Gitmo or Less

Gitmo or Less

Gitmo or Less

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 21 2004 4:49 AM

Gitmo or Less

The New York Timesleads with a nearly 6,000-word investigative piece concluding that most of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are at most foot soldiers and the "government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided."The Washington Postleads with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi saying he's going to consolidate the country's security forces and send them after the insurgents. "Disbanding the Iraqi Army was a big mistake," he said. "We are fixing the mistakes of the Americans, aren't we?" Allawi added that the forces won't hesitate to go after guerrillas since the insurgents are mostly foreigners, an assertion he didn't back up. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Allawi defending the United States' airstrike in Fallujah that killed 22 people. "We know that a house which had been used by terrorists has been hit," he said. The paper says members of the Iraqi Fallujah Brigade are angry after being left out of the loop. Playing catch-up with weekend developments, the Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and USA Todaylead with Saudi Arabia killing the apparent top Islamic militant in the country. USAT also adds that there was a "running gun battle" in Riyadh Sunday as police continued to go after militants.   

The NYT's Gitmo lead says even some U.S. officials acknowledge that as a result of limited intelligence and knowledge in Afghanistan, the U.S. largely ended up with a bunch of nobodies: "They said only a relative handful—some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen—are sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization's inner workings." At the same time, a few prisoners have somehow been released only to later reveal themselves as Taliban commanders and return to fighting in Afghanistan.

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The Times deserves credit for delving deep into this. But the truth is, as TP's new blog mentioned last week, this story has been sitting around waiting for someone to jump on it. In a snoozer of a NYT piece about Gitmo last April, the 20th paragraph mentioned: "Officials said only a small number of the detainees are members of al-Qaida. The rest have either been determined to be nobodies, rounded up in the chaotic aftermath of the war, or presumed to be nobodies whose state has not yet been determined." The only reason this stuff is getting flagged now is that the abuse photos—or really, the response to them—conferred Big Story status on the United States' treatment of prisoners, so editors going aggressive on it would be going with the flow rather than the scarier proposition of striking out their own. Or as Michael Massing recently put it in the New York Review of Books, the Times waited to dig into the mistreatment until after it had "been ratified as important."

Finally, the Gitmo story, which is very solid, seems to miss a key point: One likely reason so many low-level or simply innocent men have been imprisoned is that the U.S. paid a bounty for supposed al-Qaida men. As one former snitch for the U.S. recently put it, "Afghans would catch normal Arabs, normal small Arabs and go to the American base and tell them, you know what, we have a big commander. The American would say yes okay and they would just buy him."

The NYT off-leads Iraq's interim government inching closer to declaring martial law, probably in just parts of the country. Allawi raised the idea last week, and he's now convened a panel of Cabinet members to ponder potential details. It's not clear what such an order would mean, and the Times notes that as it is, freedom hasn't exactly been ringing: "Under the United States-led occupation, occupation and Iraqi soldiers and security forces have been allowed to conduct raids without warrants, make arrests without charges, and hold suspects in detention indefinitely."

The Marines announced one of their men was killed around Fallujah. Per usual, they didn't give details. Attacks also continued against Iraqi officials: Two members of an antiterrorism panel were assassinated; a roadside bomb near Baghdad's airport killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded 11; and a bomb exploded near Iraq's central bank, killing one guard. The interim interior minister's house was also attacked; he wasn't there, but four guards were killed.

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Everybody mentions that militants in Iraq made a video of a South Korean hostage who said he'll be killed unless Korean troops leave.

The WSJ and Post both have U.S. commanders saying their troops are lowering their profile and will focus on training Iraqi forces, something the NYT mentioned last week. As the Journal emphasizes, the changes mean there will be even fewer combat troops available, and that in turn may embolden guerrillas. In a comment that appears to have only been flagged by the Post,Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had an interesting take on the new strategy: "A lot of the challenge is how to create some optics when the underlying substance hasn't changed that much."

The Post goes Page One with the potential sinking of a Bush nominee for a federal appeals court. Turns out the lawyer, who was lead counsel for the Senate during Clinton's impeachment trial, had been practicing law in Utah without a license.

The NYT says inside the Bush administration is threatening to cut off funds from the World Health Organization and other international organizations that work with a U.N. group that the administration asserts supports forced abortions in China, a charge that a State Department fact-finding trip two years ago seemed to dismiss. Meanwhile, the Journal reports inside that the administration just tightened the rules on funding for AIDS prevention programs: Web site materials now need to be reviewed by the government.

Bonus reading ... For those who didn't catch it, this Sunday's Post had a brilliant, massive occupation obit, at least for the formal part of the occupation. If you can only bear to read one story about the mistakes the U.S. has made—from hiring just 15,000 Iraqis for CPA-funded reconstruction to filling key positions with inexperienced GOPistas—this should be it.