- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The on-camera murder of Pennsylvania businessman Nicholas Berg should serve to remind us all what kind of enemies we are at war with in Iraq. Some in the press and Congress — repeating the propaganda line of the terrorists — assert that Mr. Berg’s killing was committed in revenge for the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by American guards that has dominated the news in recent weeks. This is absurd. Al Qaeda and its allies began murdering American civilians years ago: The September 11 attacks and the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl, for example, occurred long before the world learned of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

During Tuesday’s Armed Services Committee hearing on the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, brought some sorely needed perspective to the congressional debate on prisoner abuse, which has largely degenerated into an episode of national self-flagellation.

Some senators are determined to turn the investigation into a circus aimed at destroying the Bush presidency. On Monday, Sen. Edward Kennedy compared U.S. troops to Saddam Hussein’s thugs. “Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management — U.S. management,” Mr. Kennedy asserted.

No reasonable person will say that what occurred at Abu Ghraib was anything but bad, but bad as it was it never reached anything resembling the depravity in Saddam’s prisons. As Mr. Inhofe pointed out (to the obvious dismay of Sen. John McCain and most Armed Services Committee Democrats), the Abu Ghraib detainees would have fared far worse in Saddam’s prisons. Saddam’s torturers, Mr. Inhofe noted, “would take electric drills and drill holes through hands; they would cut their tongues out; they would cut their ears off. We’ve seen accounts of lowering their bodies into vats of acid. All of those things were taking place.”

Mr. Inhofe observed that, of the 300,000 soldiers who have rotated through Iraq, seven are accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners. (This works out to .00002 percent.) If photographs of detainee abuse are authorized for public dissemination, he said, “for every picture of abuse or alleged abuse of prisoners, we have pictures of mass graves, pictures of children being executed, pictures of the four Americans … that were burned and their bodies were mutilated and dismembered in public. Let’s get the whole picture.”

An important part of that picture is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who claims “credit” for the on-camera murder of Mr. Berg. A Palestinian-Jordanian, Zarqawi’s activities in support of al Qaeda have spanned the globe. Well over 100 members of his terror network have been arrested in Europe and Saudi Arabia. He has ties with a wide array of terrorist groups, ranging from Hezbollah to the Iraqi Kurdish terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, and since 2001 has operated from terrorist havens such as Saddam’s Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan under the Taliban. His terrorist “credits” include numerous suicide bombings and other attacks against coalition forces over the past year, and the 2002 murder in Jordan of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley.

Much of the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib occurred in an effort to pry information about future attacks from terrorists affiliated with Zarqawi and like-minded groups. Like many of those detainees who sit in Abu Ghraib, the people who murdered Nicholas Berg would not hesitate to slit the throats of American GIs if given the chance.

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