At a "press availability" with Canadian Prime Minister Martin of Canada on April 30, Bush was asked if, one year after he had declared an end to major combat, things were getting better or worse in Iraq. "A year ago, I did give the speech from the carrier, saying that we had achieved an important objective, that we'd accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein.," he said. "And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq." The remark contrasted starkly with headlines around the world decrying reports that Iraqi prisoners had been abused by US troops.
"We're making progress, you bet," he added. "There's a strategy toward freedom." But Congress and other observers questioned the nature of that progress, as funds allocated for Iraqi reconstruction were being diverted for security and administrative costs, or, as reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) being paid as bribes to contractors and members of the US-appointed Iraqi governing council.
"A free Iraq is in the interests of world peace," he continued. "Because free societies do not harbor terrorists; free societies do not threaten people or use weapons of mass destruction," Yet analysts have suggested that the US invasion has actually heightened the global terrorist threat, as poorly secured weapons sites were looted, the concentration of US forces presented ready targets, and the presence of an occupying force may have boosted recruitment efforts by al-Qaeda and related groups. This observation has implications for the 2004 presidential campaign, as a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed the public disapproves of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, but approves of his handling of the war on terrorism.
"...[T]here are no longer torture chambers...."
Photographs documenting abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, were broadcast on the CBS news program. 60 Minutes II, Wednesday night. Some of the photographs showed American soldiers smiling and signaling "thumbs up" next to Iraqi prisoners in sexually humiliating positions. According to the Army, one prisoner was ordered to stand on a box with wires attached to his hands, and told that if he stepped off the box he would be executed. Other photographs that CBS reports the Army has, show a prisoner with wires attached to his genitals, and a dog attacking a prisoner. An administrative review completed March 1 by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba and forwarded to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior American commander in Iraq on April 4, documented the abuses shown in the photographs. The review reportedly includes a statement from an Iraqi detainee that a male juvenile prisoner was raped by a translator. As reported in the New Yorker magazine, the Army review lists abusive behavior including:
Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
Brig. General Janis Karpinski, who commanded the unit whose military police officers staffed Abu Ghraib and two other facilities, told the New York Times that the interrogation cell block where the abuses may have taken place was tightly controlled by a group of military intelligence officers separate from her Army Reserve unit. While not defending the actions of the reservists under her command, Karpinski indicated that the interrogation area was essentially off limits to anyone who was not participating in interrogations.
The Taguba report supports aspects of Karpinski's allegations, asserting that Army intelligence officers, C.I.A. agents, and private contractors "actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." Taguba found that a number of incidents had been reported and investigated by the 800th MP brigade. Some had resulted in the killing and wounding of inmates and MPs, leading to a series of inquires, and orders for changes in procedure. According to the New Yorker, Taguba found that General Karpinski approved the reports and signed the orders, but did not follow up to see that the changes were implemented. Karpinski was "formally admonished and quietly suspended" last year.
"Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident." a press release from human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) dated April 30 said. "It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens." More than a month before the CBS broadcast, AI had issued a report whose title declared Iraq: One year on the human rights situation remains dire.
The massive Abu Ghraib prison on the southwest edge of Baghdad was the most feared detention center under the former Iraqi government. Today the building officially goes by the name of Baghdad Correctional Facility, but little else has changed. Relatives of those held inside still wait outside for news of their loved ones, and lawyers are still turned away.
Ironically, given Bush's lofty pronouncements about freedom, people detained by the Coalition Forces have fewer safeguards than those held by Iraqis, according to AI. For instance, those detained by Coalition Forces may be held for 90 days before being brought before a judge, while those detained under the Iraqi Code of Criminal Procedure are entitled to judicial review after 24 hours.
Many detainees are people who have been arrested during nighttime house raids based on a tip that occupants are cooperating with the resistance. False accusations have become a common way for people to settle feuds, perhaps encouraged by compensation for informants in a context of what Salon.com called "massive unemployment."
Detainees have reported to AI that they were tortured or mistreated during interrogation. Methods alleged include "prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights." While careful to term the accounts "allegations," the AI report noted that "Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated."
"We're making progress, you bet,"
Meanwhile, while Bush claims "progress" in rebuilding Iraq, members of Congress from both political parties have questioned the management of funds allocated for that purpose. An April document prepared for Congress by the White House reported that only a little over $2 billion of the $18.4 billion allocated for Iraq has been spent on public works projects. $184 million designated for the water sector has been diverted to pay operating costs for the successor to the Coalition Provisional Authority, and another $29 million is being reallocated to pay for administrative expenses at the US Agency for International Development.
Equally disturbing are reports broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio's Marketplace (produced in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting, and funded by the Economist) that "At least 20% of US money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is lost to bad contracts, price gouging, and kickbacks." In the same way that the CPA failed to provide adequate civil security, it has failed to provide adequate financial checks and balances. Charles Adwan, head of the Lebanon chapter of Transparency International, a prominent anti-corruption group, warned that blaming the failure to institute financial safeguards on postwar chaos is "too easy."
America has a long standing history of legal development, of checks and balances, of oversight mechanisms. It would be very easy to control corruption and to prevent corruption. The only conclusion one can make from this high scale of corruption is that there is no real will to prevent corruption.
When one of the Iraqi ministries needs a substantial amount of money, CIR reported, it usually sends someone with the rank of Director General (DG) -- roughly equivalent to a cabinet under-secretary in the US -- to make the withdrawal. But because the Directors General are also often responsible for how it is spent, they routinely take large percentages of their cash budgets for themselves, Saad Abdel-Latif Kassem told CIR's Adam Davidson. Kassem is in charge of withdrawals at the Iraqi Central Bank.
"A half-dozen Iraqi business people and one anonymous council member told me they know first hand that the US-appointed leaders of Iraq are taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes," Davidson reported. Moreover, he said, several Iraqi businessmen told him translators and brokers working with US contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel offer to provide contracts to Iraqi businesses for a cut of between 10% and 50% of the value of the contract. Former CPA inspector general, Robert Dawes, added that American employees of private contractors may demand bribes, as well.
As long ago as October 2003, an Iraqi executive, who had made millions of dollars from deals with the Hussein government, told the New York Times that a relative outside Iraq reported that a Bechtel executive was looking to become a silent partner in an Iraqi company set up to receive subcontracts from Bechtel. At that time the largest Bechtel subcontractor in Iraq was owned by the Bunnia family, which was notorious for the expensive gifts it provided to members of the Hussein family, and grew wealthy from its business associations. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Governing Council, told the Times that at least half-a-dozen Bechtel subcontractors had "profited from close relations with Mr. Hussein or members of his family."
In February 2004 the Pentagon's Inspector General launched a criminal investigation into Halliburton's contract with the Kuwaiti firm Altanmia for providing fuel for the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Normally the provisioning of fuel for the military is handled by the government Defense Energy Support Center, (DESC), but after the US declared victory in Iraq in the spring of 2003, the fuel contract for reconstruction was awarded to Halliburton. The DESC's director at the time, Jeffrey Jones, subsequently discovered that Halliburton was charging the government $2.64 per gallon for gasoline that Jones was purchasing at half that price for military operations, prompting the Pentagon investigation. The Altanmia deal could have resulted in as much as one hundred million dollars in excess fuel charges. In April 2004 the Pentagon decided to end its contract with Halliburton and purchase its own fuel.
Last fall, Democratic and Republican senators attached two amendments to the appropriations bill for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq, to try to reduce the possibility of corrupt practices. One amendment required review by congressional auditors of all contracts valued at more than $25 million, while a second provided penalties for defrauding the government. Violators would be tried in US courts, and could face up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines. The amendments were opposed by the White House, leading to a Senate-House conference on the matter. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, sponsor of the second provision, argued that the huge outlay of funds created temptation. "There are going to be billions of dollars out there and there's gonna be a lot of people out there with greedy fingers," he said. House Appropriations Committee chairman Jim Kolby, Republican of Arizona, disagreed. "We already impose both criminal and civil penalties on exactly this type of conduct," he argued. Yet existing laws do not provide clear jurisdiction over crimes outside the US, according to legal experts who spoke to CIR's Mark Schapiro. The amendments were voted down along party lines.
The CPA's Inspector General currently has a staff of 58, including administrative personnel, and the military has approximately 24 auditors. The Association of Inspectors General, a nonprofit organization of fraud-prevention professionals, has suggested twice that number of auditors is needed to monitor a project the size of the reconstruction effort in Iraq. In March 2004 the Pentagon tried to address the shortage of auditors by outsourcing the function, awarding more than $120 million to private contractors, to oversee other contractors. Not surprisingly, several of the companies awarded auditing contracts already had construction or logistical support contracts with the Pentagon in Iraq. Steven Schooner, a procurement specialist at George Washington University, suggested that by outsourcing the auditing function the government is relinquishing its stewardship of taxpayer money.
It's particularly distressing when you think of the details of how these contracts are being let. Very rapidly, for huge amounts, with outcomes not well defined or articulated in the contract. The contractors have great discretion. To delegate the discretion of managing the contract ... that's not responsible stewarding of government monies.
"A free Iraq is in the interests of world peace. Because free societies do not harbor terrorists"
The development that may have the most far reaching implications, for global security, but also for the presidential election, is the extent to which the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism -- regionally, and beyond.
Appearing on PBS News Hour on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked if he thought the US was more or less secure one year later.
On balance, I would have to say, and with genuine sadness, less secure. I think we have increased the number of enemies. The global antagonism towards the United States is much higher than before. International mistrust of the United States is at unprecedented heights. And the United States is more isolated internationally than probably at any point in its history....
I have no regrets that Saddam Hussein is gone. I'm not sure the world is necessarily safer because, in fact, he wasn't such a threat. But the world is better off without him because he was a very ugly dictator....
But above all else, the loss of American credibility, both at home and abroad, is something that's very serious. The fact that president of the United States is no longer trusted and his word is not taken to be America's bond is a serious development. It detracts from our power.
But then, beyond that, there is the proliferation of terrorist groups; that is a serious problem.....
Brzezinski cited an op-ed piece in the New York Times by the University of Michigan's Scott Atran, suggesting that "The war in Iraq has energized so many disparate groups that global terrorism is better prepared than ever...." Atran echoed Jonathan Stevenson author of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual Strategic Survey, who told the Guardian last year that the US invasion of Iraq was likely to increase al-Qaeda's recruiting power. Ironically, whereas prior to the war any connection between Iraq and terrorism was tenuous at best, after the war the connection is real.
In February the British Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that Stevenson's prediction had come true. Tasked with studying foreign policy aspects of the war on terrorism, the committee concluded "that the war in Iraq has possibly made terrorist attacks against British nationals and British interests more likely in the short term," adding that "The continued failure of the coalition to find WMD in Iraq has damaged the credibility of the US and UK in their conduct of the war against terrorism."
Writing in the Globe and Mail in May 2003, Brookings Institution fellow Susan E. Rice warned:
The primary problem is not that the weapons we were so certain existed have not yet been found, however unsettling or embarrassing that may be. The most pressing problem is that Iraqi nuclear facilities containing valuable documents, partially enriched uranium and other radiological materials ideal for "dirty bombs" have been looted and ransacked under the noses of U.S. forces.
As a consequence, the U.S. government has no idea how much radioactive material may have been stolen and could now be available to the highest bidder. The richest treasure trove of dangerous WMD material since the collapse of the Soviet Union is on the loose and perhaps far easier for al-Qaeda and other terrorists to acquire than it was under the control of their ideological adversary, Saddam Hussein.
Once it became clear that WMD would not be used against US forces, the Pentagon lost interest, Rice asserted. The number of WMD search teams (mobile exploitation teams or METs) was reduced from four to two. They were never given enough vehicles, support personnel, or equipment to do their job. The decision to wage the initial attacks as quickly as possible meant that there were insufficient troops to secure WMD facilities (or ministries, museums, etc.) from looters and criminals. Capt. J. Ryan Cutchin, the leader of the team known as MET Bravo, seemed to substantiate Rice's allegations when he told the New York Times in July 2003 "Because we arrived at sites so late, so often, we may never know what was there, and either walked or was taken away by looters and Baathist elements under the guise of looting."
As Rice wrote, "The Pentagon's failure to take seriously these postwar security imperatives may well have obviated the primary stated objective of the war itself."
Recently the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that satellite photos had detected "the extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances, removal of entire buildings" from sites that the UN had monitored prior to the US invasion of Iraq. An IAEA investigation reported "that large quantities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq, from sites monitored by the IAEA." In a letter dated April 11, Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA's director general wrote, "It is not clear whether the removal of these items has been the result of looting activities in the aftermath of the recent war in Iraq, or as part of systematic efforts" to clean up contaminated nuclear sites.... In any event these activities may have a significant impact on the agency's continuity of knowledge of Iraq's remaining nuclear-related capabilities and raise concern with regards to the proliferation risk associated with dual use material and equipment disappearing to unknown destinations." The IAEA investigation was apparently triggered by the discovery of uranium oxide in a shipment of scrap metal in the harbor at Rotterdam, Netherlands. Missile engines and vessels used in fermentation processes were also discovered, both of which would have been monitored by the UN prior to the Iraq war.
But the increased threat that the war in Iraq has fostered goes beyond the proliferation of materiel. In his statement to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (the "9/11 Commission"), al-Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna warned that, "US intervention in Iraq has spiked the ideological fuel prolonging the strength, size and life of Islamist political parties and terrorist groups."
... the fight is against a radical ideology producing Muslim youth willing to kill and die and wealthy Muslims willing to support and suffer incarceration.... The reality is that, it is a fight between the vast majority of progressive Muslims and the miniscule percentage of radical Muslims. It is not a clash of civilizations but a clash among civilizations - a fight that must essentially be fought within the Muslim world....
In a recent article for Salon.com, former NSC member Jessica Stern elaborated on Gunaratna's observation. "The false idea that the United States is engaged in a crusade against the Islamic world is a critical component of the Islamist nihilists' worldview, and spreading this idea is critical to their success. The unprovoked attack on Iraq, followed by an occupation that is widely perceived as inept and arbitrary, even by our British ally, has confirmed this view among potential sympathizers," she wrote. Confirming what IISS's Stevenson warned about a year ago, Stern noted that terrorist recruiters are using the war to attract and motivate recruits, both inside Iraq, and elsewhere. Intelligence agencies have reported that the newer recruits are younger and have a more "menacing attitude" than has been seen previously.
Moreover, Stern continued, the war is dividing the allies while bringing together terrorist groups. On March 17, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said he felt "misled" by assertions that the Hussein regime had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Subsequently Polish government spokespeople issued conflicting statements concerning the status of Polish troops in Iraq. As of April 21, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Honduras had announced that they would withdraw the troops they had provided to the coalition. Ukraine urged "stepping up political contacts between coalition countries on key questions involving the present and future of Iraq," which observers interpreted as meaning that it wanted more influence on non-military issues. The rift has not gone unnoticed in the region. In his sermon on the anniversary of the initial US attack on Iraq, Iranian cleric Rafsanjani said, "They are getting drifted apart. A gap has appeared in this group which they call a coalition."
Most troubling, Stern noted, the US presence in Iraq "has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy." She quoted Dr. Hani al-Sibai, the director of the London-based Al-Maqrizi Center for Historical Studies, who suggested that, "When the United States occupied Iraq, the border was actually uncontrolled.... [C]urrently [Iraq is] a battlefield and a fertile soil for every Islamic movement that views jihad as a priority." According to al-Sibai, five months after the US occupation began, a loose network of Salafi and other jihadist groups was formed. The network brought together mujahedeen, ulema, and political and military experts with jihadist factions that had been operating separately in different areas of Iraq. The war in Iraq, Stern wrote
... has facilitated connections between terrorists and those with formal military experience in Saddam's army, the lethal nightmare that the invasion was supposed to have thwarted.
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in late April found that 52% of those surveyed disapproved of the way Bush is "handling the situation with Iraq," yet 60% approved of the way is is "handling the campaign against terrorism." Perhaps if the story is more widely told of how the war the war in Iraq has weakened the war on terrorism, those numbers will change.
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