After the shame: Prison abuse scandal deepens (FCN 05-25-2004)

WASHINGTON ( – No matter how badly things seem to turn in Iraq, no matter how ugly the war and scandals associated with it become–Weapons of Mass Destruction-gate, Prison abuse-gate, CIA agent-gate–the war will not likely inflict the political damage on President George W. Bush that the Watergate scandal inflicted on Richard Nixon.

There are two important reasons why not, according to authorities interviewed by The Final Call. First, because Americans–especially Whites–are still unwilling to respect the fact that people who have a different language, religion, culture and skin color from their own, want and will fight for freedom, and they want it on their own terms. And second, Americans are still traumatized by 9-11.



While the nation was deeply absorbed in the saturation attention poured on the lead-up to, and the funeral of the late President Ronald Reagan, the public also learned that the Justice Department drafted a memorandum that advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda prisoners “may be justified” despite prevailing international laws. In an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to release the memo, written on Aug. 1, 2002, despite the fact that it had been obtained by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, it was learned that the military officer in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq understood that some of the information obtained from prisoners there had been requested by “White House staff.”

And it was revealed that U.S. intelligence personnel ordered military dog-handlers to use un-muzzled dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees during their interrogations, according to widely published reports.

Evidence is mounting–from two former high level Bush administration figures to the President’s own words to author Bob Woodward and other full-length book accounts–that the Iraq “quagmire” was initiated by a president bent on war and “regime change” in Baghdad as his first option; and that the prisoner abuse scandal has Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s, Attorney General Ashcroft’s, and even White House staff “fingerprints” all over it.

Yet, aside from Mr. Bush’s plummeting approval ratings in national popularity polls and the recent surprise resignation of CIA Director George Tenet, there is little evidence that the perpetrators of the Iraq misadventure are paying a political price for their errors.

One reason Mr. Bush may not be impeached by Congress for his mistakes can be seen in the adoration in the midst of wholesale political revisionism–it’s “Morning in America” again–that went on for Mr. Reagan in his eulogies, according to Dr. Ronald Walters, professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland.

“Ronald Reagan was a cultural figure. Forget about the politics. He was a cultural figure. He was the White-folks’s president,” Dr. Walters told The Final Call. “He was their cultural leader. He was their daddy.

“He came along at a moment when the (White) nationalist ethic said: ‘We want to be lifted. Particularly, we want to be lifted up over civil rights, because they have threatened us by presuming to be equal and to take that stance in history. We want to be lifted up over the anti-Vietnam War movement, because we really are supreme in the world, so we want to be lifted up over that.’” Dr. Walters said.

Both Republicans and Democrats have played into that thinking, Dr. Walters explained. It’s not a partisan political issue, but rather it is part of the “cultural collusion” in this country. “Democrats don’t want him impeached either, because they share in that in a very strong way. They want ‘Morning in America’ too.”

Another important reason Mr. Bush has not been held to account for the Iraq fiasco is not because it isn’t just as serious a threat to Constitutional government in the U.S. as was Watergate, but because it is “happening somewhere else,” Edward Peck, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and now president of Foreign Services International told The Final Call.

“The American public is still traumatized by 9-11,” Ambassador Peck continued. “That’s what has pushed a lot of the people that I would normally refer to as being rational, kind of over the edge.” The 9-11-trauma may even explain why few Americans are holding Mr. Bush and his administration responsible for more than 800 lives lost so far, along with thousands and thousands more injured and maimed in the conflict, which was entered into “based on a lie.”

“But the question behind the lie is something more fundamental, which has to do with the way in which a certain group of Americans envision their role in the world,” said Dr. Walters. “We’re now talking about Ronald Reagan’s legacy, this whole ‘Morning in America.’ I call it ‘White Nationalism,’ which really hearkens back to ‘manifest destiny’ at the turn of the 20th Century. That kind of thought is really what led America into this.”

The mentality of “White nationalism” has caused American leaders to badly miscalculate, according to Dr. Walters. “These nationalists have miscalculated by saying in effect: ‘Well, these people, first of all, they’re not smart. Second, they’re not committed to what they’re doing. Those miscalculations caused them to view this as though it was going to be a parade down through the main street of Baghdad, with roses coming all out, and then they would execute whatever they wanted to do and leave.

“I don’t know where in the world that came from. But it is a misreading of the humanity of other people in the grossest sense. And it was pushed forward by this whole nationalist view.”

The retired diplomat continued, “Internationally, the United States has lost an enormous amount of its credibility. People don’t believe us anymore, because of experiences they’ve had. But gee whiz, that’s happening domestically, as well. I don’t trust my own government any longer.”

One good reason for his mistrust, says Mr. Peck, is happening right now at the State Department, where a recently issued report on world terrorism had to be revised, just hours after it was released, because of a big mistake by the government. Secretary of State Colin Powell said June 13 on ABCs “This Week” that the report which claimed a global decline in terrorist incidents last year was “a big mistake,” but that the error was not an effort to “cook the books” for political purposes.

“If the (State Department) report says that terrorism has gone down, Mr. Bush can then say: ‘See. See. It’s working. It’s working. We have less terrorism than we had before,’” said Ambassador Peck. “But then who counts? Who figures out the numbers? And there is a Watergate element in there, because I know from experience that reports often tend to come out the way the boss wants them.”

He cited an example. When outgoing CIA Director George Tenet was being considered for the job from which he abruptly resigned in early June, “somebody said that, while he was acting director, a couple of reports prepared for the White House appeared to have been tailored to come out the way the White House wanted them,” said Mr. Peck. “I can’t believe that! First time in history that anybody ever did something like that.”

Now, his usefulness spent, Mr. Tenet has been forced to resign, according to informed sources. “I think he’s being pushed out,” said former CIA Director Stansfield Turner in an interview on CNN. “The President feels he has to have someone to blame.”

“They want to use him as a scapegoat for everything that’s gone wrong,” said one un-named Congressional aide, according to IPS. Ironically, Mr. Tenet’s resignation comes at a time when his agency scored a political victory in the interim Iraqi government, scheduled to take over sovereignty on June 30. Iyad Allawi, who was selected as Iraq’s new prime minister, may be the “CIA’s man.” He led an aborted CIA-sponsored coup d’etat against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.

“The Watergate aspect, so far, is buried in everything else that’s going on. Here we have the big turnover coming on the 30th of June,” Mr. Peck continued. “It’s a box, beautifully wrapped, elegantly be-ribboned. And there’s a tag on it that says ‘sovereignty.’ And there’s nothing in it. And we haven’t found anybody to give it to, yet.

“It’s a dream world, my friend. It’s a dream world,” Ambassador Peck said. “And the American public, as you know, largely uninterested, is savagely misinformed.”

“The amazing thing to me,” said Dr. Walters, “is that this country went through the whole eruption of the Third World. Revolutionaries everywhere, movements everywhere, which should have taught them certain things about the commitment of other people to their ideals. We dismissed it.

“Maybe we have a generation now in power who didn’t understand that lesson, about people in other places wish to be free on their own terms. And they will fight for it. They will fight for that as avidly we will fight for what it is we believe in.”