Response-Ability

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 8 2004 6:53 AM

Response-Ability

All the papers lead with Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before committees of both houses of Congress (carried live by all three networks), in which he apologized to the tortured prisoners of Abu Ghraib and warned of even more brutal pictures to come. All the papers front April's gain of 288,000 jobs, the second consecutive month of '90s-style payroll growth.

Rumsfeld told Congress that he "feel[s] terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. ... Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong." He said he accepted "full responsibility" for the abuses, but that resigning wouldn't solve any problems. "Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute." Forty-one incidents of abuse are now under investigation, and Rumsfeld has appointed a panel of former legislators and military men to oversee the investigations.

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The defense secretary did not see any of the photos until they were broadcast on 60 Minutes II, he revealed—three months after military investigators discovered them. (The Washington Post says that no senior Pentagon staff saw them before the public did.) According to the Post and the New York Times, Rumsfeld declined to look at them—or show them to the public—earlier, because doing so would have represented "command interference" in an ongoing investigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, however, Rumsfeld asked to see the photos early on but was told by advisers that they "weren't available." Rummy did acknowledge that he should have brought the initial investigation to the attention of the president and Congress.

The NYT says hundreds more photos exist, although the majority are pornographic pics involving only U.S. soldiers. The LAT and WP say thousands exist, including some videos, and that most are beyond the military's control. "We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. "We're talking about rape and murder" in the unseen images.

The NYT's and WP's editors lit into Rumsfeld, accusing him of turning an institutional problem—the lack of Geneva Convention safeguards in U.S. detainment procedures—into a mere bureaucratic failure. Rumsfeld testified that Abu Ghraib guards had been instructed to follow the Geneva Conventions. But the WP notes that the Pentagon's own investigation documented that no such instructions were given, and the NYT reminds that in 2002 Rumsfeld himself said the Geneva Convention does not apply to suspected terrorists.

Including increased estimates for February and March, the economy has produced an average of 236,000 jobs a month over the last quarter. The number of jobs lost since President Bush took office, the LAT notes, is now down to 1.5 million from 2.6 million last August; it may be zero by election day. Manufacturing—which accounts for nearly all of this 1.5-million-job deficit—surged in April after a 3.5 year decline. The NYT says employment is finally above where it was when the recovery began 2.5 years ago. However, wage growth still trails inflation, and the number of long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more of joblessness) accounts for 22 percent of the total unemployed, an historic high. 

The LAT front page sounds the alarm that oil prices have reached $40 a barrel for the first time since the Gulf War buildup. The paper's comparison, however, distorts in two ways. First, the Gulf War marker implies that today's rising crude prices reflect political instability, when the article itself specifies that rising demand accounts for most of the increase. Second, $40 in 2002 dollars amounts to only $28.71 in 1990 dollars.

All the papers raise doubts about the case against Brandon Mayfield, the Portland, Ore., lawyer arrested by the FBI in connection with the March 11 Madrid bombings. Mayfield is being held on a material-witness warrant but has not yet been charged. The feds scrapped planned covert surveillance of Mayfield when word of their investigation leaked, the NYT and Post report. They have yet to look at Mayfield's phone records or travel history, the NYT says. According to the LAT, Spanish authorities doubt the FBI's fingerprint match linking Mayfield to a bag of detonators found near the bombings. Mayfield served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1994. In 1989 he married an Egyptian and converted to Islam. He is active in a Portland mosque, and he once defended, in a civil suit, a man who after 9/11 was convicted of conspiring against the U.S. Mayfield's mom tells the NYT that while in the service her son knew Capt. James Yee, the Guantanamo chaplain who was charged with espionage and then cleared.

The NYT examines the political windfall the Bush campaign has reaped from John Kerry's remark that, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq war]—before I voted against it." Looked at in context, the paper concludes, Kerry's remark makes sense—he even drew rousing applause that day from his audience of U.S. soldiers. But like Howard Dean's infamous pep speech after the Iowa caucuses, what played well with the live audience then sounds ridiculous in Bush's TV commercials now. One Democratic strategist calls Kerry's gaffe a rare "magic moment" in political campaigning, "when your opponent in real time does what you are accusing him of doing."  

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.