Thursday, May 13, 2004

Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib

From the Washington Post:

BAGHDAD, May 13 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to the Iraqi capital Thursday and visited the Abu Ghraib jail facility that is the center of allegations of prisoner abuse.

To raucous applause, Rumsfeld told the troops in a cramped hall in the prison that he values their efforts in helping to make Iraq a free society, but he also tried to offer a morale boost to a unit that has been peppered with conflict in recent weeks.

“In recent months we’ve seen abuses here under our responsibility, and it’s been a body blow for us,” Rumsfeld said in somber tones over a dusty and hot gathering at the prison. “It doesn’t represent America. It doesn’t represent American values. It doesn’t represent the values of you here in this room.”

The brief trip comes amid controversy in Washington about the abuse allegations and questions about leadership within the military’s chain of command.

Rumsfeld said the whirlwind trip is not intended to quell Iraqi concerns about those abuses, although he acknowledged that he would speak to officials of the occupation authority as well as those in charge of U.S. detainee operations in Iraq to hear their thoughts on the situation.

[edit]

That tour was bleak. Under a hazy sky, detainees rushed to the edge of concertina wire fences, their raggedy clothes flapping in the wind, many giving thumbs-down gestures to the convoy. Some raised their arms, others shouted, some just stood and watched.

“What are you going to do about this scandal?” read one handwritten sign held by two detainees, who chased the buses as they turned a corner. Another detainee stood nearby and waved a bandaged stump of a leg. “Help,” read another sign.

If this was designed to deflect criticism and boost morale – like Bush’s Thanksgiving trip – it will probably have the same results.