- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

It was the mother of all crises of confidence. America’s name was suddenly mud all over the world. Political cartoons from Bangladesh to Brazil took their lead from the Financial Times: the Statue of Liberty was now the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner, electrodes tied to his wrists, swaying precariously on a pedestal.

Doubtless Osama bin Laden was also grateful for the U.S.-supplied recruiting poster. Would-be jihadis (holy warriors) from Morocco to Mindanao now have living proof their clerics’ lies about America are the truth.

For a jihadi, or Islamist extremist of any stripe, the horrific beheading of an innocent American civilian by black-clad al Qaeda terrorists was just retribution for the humiliating picture of a naked Iraqi held on a leash, like a dog, by a female soldier.

For any American, the moral equivalence was repugnant. But not for many Iraqis. And with 1,800 more pictures to come of depraved U.S. soldiers and hapless Iraqi victims, the demoniacal severing of a screaming American’s head, will be seen, alas, as condign punishment.

Huda Shaker, a professor at Baghdad University, told reporters she knew of females who had been raped by guards at Abu Ghraib prison — a fate akin to death for strictly observant Muslim families.

The damage to the United States is incalculable, but the administration’s new method of operation is that the defense buck no longer stops at either the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff’s or the defense secretary’s desk.

There are sacrificial wolves between the Abu Ghraib prison and theater commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez; a whitewash between Gen. Sanchez and CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid; a herd of scapegoats between Gen.Abizaid and JCS Chairman Gen. Richard Myers; and then no daylight between Gen. Myers and his boss, Donald Rumsfeld. After granting themselves immunity, with Mr. Bush’s blessings, the brass directed investigators to low-level riffraff.

Lost in the blame shuffle is that the Pentagon’s topsiders were alerted, first last spring and then again in the fall of 2003, about ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners.

There is also the offhand remark of Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith who is quoted by subordinates saying “the Geneva Conventions” on the treatment of prisoners are laws “in the service of terrorists.”

Stymied by their superiors, American officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department contacted the New York City Bar Association. The Financial Times’ John Dizard dug up the Bar Association’s 110-page report that leaves no doubt the practices revealed at Abu Ghraib violated both U.S. and international law.

JAG officers are quoted as telling Scott Horton, chairman of the Committee on International Law of this particular Bar Association, that Mr. Feith had “significantly weakened” rules and regulations governing prisoners of war.

JAG informants also blamed the Defense Department’s General Counsel William J. Haynes II (recently appointed by President Bush to a Federal Appeals Court), along with Mr. Feith, for creating “an atmosphere of legal ambiguity that allowed mistreatment of prisoners.”

Last February’s report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba cited “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. Gen. Myers told a national TV audience on May 2 he had not read the report. But the previous week he tried to convince the producer of “60 Minutes II” to postpone the airing of the torture pictures on the grounds they would undermine morale.

Lost in the unraveling are the origins of the Iraqi campaign. In October 1998, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith together signed an “open letter” to President Clinton, in which they listed nine policy steps that were in “the vital national interest.” The very first step was “Recognize a provisional government in Iraq based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) that is representative of all the peoples of Iraq.”

In October 1999, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the “Iraqi Liberation Act,” which provided funding — and Uncle Sam’s stamp of good geopolitical housekeeping — for Ahmad Chalabi’s INC, as well as five other exile groups.

Until recently, Mr. Chalabi was still the darling of the Pentagon’s neocons. No one had played a more important role in convincing Washington’s powers that be of 25 million Iraqis impatiently waiting to embrace their American liberators. But the ranks of Mr. Chalabi’s once diehard Washington supporters are beginning to dwindle. His pledges to recognize Israel and to rebuild the Mosul-to-Haifa pipeline as a new democratic Iraq emerged on the world scene evaporated as his own political fortunes headed south.

Struggling to make a comeback, Mr. Chalabi switched his geopolitical affections to Tehran and to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shi’ite leader. The perceived betrayal split the neocon camp in two.

Marc Zell, a Jerusalem attorney and former law partner of Douglas Feith, and a friend of Mr. Chalabi, is now quoted as telling John Dizard: “Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he returned to Iraq and now he’s got another.”

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has made it clear Mr. Chalabi, now friendless among Baghdad’s hopefuls, is not on his short list for Iraq’s new sovereign government. But the chubby, portly logroller could recast himself as a stalking-horse — for Ayatollah Sistani.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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