Thursday, May 13, 2004

Several senators said yesterday the war on terror needs to replace news about the Iraqi prison-abuse scandal and calls for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s resignation, especially now that intelligence agencies have confirmed that al Qaeda operative Abu Musab Zarqawi was involved in the decapitation of American Nicholas Berg.

“Those who are wringing their hands and shouting so loudly for ‘heads to roll’ over [the abuse] seem to have conveniently overlooked the fact that someone’s head has rolled — that of another innocent American brutally murdered by terrorists,” said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. “Why is it that there’s more indignation over a photo of a prisoner with underwear on his head than over the video of a young American with no head at all?”

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said as bad as the Iraqi prison-abuse cases have been, Mr. Berg’s execution should be a reminder that the war on terror continues and must be given full attention.

“We tend to lose the intensity — the feel for 9/11 — as time passes. … I think the beheading of Nick Berg is a very stark reminder,” Mr. Specter said.

He said the abuse of Iraqi prisoners “is not to be condoned in the slightest,” but must “be kept in proportion to what we are dealing with on terrorism.”

The body of Mr. Berg, 26, was found Saturday, and this week, a video showing his execution by five masked men was posted on the Internet. One of the men has been identified as Zarqawi, who says the killing was in response to the reports of U.S. military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib prison.

Democrats said they haven’t been ignoring Mr. Berg’s execution, and lawmakers of both parties have decried his execution.

Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, said that he has seen the video of Mr. Berg’s execution and that “it eclipses anything I saw yesterday or previously from the Iraq prison.”

Members of Congress had a chance to view the photos of abused Iraqi prisoners on Wednesday, the day after Mr. Berg’s execution was posted on the Internet. After viewing the photos Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said the two issues are separate.

“When you witness what we witnessed yesterday in the beheading of an American, that is the most unusually cruel kind of torture that you could ever imagine,” Mr. Nelson said, adding that the United States would go after the killers.

“One shouldn’t relate to the other, but we have to be responsible for what we’re doing,” he said. “And it’s best for us to get this out, get it behind us and be able to move on to the goal that we want, which is to stabilize Iraq. And clearly, these kind of pictures and videos are going to make it all the more difficult to do that.”

Democrats did continue to push for more investigations into the abuse issue yesterday, with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, calling for information on Lane McCotter, one of four civilians the Justice Department tapped to advise how Iraq’s prison system should be reconstructed. Mr. McCotter previously had to resign his post as director of Utah’s Department of Corrections over accusations he allowed use of a “torture” chair for violent inmates.

“Mr. McCotter’s checkered past and his selection for this important position raise a number of serious questions concerning the role of civilian advisors and contractors in the Iraqi prison system and of the government’s selection process for and oversight of these individuals,” Mr. Schumer wrote in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

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