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Western Press Review: Increasing Calls For Rumsfeld To Resign Over Prison-Abuse Scandal

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 7 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Calls for the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are resounding through the press today, as a host of media commentators demand that responsibility be taken at the highest levels for the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison. Several U.S. soldiers have already been charged after photos of Iraqi prisoners being coerced into humiliating poses and accusations of systematic physical abuse were made public last week. Some observers say the criminal abuse of detainees in Iraq is another symptom of the "extrajudicial" climate created at the highest levels in Washington. Other topics of debate in the media today include the new isolationism of the United States and Russia, even as global cooperation becomes increasingly vital, and the future of Georgia's two remaining restive provinces, now that Adjaria is back under Tbilisi's sway.


An editorial in "The New York Times" today says: "It is time now for [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to go, and not only because he bears personal responsibility for the scandal of [Abu Ghurayb]."

Following the release of photos showing U.S. soldiers laughing at nude Iraqi prisoners forced into compromising positions, the United States "has been humiliated to a point where government officials could not release this year's international human rights report this week for fear of being scoffed at by the rest of the world."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld "has morphed, over the last two years, from a man of supreme confidence to arrogance, then to almost willful blindness," it says. The paper adds that it is now clear that no influentials at the Pentagon had any idea what the United States was getting into when it invaded Iraq. The Iraq mission went ahead based largely on the "blithe confidence" exhibited by Rumsfeld.

"The world is waiting now for a sign that [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened" at [Abu Ghurayb] prison. And the international community needs more than Bush's repeated statements that the actions of a few soldiers do not reflect "the nature and heart" of America.

"The New York Times" says Bush "should start showing the state of his own heart by demanding the resignation of his secretary of defense."

The paper writes: "It is long past time for a new team and new thinking at the Department of Defense."


This week's edition of the London-based news magazine says that in a war its instigators insist "is about law, democracy, freedom and honesty," who claim to want to "bring freedom, human rights and democracy to the Arab world," high standards are needed for the conduct of military forces, as well as for the government itself.

One way to respond to the charges surfacing over abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison is for U.S. and U.K. leaders to make it clear, in public, that they find such action "abhorrent and unacceptable, and that the perpetrators of it will be punished."

And yet, "The Economist" says, "such statements are not enough." Even as more allegations are coming to light, the magazine says the abuse of prisoners "is not the only damaging error that has been made." The recent revelations are merely a part "of a culture of extra-legal behavior that has been set at the highest level."

"Responsibility for what has occurred needs to be taken -- and to be seen to be taken -- at the highest level too. It is plain what that means. The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, should resign. And if he won't resign, Mr. Bush should fire him."


Also discussing the prisoner abuse, "The Christian Science Monitor" says the U.S. military "from Secretary [of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld on down showed serious hubris rather than humility in hiding the abuses from Congress and the public. Such abuses need to be aired to prevent their recurrence."

And these revelations hold a big lesson for the U.S. administration: That it "cannot let the moral goal of creating a free Iraq or capturing terrorists be used as an excuse for a kind of moral certainty that it can do no wrong or that it can bypass accepted international codes, such as the Geneva Conventions."

"That's a dangerous confusion of ends and means in a time of war."


A contribution today by former columnist Anthony Lewis says in response to the shock felt by observers of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghurayb, "we are told that there was a failure of military leadership. Officers in the field were lax. Pentagon officials didn't care. So the worst in human nature was allowed to flourish."

But Lewis says "something much more profound underlies this terrible episode." A new culture has been created at the highest levels in Washington, a culture "of low regard for the law, of respecting the law only when it is convenient."

Throughout his 3 1/2-year term, U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly "made clear his view that law must bend to what he regards as necessity. National security as he defines it trumps our commitments to international law." The U.S. Constitution is made to "yield to novel infringements on American freedom."

The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are classified by the Bush administration as "unlawful combatants" who are not protected under the Geneva Conventions. And the fear of terrorism -- although "quite understandable" after the attacks of 11 September 2001 -- "has led to harsh departures from normal legal practice" within the United States. The Bush administration claims it can designate any U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant" -- and thus "detain that person in solitary confinement indefinitely, without charges, without a trial, without a right to counsel."

Throughout this administration, there has been "a pervasive attitude: that to follow the law is to be weak in the face of terrorism. But commitment to law is not a weakness," Lewis says. "It has been the great strength of the United States from the beginning. Our leaders depart from that commitment at their peril, and [ours]."


A contribution today by William Perry of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the threat from transnational terrorist organizations calls on countries around the world to increase their cooperation on many fronts.

"Yet, paradoxically, the two nations that have suffered the worst terror attacks -- the United States and Russia -- are regressing more and more to national strategies."

The United States is not using to the best advantage resources offered by other nations and international institutions to dry up international terrorist-funding networks, to gain intelligence on the planning of future attacks, or to penetrate terrorist cells and conduct counterinsurgency operations. Perry says instead of making compromises and working with allies, Washington has decreed any nation that did not support the war in Iraq cannot have a role in reconstruction. It has since reached out to the UN, but is still not cooperating effectively with Russia, Germany, or France.

Russia has also underestimated the benefits of international cooperation in its own affairs. After enjoying a five-year, 7 percent economic-growth rate, it is now clear that has come at the cost of social liberalization. Perry says Russia has "reversed [its] move toward becoming a liberal democracy," which will serve to "alienate it both from the United States and the European Union."

Perry says, "Both the Bush administration and the Putin administration have apparently made the decision that they can achieve their goals without broad international support. Both governments have erred in that judgment." But he says it is not too late to reverse this trend, and the "most important step in that process is reviving cooperation between the United States and Russia."


A "Stratfor" commentary today says, "While [Mikheil] Saakashvili's victory in [Adjaria] is certainly sweet, his goal of restoring Georgia's unity is far from realized. [Adjaria] was by far the easiest of its rogue provinces to rein in; the others -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- will not rejoin Georgia without a fight." Even so, Saakashvili's position has been strengthened by the Adjar victory and political support from the United States and Europe.

Georgia is now "slowly and haltingly [trying] to claw its way back from economic disaster." With Adjaria back under Tbilisi's command, the Georgian capital is set to receive the tax revenue from the over 300,000 Adjar citizens, in addition to a portion, if not all, of the income from the Batumi port, a stop on the route for some 200,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Caspian Sea.

"Tbilisi's income, in other words, is about to increase dramatically." The completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline a year from now will ship even more Caspian crude to Turkey via Georgia, adding $170 million annually to Tbilisi's coffers. And this might just provide Georgia "with the economic clout to tempt, or -- via a military buildup -- cajole its other provinces back into the fold."

But the separatist regions "hold a psychological ace," says "Stratfor." The Abkhaz and Ossetians "simply do not identify with Georgia, unlike the Ajarans, who are of the same ethnic stock." Ossetia allies itself more with Moscow than Tbilisi, while the Abkhaz majority is Muslim, in contrast to Georgia's mainly Orthodox Christians.

"And [for] both groups, maintaining political independence is simply a matter of national survival."


Writing from Moscow, correspondent Patrick de Saint-Exupery says former Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze left his restive province "without a word." The former communist apparatchik regional leader stole out like a robber at night on 5-6 May, just hours after his spokesman insisted that Abashidze had no intention of resigning.

Accompanied by 150 bodyguards and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Abashidze left in silence for a Muscovite exile.

Almost immediately, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili proclaimed on television that Abashidze was gone, that Adjaria was free. Demonstrators took to the streets, lauding him as their liberator. Georgian special forces soon completed their control over the province, even as the leadership in Tbilisi assured its citizens that the region would remain autonomous in accordance with laws of the land in place since the early 20th century.

De Saint-Exupery says for Tbilisi, the fall of the Adjar leader marks an important step in the long road of rebuilding the devastated Georgian economy. Georgian control of the Batumi port city -- a major economic hub and oil transit route, as well as being on the border with Turkey – should make it possible to reestablish the trade routes which, until 1991, supplied the entire Caucasus region.