Bush Iraq speech defends the indefensible

Longtime Philadelphia labor activist Jim Moran had little use for George W. Bush’s May 24 Iraq policy speech.

“It didn’t score any points with me,” Moran said.

In the speech, delivered at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., the president spoke of a five-step plan for Iraq, cloaked in terms of democracy, freedom and Iraqi sovereignty. But he insisted that U.S. troops would remain in Iraq at the current 138,000 level “as long as necessary,” adding that he would send even more troops if U.S. commanders “need” them.

Bush’s speech was an effort to “defend the indefensible,” Moran told the World. “He shouldn’t have taken us there in the first place.” Calling the speech “superfluous cosmetic crap,” Moran said he doubted it would move voters one way or the other.

Gettysburg College presidential scholar Shirley Anne Warshaw had a similar take. “I don’t think it will sway anybody,” she told the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News. Warshaw noted the speech contained little that was new, and she called it a trial balloon to test public support for keeping 138,000 troops in Iraq.

Bush’s trip to Carlisle was his 28th visit to Pennsylvania since taking office. Bush narrowly lost Pennsylvania in 2000 and the state is seen as a key battleground in this year’s presidential race.

Moran, who directs the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, said the “tremendous expense” of the Iraq war and occupation is directly linked to the crisis in health care faced by working families and seniors. “For labor people,” he said, “there’s a direct impact at the bargaining table,” as employers seek cuts in every area. “Every sector of society, other than the ultra-rich, is feeling the pinch,” he commented.

As Bush addressed a handpicked group of military personnel in the small central Pennsylvania town, hundreds of protesters lined the street outside carrying signs reading “Support the troops, bring them home now,” and “Not with our sons and daughters.”

U.S. casualties in Iraq now number over 800 killed and thousands wounded. Iraqi casualties are estimated at more than 11,000 dead, and countless wounded.

A CBS News poll conducted just before Bush’s speech showed his approval rating has dropped to a new low of 41 percent. Sixty-one percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. Sixty-five percent say the country is on the wrong track.

“Even though opinions of Bush’s Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, haven’t changed much,” CBS reported, “Bush’s troubles have given Kerry a clear lead in the horse race.” The poll showed 49 percent of registered voters saying they would vote for Kerry, 41 percent for Bush.

The day after Bush’s speech, the Pentagon announced the removal of the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. While the Pentagon claimed the move was routine, lower-level officers name Sanchez as one of a spiraling list of top-level military and civilian officials who initiated or approved measures aimed at “softening up” prisoners for interrogation in violation of international law.

Revelations of U.S. torture of prisoners are widening far beyond Abu Ghraib to U.S. detention facilities throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

NBC reports the Army’s Delta Force is being investigated for torture of Iraqis in a secret “battlefield interrogation facility” near the Baghdad airport. Unnamed top military and intelligence sources told NBC it was the scene of the most egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions in all U.S. prisons in Iraq.

Prisoners there are hooded from the moment they are captured. They are kept in tiny dark cells. “Delta Force soldiers routinely drug prisoners, hold a prisoner under water until he thinks he’s drowning, or smother them almost to suffocation,” NBC reported.

The sources said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, through his deputies, directed U.S. military and intelligence officials in Iraq to use similar methods in other prisons like Abu Ghraib.

Now it is reported that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was sent by the Pentagon last fall to ramp up the extraction of information from Iraqi detainees, urged the use of guard dogs to frighten Iraqi detainees. Miller, former commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison, was recently put in charge of U.S. prisons in Iraq. In sworn testimony, the top U.S. intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas Pappas, said Miller had told him dogs “were effective in setting the atmosphere for which, you know, you could get information” from the prisoners.

A May 5 Army summary of deaths and abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported by The New York Times, shows “a broad picture of misconduct.” Army interrogators are described as having “forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information.” Last month, a prisoner detained by Navy “commandos” in Iraq died due to “blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.