Thursday, June 3, 2004

The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal was “a moment of truth” for the United States as severe as the September 11 terrorist attacks, billionaire financier George Soros told a gathering of liberal activists yesterday.

“The picture of torture in Saddam’s prison was a moment of truth for us,” Mr. Soros said. “I think that those pictures hit us the same way as the terrorist attack itself. Not quite with the same force, because in the terrorist attack, we were the victims. In the pictures, we were the perpetrators and others were the victims.”

He said there was a “connection between the two events, because the way President Bush conducted the war on terror converted us from victims into perpetrators.”

“The war on terror has claimed more victims than the original attack,” Mr. Soros said, describing “neoconservatives” as “American supremacists.”

Mr. Soros delivered his speech to hundreds of activists at Washington’s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, where they gathered for the three-day “Take Back America” conference.

The conference concludes today with closing speeches from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.

Mr. Soros, 73 and a native of Hungary, said “The coming elections are, in effect, a referendum on the Bush Doctrine, and if we endorse that doctrine, then we have to take the consequences of the mistrust and the rage that is directed against the United States.”

Mr. Soros’ comments drew a swift rebuke from Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

“Abu Ghraib was bad and the soldiers involved are rightly being punished, but for Democrats to say that the abuse of Iraqi fighters is the moral equivalent of the slaughter of 3,000 innocent Americans is outrageous,” Mr. Gillespie said. “Their hatred of the president is fueling a blame-America-first mentality that is troubling.”

Yesterday’s comments were part of a continuing verbal assault and financial crusade against the Bush administration by Mr. Soros.

Mr. Soros told the British Broadcasting Corp. last year that he was “very hopeful that people will wake up and realize they have been led down the garden path, that actually September 11 has been hijacked by a bunch of extremists to put into effect policies they were advocating before, such as the invasion of Iraq.”

He has proclaimed the United States under Mr. Bush “a danger to the world. And I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”

Which he has. Mr. Soros has pledged $15.5 million to various Democratic interests to help defeat Mr. Bush in November so that, as he has said, “we can write off the Bush Doctrine as a temporary aberration.”

He has also been a large contributor to groups seeking to ease laws regarding medicinal marijuana, heavily bankrolling successful efforts in Arizona and California in 1996.

Forbes magazine last year estimated Mr. Soros’ net worth at about $7 billion.

His tax-exempt Open Society Institute reported more than $362 million in contributions in 2002. The group reportedly gave about $18 million in the past seven years to promote new campaign-finance laws.

In his book, “The Bubble of American Supremacy,” published last year, Mr. Soros wrote: “I have made it my primary objective to persuade the American public to reject President Bush in the upcoming elections.”

Mr. Soros was introduced yesterday with effusive praise from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

“George Soros is using his considerable success in our democracy to make sure that his opinions are heard in the marketplace of ideas,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The former first lady warned that another four years of the Bush presidency “would leave this country unrecognizable.”

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