted by a Kuwaiti officer working with Americans. "It is not human."

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The United States' top general, Richard Myers, said there were "just a handful" of abusers but later acknowledged that he hadn't read the internal Army report. "It's working its way to me," he said. By the way, the report was completed in February: What was done in response, before last week's media-driven attention?

Saying that the "majority of prisoners are released within 72 hours," an editorial in the Journal concludes that the "U.S. has probably gone too easy on most arrested Iraqis."

Things seem to be FUBAR in Fallujah. Top generals in the U.S. backed away from the Iraqi general, Jassim Mohammed Saleh, whom the Marines had appointed. Saleh was once a member of the repressive Republican Guard, and top officials said he hadn't been vetted. Also, while U.S. commanders said that Saleh had agreed to go after the purported foreign fighters in Fallujah, Saleh announced that none are there. "He will not be their leader," said Gen. Myers, referring to Saleh's newly formed Iraqi unit. Another military official contradicted his boss to the Post: "We've just told him he can form a brigade and take over the city. Now we're telling him that he has to step aside?"

The Post and LAT also note that though Gen. Myers said the Marines have not pulled back, most of them have.

The NYT's Christine Hauser went inside Fallujah, saw some heavily damaged neighborhoods, and says the new Iraqi unit, such as it is, hasn't started patrolling yet. She also spoke to some recruits for Saleh's fine force. One man had a wound on his hand that he didn't care to explain. Asked what had caused the trouble in Fallujah, he responded, "Everyone has the right to defend his country.''

Crowning moment ... Facing another terrorist attack over the weekend, Saudi Arabia's de facto king, Crown Prince Abdullah, offered his theory on the perpetrators: "Zionists." In remarks picked up by Saudi Arabia's official news agency and briefly mentioned inside Sunday's LAT and today's NYT, Abdullah said, "It became clear to us now that Zionism is behind terrorist attacks in the Kingdom." He didn't offer a follow-up.