WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- 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 portrayed as 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 have been speaking the truth about all the lies they teach them about America.
The damage to the United States is incalculable, but the administration's new MO 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 the theater commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez; a whitewash between Sanchez and CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid; a herd of scapegoats between Abizaid and JCS Chairman Richard Meyers; and then no daylight between Myers, his deputy Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, his Commander-in-Chief President Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, as they faced reporters phalanx-like at the Pentagon in a no-questions mode.
The fact that "Pentacon" topsiders - shorthand for the neo-conservative leadership of the Defense Department -- were alerted, first last spring and then again in the fall of 2003, about ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners gets lost in the blame shuffle. The U.S. proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, had repeatedly expressed concern about "abuses" in U.S. "detention centers" where some 50,000 Iraqis were held. Beginning a year ago, International Red Cross reports waved yellow flags verbally and in writing at the highest levels at State, DOD and the White House.
Conveniently forgotten is the offhand remark of Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, who is quoted by subordinates - in a 110-page report by the New York City Bar Association -- saying "the Geneva Accords" on the treatment of prisoners are laws "in the service of terrorists." Which may explain why the National Guard prison guards knew squat about these international treaty obligations.
Long before official reports and journalistic exposes revealed the horrific abuse of Iraqi prisoners, high-ranking American officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) expressed their deep concern that the civilian officials at the Pentagon were undermining the military's detention rules and regulations, and ignoring interrogation procedures, even citing cases of torture. The Pentagon's civilian leadership was apprised in late spring of 2003 and again in October.
The Financial Times' John Dizard has dug up the New York City Bar Association's 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, the chair of the Committee on International Law of this particular Bar Association, that Feith had "significantly weakened" the military's 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 Feith, for creating "an atmosphere of legal ambiguity that allowed mistreatment of prisoners..."
One deputy counsel at the Pentagon, a staunch Republican, recently resigned because, as he explained not for attribution, "right-wing ideologues are putting at risk the reputation of the U.S. military."
JAG officers who spoke to Horton said civilian officials, directed by Feith, removed safeguards that were designed to prevent the abuses the world has now witnessed. At Abu Ghraib, these safeguards should have included observation of interrogations behind a two-way mirror by a JAG officer, who would then be authorized to stop any misconduct on the spot.
Shortages of qualified personnel frequently left prisoners alone with civilian contractors who instructed guards on how to "soften them up." Thus, atrocities were outsourced, and Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade in charge of Abu Ghraib, acquired plausible deniability.
An internal Army report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba last February cited "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib. But Gen. Myers told a national TV audience on May 2 that he hadn't read the report. A few days before, Myers personally called CBS' 60-Minutes II producer to request the incriminating pictures not be aired.
Also conveniently overlooked are the origins of the Iraqi debacle. 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" of the United States. 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 1998, following a major lobbying effort by the neocons, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the "Iraqi Liberation Act," which provided funding - and Uncle Sam's stamp of good geopolitical housekeeping - for Ahmed Chalabi's INC, as well as five other exile groups.
Thanks to Chalabi's unverifiable intelligence reports, neocons were remarkably ignorant about the internal situation in Iraq in particular and the greater Arab Middle East in general. There is much history to be written about the seeds of a failed policy.
Until recently, 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 desperate to welcome their American liberators. But the ranks of Chalabi's once diehard 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, Chalabi switched his geopolitical affections to Tehran and to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's supreme Shia leader. The betrayal of his commitment to Israel split the neocon camp in two.
Marc Zell, a Jerusalem attorney and former law partner of Douglas Feith, and a friend of 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 Chalabi is not on his list of potential members of a new governing authority. It didn't take Brahimi long to figure out Chalabi was friendless among Iraq's political hopefuls. This will presumably save the U.S. taxpayer the $340,000 monthly stipend Chalabi still receives from the Pentagon, courtesy of Douglas Feith. But the Iraq war policy concocted in Chalabi's disinformation factory has left America's global credibility at minus zero.