The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with unnamed administration officials saying that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld got called to the principal’s office, where President Bush whacked the secretary for purportedly not having kept him in the loop about the prisoner abuse investigations. Bush apparently first saw the photos when 60 Minutes broadcast them last week. USA Today and New York Times both go high with Rummy’s reprimand but lead with Bush’s interviews on two Arabic stations, where he called the abuse “abhorrent.” Iraqis “must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent [the] America that I know.” Unlike USAT and the NYT, the Post and Slate’s Fred Kaplan focus on one word Bush didn’t say: “Sorry.”
According to late-night reports, a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint near the United States’ headquarters in Baghdad, killing one GI and five Iraqis. Twenty-three Iraqis and three GIs were wounded.
The LAT says Bush was “evidently unaware” that the military’s top general, Richard Myers, had known about the photos and had convinced CBS to hold off broadcasting them for two weeks. Rumsfeld has also said that he hadn’t seen the photos before the broadcast.
The Post says Bush also gave Rumsfeld gruff for not having acted on repeated recommendations to improve prisoner conditions. Unnamed officials said the Pentagon had ignored State Department pushes to improve conditions. The officials said the U.S. now has to make a major turnaround and do something like share custody of the prisoners with an Iraqi force.
The NYT says that “Republicans” complained that Bush’s move “made Rumsfeld the scapegoat.” The LAT emphasizes that the Pentagon fought back. Noting that President Bush was told in at least general terms in January about the Abu Ghraib investigations, a Pentagon spokesman said, “The White House notification was a symptom that everyone knew this was important. I think there was a good understanding that this was a big deal.”
In a generous interpretation of the privacy zone, the Post’s Page One lead headlines, “BUSH PRIVATELY CHIDES RUMSFELD.” As the NYT explains, news of the private chiding was leaked “under authorization from Mr. Bush.”
The NYT’s lead and a piece inside say the Department of Justice is investigating three suspicious deaths—two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan—involving CIA agents and civilian contractors. The piece doesn’t clarify whether the feds are also investigating the contractors who the now-infamous internal Army report said had encouraged abuse. Contractors are not subject to court-martial, so federal prosecution is the only way they’ll face a judge. The Times also says that the CIA is looking into what was apparently the agency’s “routine” practice of keeping a few prisoners at Abu Ghraib essentially in secret. The Army’s report said the “ghost detainees” were “moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross.” A piece inside yesterday’s LAT first flagged the ghost detainees.
One issue that the papers don’t hit on, but others do: Why was the internal Army report classified as Secret, which may have been illegal?
The Post has more photos of abuse, including one of a female guard holding a leash tied to a naked male prisoner.
Reporters were bused in to tour Abu Ghraib, where they—and the military—were surprised by throngs of shouting prisoners. “The problem of the Iraq prisoners is not only what is written in the news,” said one man. The LAT, which alone fronts the tour fiasco, notes that the reporters weren’t allowed to interview prisoners. “Please follow the rules,” said the prison’s commandant, cutting short the visit. “Get back on the bus.”
The Post’s editorial page wants to send Rummy home: “His Pentagon ruled that the United States would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Army regulations on the interrogation of prisoners would not be observed; and that many detainees would be held incommunicado and without any independent mechanism of review. Abuses will take place in any prison system. But Mr. Rumsfeld’s decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered—and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable.”
The NYT off-leads news that the military moved against Muqtada Sadr’s militia around Karbala and another smaller town—but not in the holy city of Najaf. Four GIs and about 15 Iraqis were killed. The other papers don’t make a big deal of the attacks, and most refer to them as “raids.” It’s worth keeping in mind that only the NYT’s story was filed from Karbala.
The Post, alone, fronts the White House asking congressional GOPsters (Dems were excluded from the meeting) for an additional $25 billion for Iraq military operations this year. “Frankly, I think it is really not going to be enough,” said a top Republican congressman. The administration had said it wouldn’t ask for more money until next year. As the Post notes, military officers had complained that they were about to run out of cash.
Two British security experts and their Afghan translator were killed in Afghanistan by unknown gunmen. They had been working with the U.N. on election preparations.
The NYT heads to Baghdad streets for reaction on Bush’s interviews. “He is a liar,” said one man watching the president. “It has been a year of occupation with nothing but empty promises.” Another group sitting at a coffee shop may have been more inclined to believe Bush. But who knows: “The electricity went out.”