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Western Press Review: Mounting Outrage Over Abu Ghurayb; Where Does Kadyrov's Assassination Leave Russia?

10 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The world press today maintains its focus on the photos and descriptions of abuse of Iraqi prisoners that have caused international outrage. Yesterday's assassination of Chechen President Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov also commands much attention.


Several newspapers, including France's "Liberation," provide more testimony from former Iraqi prisoners who say they were abused by their U.S. jailers.

While attention has focused on the Abu Ghurayb prison, one man interviewed by the newspaper, identified as 23-year-old Quoussad Mahaouich, says he was detained for five months at three separate facilities he names as Camp Tiger, Camp Bagdadi, and Abu Ghurayb.

At all three prisons, Mahaouich says he was abused. At Camp Tiger, Mahaouich says: "They beat me with their machine guns, they hit me in the ribs in order not to leave marks. Once, I received an electric shock in the neck." When he was transferred to Camp Bagdadi, Mahaouich says, things got worse: "The interrogator told me: 'I am the devil.' He put me in a sleeping bag, tied me up in it with a long belt and put a plastic bag on my head. I suffocated. I thought I was going to die."

In the United States, "The Boston Globe" writes that the likely leakage of more damaging photos and possibly a videotape from Abu Ghurayb could soon broaden the scandal. The newspaper quotes a Republican senator, Lindsay Graham, who says the new photos and videotape provide evidence of the rape and murder of Iraqi prisoners.


In Britain, "The Guardian," in a searing editorial, mocks U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's apology for the abuse, saying he bears ultimate responsibility for helping to create an entire system that skirts international law.

"Mr. Rumsfeld did not apologize for the Red Cross reports of unarmed Iraqi prisoners being shot to death by military personnel in watchtowers. He said nothing of the 'interrogation techniques' developed by U.S. intelligence agencies and taught to security services the world over, including here. He expressed no regret for employing private contractors to question people who were accused of no crime, then hiding their sadistic behavior from public scrutiny. He never mentioned how sorry he might be for turning over captives to other governments using even cruder torture methods."


Not everyone agrees, however. Barbara Amiel, writing in Britain's "Daily Telegraph," chastises the press for rushing to conclusions about alleged systemic abuses in the U.S. military system before all the facts are analyzed. She also slams the press in Arab countries for failing to complain about torture in Iraqi prisons during Saddam Hussein's rule and failing to condemn such practices at home.

"The outrage from Arab countries, many of which comprise the torture chambers of the modern world and tolerate tyrants enforcing far worse measures than those at Abu Ghraib, is hard to take seriously. One heard no such protests when Saddam was in power and doing his worst, or when Syria was slaughtering the Muslim Brotherhood. That doesn't excuse what happened at the prison but tactical crocodile tears do not need our handkerchiefs."


While "The New York Times," in its official commentary, called on Rumsfeld to step down last week, its prominent conservative columnist William Safire, writing in today's issue, says Rumsfeld should stay.

Safire writes: "The United States shows the world its values by investigating and prosecuting wrongdoers high and low. It is not in our political value system to scapegoat a good man for the depraved acts of others. Nor does it make strategic sense to remove a war leader in the vain hope of appeasing critics of the war. This secretary of defense, who has the strong support of the president, is both effective and symbolic. If he were to quit under political fire, pressure would mount for America to quit under insurgent fire. Hang in there, Rummy! You have a duty to serve in our 'long, hard slog.'"


Moving on to yesterday's assassination of the Kremlin-backed Chechen president, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Britain's "Daily Telegraph" notes in its commentary today: "The assassination...has struck [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in his Achilles' heel. As Boris Yeltsin's chosen successor, the Russian president built his reputation on being able to subdue the rebel republic."

The paper argues that yesterday's killing of the Kremlin's man in Chechnya exposes the total failure of Putin's policies in the republic: "The Kremlin's political solution to the Chechen question rested on shaky foundations -- the election of Mr. Kadyrov was fraudulent and the subsequent national parliamentary poll gave Mr. Putin's United Russia an incredible 80 percent of the vote. With yesterday's murder of the local placeman it lies in tatters. The president has spoken of retribution but there seems little scope of effective military action. He faces, rather, the prospect of political chaos as Chechens vie for the succession."


Michael Binyon, writing in "The Times" of London, concurs. He notes the special symbolism of yesterday's assassination: "With the killing of a man whose election was engineered by Moscow in an attempt to give international legitimacy to the puppet government in Grozny, Russia now faces a political vacuum. This will make its attempt to extricate itself from the Chechen quagmire immensely more difficult. The timing of the bomb blast is of enormous significance. It came on the anniversary of VE Day, which is always a solemn occasion in Russia. On this day the country remembers its victory over Nazi Germany and the 20 million war dead. The focus since Soviet times has been on the armed forces, which are honoured for their heroism. To choose this day to humiliate Russia's army in the centre of Grozny was a deliberate show of defiance in the face of years of heavy-handed military operations in Chechnya."


War correspondent Petra Prochazkova, who provided unique coverage of the first and second Chechen wars, writes in an editorial in the Czech Republic's "Lidove Noviny" newspaper: "Akhmad Kadyrov's death is proof that the situation in Chechnya is far from the peace that President Putin has spoken about with such enthusiasm over the past two years.... One can assume that even if President Putin launches very harsh retaliatory action, it will bring no results. Judging by Putin's first reaction, it is clear that the Kremlin has not understood that peace cannot be put in place through force in Chechnya -- that is, if something like peace figures at all in Putin's plans for Chechnya."


Lastly, "The Irish Times" points out that whatever Putin's plans are, finding a successor to Kadyrov will be no easy task: "It will be hard to find a permanent successor with Mr. Kadyrov's perceived selling points -- a former Chechen rebel who supposedly saw the error of his ways and chose Moscow's path to peace -- and all but impossible to convince candidates for the job that they will be protected. It may also prove difficult to rein in Mr. Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, and his personal army."