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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Bush: still bluffing, still macho on Iraq
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

The day Israeli tanks and military bulldozers were razing dozens of Palestinian homes in the refugee camp of Rafah, in Gaza close to the Egyptian border, and slaughtering Palestinian civilians in a mad frenzy, George W. Bush addressed the annual dinner in Washington of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This well-heeled Jewish umbrella organisation, with funds running into hundreds of millions of dollars, is courted by every American politician seeking office and favours from the powerful Jewish lobbies.

Bush dismissed the plight of the Palestinians in just one sentence, saying he found the policy of razing their homes "troubling". Amnesty International, in contrast, has described the Israeli brutality as "crimes against humanity.". Bush, then, quickly alluded to the "courageous and bold" policy of his bosom friend, Ariel Sharon, to vacate Gaza unilaterally and eulogised Sharon for his "vision" of peace. He wasn't quite done yet. Amid thundering applause from a jubilant Jwish audience who could always be certain that, no matter what, Bush would always stand shoulder to shoulder with Sharon, he handed another blank cheque to Sharon for more repression against the hapless Palestinians by insisting that Israel had "every right" to "defend itself" in the face of "terror".
The same day in Iraq, May 18, U.S. military gunships razed to ground the small village of Mark al Deeb, near the border (Syrian) town of Qaim killing, according to the admission of American military spokesman, Brig. General Mark Kimmit in Baghdad, at least 40 men, women and children. Kimmit, who has been grooming as America's answer to Goebbles, insisted that his forces were targeting 'terrorists' in a "safe-house" in the razed village. However, the Al Arabiya television channel brought dozens of survivors of the brutal American assault on camera who confirmed that the villagers were celebrating a wedding and firing in the air, as is a well-known Arab custom, when American gunships suddenly appeared, before dawn, and dropped a hundred bombs on the two houses where the wedding party was on. Later the whole village was razed to ground by American fire power from the air. The actual toll in innocent human lives lost to American gangsterism would be much higher than what Kimmit was prepared to admit to the news media.

These two instances, suffice to underline the kind of contrition that George W. Bush is showing in response to the full blown crisis of confidence stalking his administration in the wake of the damning Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. 

Bush's response to the mounting evidence of highest-level complicity and culpability of his administration in the crimes perpetrated against the Iraqis is typically macho and Texan. Beleaguered behind the most devastating crisis he has faced in his dubious presidency-which has already plunged his public approval rating to the lowest level ever-Bush is aggressively trying to shoot his way out of the trouble. This is how repentant and contrite he is.

With snowballing evidence surfacing almost daily to the effect that the barbarous crimes committed against the Iraqi prisoners were not isolated or individual acts by deranged serviceman but symptomatic of a policy pattern dictated from the top, the pressure for Defence Secretary Rumsfeld to resign is also mounting. Bush, for understandable reasons, cannot afford to lose Rumsfeld who has been in the vanguard of implementing his neo con agenda of Pax Americana. Bush is also conscious of the fact that if Rumsfeld were singed, the flames could also lick him too. 

Bush, therefore, went on the offensive soon after Rumsfeld's public grilling by the Senate Defence Committee. A day later, Bush went up to the Pentagon and, flanked by Cheney, Powell and General Meyers, eulogised the cornered Rumsfeld as " the greatest Defence Secretary ever". He said Rumsfeld was doing " a superb job" in Bush's war on terror, and chided the American people by reminding them that they owed Rumsfeld " a debt of gratitude."

The next Bush move was to raise the ante in Iraq still further-another typically macho reflex.

Obviously on cue from the 'commander-in-chief', the military went on a major offensive against the rag tag bands of Moqtada Al Sadr in both holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala. Ignoring the 'Red Line' that the top Shiia clergy of Iraq had drawn around these cities of extreme sanctity and sensitivity, the Americans took the offensive right into the heart of these cities. In Najaf, the sanctity of the sprawling cemetery, Wadi Al Salam, was callously breached when American soldiers entered the cemetery and fired, supposedly, at the 'enemy' sheltering there. Missiles were also fired against the holy tomb of Imam Ali, damaging its golden dome. In Kerbala too, the Americans penetrated the city deep, within meters of the tomb of Imam Hussain. Perhaps Bush wanted to remind the Shiia clergy and their hierarchy that he regarded no sanctity higher than his own congenital fixation to take his 'war' against terror to every corner of the Muslim world.

But no matter how hung-ho Bush may pretend to be, his nervousness and extreme anxiety is not hard to detect behind his macho façade. His bravado may, in the end, still miserably fail to shield his principal protégé, Donald Rumsfeld, from getting the axe for his crimes against humanity. Alternatively, if Bush goes to the extreme in protecting Rumsfeld he may get the chop himself in the November election. That is a scenario scary enough to rob him of his sleep.

The latest story in the New Yorker Magazine by the celebrated investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, might well prove to be the ultimate catalyst in Rumsfeld's downfall.

Hersh has painstakingly traced out the details of Pentagon's direct and unequivocal involvement in the methods deployed, not only at Abu Ghraib, but also at Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, by military intelligence, C.I.A. and a host of other agencies, to extract information from prisoners at their mercy. Hersh has quoted, for instance, from guidelines personally approved by Rumsfeld last year in November for Abu Ghraib-exactly two months before the plethora of photographs and other documentary evidence of torture was turned over to the American military command in Baghdad. In what could easily be described as his 'Doctrine' for interrogation of prisoners, Rumsfeld is believed to have categorically authorised the interrogators to " Grab whom you must; do what you want."

In a front page lead story, the New York Times of May 20 spoke of a deliberate move by the military command in Iraq last November to not only ignore the ICRC warnings of violation of prisoners' human rights but also to block further intrusion and access by the world body into Abu Ghraib. ICRC had witnessed horrific scenes, a month earlier, of prisoners being kept naked in the dark and forced to wear female underwears as hoods on their heads-shameful practices viciously enforced to humiliate the Iraqi prisoners.

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq, arrogantly cold shouldered the ICRC missive and winked at his intelligence bull dogs and others seeking his endorsement to block further access to Asbu Ghraib's torture cells by ICRC staff. Understandably, neither Sanchez nor his superiors wanted the world to know the satanic indulgences of American soldiers and power-drunk sleuths. Besides, allowing ICRC a free and unrestricted access to Abu Ghraib would have come in direct conflict with the free implementation of the Rumsfeld Doctrine. Rumsfeld wouldn't have liked his strategy being undercut by any outside body, least of all by a UN agency. His disdain and affront for UN has already been so copiously documented.

So Sanchez, in order to please his boss Rumsfeld, put the ICRC complaint on the back burner and didn't reply to it until December 24. By then, the 'doctrine' of his boss was well and truly being implemented in all its ugly and draconian dimensions.

It was not Pentagon and the command in Iraq alone who were complicit in keeping ICRC out in the cold on Abu Ghraib. Other important actors were also involved, most notably the White House.

The New York Times report quotes the White House Legal Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, expressing his "concern" on allowing ICRC free and unrestricted access into the prison for spot checks. It was the same Gonzales who, two years ago, had advised Bush to ignore the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war because, in his morbid opinion, the 'ground realities' had changed drastically since 9/11 and America was not bound, any longer, to cramp its hand by the Geneva Conventions written more than fifty years ago after the World War II.

The blatant lie by the Bush administration that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was not in the chain of command from the top, or part of an organised practice, is being nailed by reports in both conventional and unconventional segments of the media. A welcome development of the scandal at Abu Ghraib is that it has 'liberated' much of the establishment media of the shackles it had placed on itself in the wake of 9/11 in order to be seen by the Bush hawks and neo cons as 'pateriots.' But it is still shy of being as bold and forthright as the non-establishment press.

For instance, Salon.com, a bold and enterprising website, has come up, on May 19, with an excellent and painstakingly researched story by Michelle Goldberg, conclusively establishing an identity and symmetry between the ruthless and barbaric handling of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib with the third degree treatment meted out to hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslims rounded up in U.S. itself in the wake of 9/11.

Goldberg has traced the stories of two Arabs-one an Egyptian, named Mohamed Maddy and the other a Jordanian, Khalid Betar-all the way from New York, where they were detained, to Cairo and Amman, respectively, where they now live after their deportation to their native countries.

These two Arabs were among 84 of those 762 Muslim immigrants and non-immigrants rounded up in the New York area after 9/11. They were kept at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Centre and tortured just the way the hapless hundreds of Iraqis were at Abu Ghraib. Goldberg quotes from an exhaustive, 239-page, report compiled in April 2003 by the Inspector General of the Justice Department on Immigration Detainees, just as the aggression against Iraq was under way. That report dealt largely with the general treatment of tens of thousands of detainees rounded up on continental U.S. on mere suspicion, just the way tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis were hauled up on unsubstantive charges.

The April 2003 report was followed, in December 2003, by a 49-page supplement, which catalogued the abuses meted out to innocent immigration violators who had had no connection at all with Al Qaeda or the events of 9/11. The stories of Maddy and Betar figured prominently in that supplementary report. Both were treated as shabbily and brutally as the men and women in Abu Ghraib. They were kept awake all the time, beaten, cursed and abused, and humiliated through sexual torture. In the end, when nothing was found against them, they were loaded on aircraft bound for their native countries; countries whose rulers are among the most faithful and loyal servants of America.

It is irrfutable that the pattern of abuses and torture the world has witnessed in the context of Abu Ghraib is only the tip of a massive iceberg that Bush is desperately seeking to hide from a world stunned at the perverse moral depravity of the Bush team and its henchmen, both in Washington and out in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo in Cuba. The American Congress is still deliberating on what to do about, and how to handle, the cache of 1600 additional photographs and video images passed on to it for review. Realising the explosive nature of the material in its possession, Congress is divided as to release for public scrutiny or keep it under wraps.

But whatever decision Congress may ultimately take, it cannot undo the damage already done to the erstwhile claims by the world's morality gurus, in the White House, Pentagon and elsewhere, that America was a force of moral uprightness. Far from it, it is now proven to be a force of extreme venality; a rogue, lawless country which doesn't want to be hampered in its rapacious ways by universally recognised laws and conventions. The moral bankruptcy of America on George W. Bush's watch now stands unmistakably exposed to the eyes of the world. It is a very ugly image of a great power shorn of any fabric of law or morality. «

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