Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Iraq: What went wrong?," May 15, 2004

Iraq For a year the Bush administration has tried to give the term "occupation" a good name. But with images of tortured Iraqi prisoners dominating Arab airwaves, that task may now be unachievable in the six weeks of occupation that remain.

The prison-abuse scandal sent hundreds of Iraqis into the streets in protest outside Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. It put U.S. embassies around the region on high alert for backlash attacks. At the same time diplomats and the president himself sought damage control by going straight to the Arab people. In two Arab TV interviews, President Bush said abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners was "abhorrent" and does not represent "the America that I know."

But abuse at Abu Ghraib-once a tour stop for coalition forces to show U.S. officials where Saddam Hussein notoriously poisoned and "disappeared" political enemies-is familiar enough to Iraqis. So was the insertion of a former Baath Party and Republican Guard loyalist to restore security in Fallujah. U.S. commanders backtracked from the mistake of handing command to Gen. Mohammed Saleh, but not before they left key Iraqi allies wondering if the U.S. mission has strayed dangerously out of control (cover story, page 18).

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Afghanistan The Pentagon may have a prison scandal in Afghanistan, too. It disclosed on May 5 that the Army is conducting criminal investigations into 10 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus another 10 abuse cases on both battlefields.

The setback in the war on terror comes as troop strength is stepped up in Afghanistan. U.S. commanders sent 2,000 Marines to a Taliban stronghold 250 miles southwest of Kabul where Taliban supreme leader and fugitive Mullah Omar and several key lieutenants may be hiding. Unrest in the region prompted the insertion of the "surge force" to flood the area with additional firepower.

North Korea Even as the United States and others came to North Korea's aid after its train disaster last month, news spread in the South that the communist regime is plotting to build silos and missiles that could reach U.S. forces in Guam or Hawaii.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's human-rights record is just as appalling and Washington, D.C., protesters, including North Korean defectors, worked to make sure everybody knew. Bearing enlarged photos of wasted children, a thousand demonstrators gathered on U.S. Capitol grounds to mark North Korea Freedom Day. Organizers packed rallies, exhibitions, and congressional lobbies on April 28, led by about 20 North Korean defectors who described their travails in prison camps and on the run as political refugees. They hope support from ordinary Americans shown on the day will promote passage of a law that would give more prominence in U.S. foreign policy to North Korean human-rights abuses (story, page 22).

Politics Presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry built his primary success on his status as a war hero. Sen. Kerry indeed saved men's lives in Vietnam while the commander of a Swift Boat, but some of his fellow Swifties aren't so keen on what the future senator did once he arrived home. A new PAC of Vietnam veterans stepped up to criticize Sen. Kerry's sharp words toward other soldiers after the war. One thing remains clear: You can't both throw your commendations onto the White House lawn and still pin them to your chest (story, page 25).

Religion Rather than further quibble with their American counterparts about homosexuality, East African Presbyterians told the PCUSA they could keep their views on sexuality, and their money too. The East African Presbyterians received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Americans every year, but said they would now refuse any money from presbyteries like the one surrounding Washington, D.C., that supports homosexuality (story, page 35).

Technology After the Florida fiasco in the 2000 presidential election, touchscreen voting became the hot item. Now, after primary tryouts in a couple of states this year, election officials regard the new-fangled devices about as highly as they do the butterfly ballot. In California, some touchscreen voting systems have been outlawed, and in one case, there's a criminal investigation (story, page 37).

Business Some drivers need a good honking at from time to time. If those motorists drive an Infiniti, it may be the car itself that administers the audible rebuke. Nissan, makers of the luxury line, will make some of its 2005 and 2006 models with sensors tipping off drivers when their vehicles veer from their lane (story, page 39).

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