No Sy of Relief

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 16 2004 6:55 AM

No Sy of Relief

The New York Times leads with the finger-pointing among defendants in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Going below the fold with its prison coverage, the Washington Post leads instead with an exhaustive analysis of President Bush's re-election war chest and the perks of contributing to it. The Los Angeles Times leads with the recent spike in Southwestern border crossings in response to Bush's proposed guest-worker program for illegal immigrants. In an apparent scoop, The New Yorker posted an article online yesterday by Sy Hersh that directly links the abuses at Abu Ghraib to a top-secret Pentagon operation, approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last year, which encouraged the "physical coercion and sexual humiliation" of Iraqi prisoners.

Hersh sources the Pentagon directive—which was carried out by Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone—to current and ex spooks, and gets an unnamed senior CIA official to confirm the account. Evidently, this is the story: Rumsfeld authorized the get-tough policy when the military and CIA struggled to infiltrate the guerrilla insurgency after the fall of Baghdad. Apparently a highly secretive no-holds-barred special-access program to kill, capture, or interrogate suspected al-Qaida terrorists was already extant at that time, and had received the stamp of approval from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and President Bush. Then, writes Hersh, "Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the SAP, bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation." The Post connects a few of the dots in its below-the-fold piece but stops well short of Hersh's allegations, noting that although Cambone was in charge during the period of abuse, "no direct links have been found between the documented abuses and orders from Washington." The primary basis for the Post's account is a classified cable from an Army colonel (who took his job at the bidding of the Pentagon) to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, a top U.S. military official in Iraq. The document details an interrogation method aimed at "significantly increasing the fear level in a security detainee," but it is unclear whether the proposal was one of 25 requests for unusually severe methods that Sanchez is said to have approved.

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As the NYT details, court proceedings get underway Wednesday, and Specialist Jeremy Sivits is expected to plead guilty in an attempt at leniency. He will also testify against his former comrades. Dutifully quoting counsel on all sides as well as the military's Manual for Courts-Martial, the Times gets a gold star for jurisprudence and notes that even proof that the G.I.s were following direct orders may not exonerate them. Neal Puckett, a lawyer for Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski (the brigade commander of military police at the prison), tells the paper, "I think they are going to have a hard time demonstrating that they were instructed that they were specifically to strip these guys naked and pile them up on the floor."

A front-page LAT piece says the lack of Iraqi outrage about the indignities at Abu Ghraib is a reflection of Iraqis' lowered expectations. To citizens polled in cities all over the country, according to reputable Iraqi pollsters, "the experience of the American occupation was already one of degradation, disappointment and discomfort" even before the scandal. However, given the other papers' and The New Yorker's sleuthing—which was picked up by the wires—into Washington's involvement, this public opinion angle seems not quite Page One worthy.

So you want to be a "Pioneer"? Raise $100,000 for the Bush juggernaut. Raise $200,000 and you're a "Ranger;" raise an additional $300,000 for the Republican National Committee and you can rightfully lay claim, and I kid you not, to the esteemed designation "Super Ranger." Though the Post's 4,655-word investigation into the GOP cash machine is full of goodies and begs to be read in full, a few numbers jump off the page: At least a third—and perhaps more than half—of the $296 million raised by the Bush campaign since 1998 was the handiwork of a mere 631 people. Of the 246 fundraisers identified by the Post as Pioneers in the 2000 campaign, 104 (slightly more than 40 percent) ended up with an administration job or an appointment. What's more, more than half of the Pioneers are heads of companies whose profits are directly affected by government policy. Though the Post takes its sweet time in acknowledging that Bill Clinton's donors also benefited from their munificence (think Lincoln bedroom slumber parties), it does point out that "Bush campaign's innovation in the late 1990s was to institutionalize what other administrations had done more informally, which is to create a special class of donors"—CEOs, Wall Street moguls, D.C. lobbyists, and Republican officials—"that can be singled out from the pack and tracked with precision." One longtime GOP fundraiser tells the paper, "This is the most impressive, organized, focused, and disciplined fundraising operation I have ever been involved in." Naturally, watchdog groups and the Post would love to get the complete list of Rangers and Pioneers from 2000, but the Bushies contend, um, somewhat implausibly, that it's in computer files they can no longer access. In any case, stay tuned: This is only the first of two articles the Post is running.

"If only because life is like high school," the NYT off-leads a lengthy piece about John Kerry's prep school days at St. Paul's in Concord, N.H. The crux: He had all the trappings of a typical Paulie, including the middle name "Forbes," a father with a preppy provenance, and a mother with ties to the original Massachusetts colony, yet he stuck out at the Episcopalian school because he was in fact a liberal, middle-class Catholic who wore his ambition on his sleeve. Thing is, this is by now well-trodden ground. The only poignant quote comes at the very end of the piece, from Kerry's chum Danny Barbiero: "I think what doesn't come across publicly is exactly the problem he had when I first met him, is that people don't see that—first of all, I liked the fact that he was hurt, that he could be hurt. He's a guy who can be wounded. He's got tremendous sensitivities. I don't think that comes across at all in his public persona. He sometimes will close off, like he doesn't need anyone. But he does."

Citing U.S. officials and Iraqi political leaders, the Post goes Page One with a diagnosis of the battle for Iraq's Shiite-heavy south, and it's not looking good. As coalition forces continue to clash with the militia of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, the U.S. strategy is focusing on "allowing a group of local Shiite leaders to broker a deal, much as Sunni Muslim leaders did this month in the western city of Fallujah." However, it's proving difficult: Whereas Fallujah has a monolithic Sunni population, the Shiite south is divided by sectarian loyalties. The LAT reefers word that Sadr's militia retaliated for reports of damage to Najaf's shrine to Imam Ali by staging fatal attacks in central and southern Iraq. According to the paper, five U.S. soldiers and more than three dozen rebels have been killed in "bloody" assaults in the past 48 hours, and evidently the military's sortie into Najaf on Friday was its deepest yet. The NYT stuffs its coverage, and seems content to let a U.S. military official call the fighting "a minor uprising."

An above-the-fold NYT article, datelined Rabat, says domestic and European intelligence agencies failed to recognize the significance of the Moroccan branch of militant Islam. Suicide bombings in Casablanca last year and the recent Madrid train bombings have forced intelligence and law enforcement officials to "adjust their strategies." Exactly how, unfortunately, the Times doesn't say.

And finally, a west coast dispatch from the Times' indefatigable Alex Kuczynski:

Californians concerned that their favorite plastic surgeon might be too busy to see them for a nip or a tuck may one day be able to call upon another professional to minister to their sagging faces and drooping eyelids: their dentist. Tomorrow, a subcommittee of the California State Legislature is expected to approve Senate Bill 1336, which if enacted would make it legal for dentists with training in oral surgery to perform cosmetic surgery on the face. ... Dr. Rod J. Rohrich, a Dallas plastic surgeon who is the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he was prepared for a fight, too. "I am sorry," he said, sounding not sorry at all. "But I would not go to my dentist and ask him for a facelift. Just as I would not expect my dentist to come to me and ask me to pull some teeth."

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