Today's Papers

Tortured Admissions

Everybody leads with the Army saying it is investigating 35 cases of possible abuse or torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, including at least 10 suspicious deaths and two criminal homicides. As the Los Angeles Times notes, the Pentagon “released few details,” and the papers’ reports on the investigations are scattered. The New York Times says no soldiers involved have faced court-martial yet.

The LAT’s headline says there were 25 deaths. The other papers downplay that number, noting the Army concluded 12 prisoners died from “undetermined or natural” causes, and one was killed trying to escape. The Washington Post says the CIA acknowledged it is looking into the deaths of three prisoners who were being interrogated by agents. It’s not clear whether those deaths are included in the Army’s count.

As USAT and the LAT emphasize, the White House said President Bush will be interviewed on two Arabic stations, Al-Arabiya as well as the U.S.-controlled Al-Hurra. A few administration officials have already appeared on Arab TV and elsewhere deploring the abuse. “What they did was illegal, against all regulations, against all standards. It was immoral,” said Secretary of State Powell at the U.N.

White House and Pentagon officials also insisted that they reacted promptly, something a piece inside the NYT questions. The Times says State Department folk were miffed that officials in the Pentagon knew about the abuse, knew it was about to become public, and yet decided to stay mum. The LAT says inside that Bush was told about the investigation in December. White House officials said the extent and severity of the abuse wasn’t clear then. The paper also notes that Bush hasn’t read the internal Army report.

The WP fronts and others mention that the general in charge of Iraqi’s prisons said that the prison population in Abu Ghraib will be significantly reduced. He didn’t say when or how that’s going to happen. He also said he banned the use of hoods on prisoners about a month ago. As TP mentioned yesterday, the internal Army report that detailed the torture (now available in full) concluded that 60 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib appear to be innocent.

As the papers note, this is the same general who used to command Guantanamo Bay and who last year recommended that guards at Abu Ghraib serve as “enablers” for interrogations, a recommendation that the internal report criticized. The LAT says the general insisted he was only suggesting that the guards engage in “passive observation.”

The LAT speaks to more Iraqis who said they were abused at various prisons. Most of them had markings or bruises and had “enemy prisoner of war” ID cards. As the paper notes, there had been plenty of complaints about abuses before the photos were published last week. Today’s NYT also has a prisoner’s account  of abuse, as does the Post.

An editorial in the Post says the abuse and torture isn’t a surprise: “A pattern of arrogant disregard for the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other legal procedure has been set from the top, by Mr. Rumsfeld and senior U.S. commanders. Well-documented accounts of human rights violations have been ignored or covered up, including some more serious than those reported at Abu Ghraib. In the end, the latest allegations may be distinguished mainly by the fact that they have led to court-martial charge—and by the leak of shocking photographs that brought home to Americans, and the world, the gravity of the offenses.”

The Post and LAT front the Pentagon’s decision to keep at least 135,000 troops in Iraq through 2005, a bit more than twice the number they had planned on having there. The LAT notes that in order to get the troops, the Pentagon will break its promise to at least one unit that they’ll be stateside for a year. The NYT notes that in order to pay for the higher deployment, the Pentagon “plans to shift money in its budget.”

The NYT fronts and others go inside with top Shiite leaders in Iraq telling cleric Muqtada Sadr to skedaddle from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. That’s just the message the U.S. has been hoping for.

The NYT says inside that 10 Afghan policemen and soldiers were killed in an ambush by suspected Taliban. Over the past two weeks, there has been a “surge of violence” in which 40 Afghan police and one U.S. soldier, Pat Tillman, have been killed.

The papers go inside with a new study—from the nonpartisan RAND Corporation—concluding that even though the U.S. spends far more per capita on health care than other countries, Americans only receive the right treatment about half the time, a statistic that holds across the economic spectrum. “We love to believe we have the best health care in the world, but we don’t have any evidence of that,” said one professor.

The Post’s Richard Leiby flags some standard criticism of neocons that appears in the upcoming GQ. “I call them utopians,” said one official. “I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians, I don’t like. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process of trying to do it.” The source: Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to one Colin Powell.