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May 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Iraq! How Do You See The Future?

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that recent reports that the U.S. military was drawing down its troop strength in Iraq to a level of 115,000 no longer holds true. The new plan is to maintain the present force level of 138,000 through 2005 by replacing units scheduled to leave, many of them National Guard and Reserve contingents. The reason given for this change is to confront the increasing violence now being seen in Iraq, fanned by religions leaders resisting coalition plans for the country’s transition to sovereignty and by insurgent elements, both from inside and outside the country, resisting military operations. April became the bloodiest month for coalition troops since the beginning of hostilities in Iraq over a year ago.

In announcing the new force level projection, the Pentagon did not rule out the possibility that even more troops would be sent if commanders in the field required them. Some outside experts say that the number should be around 200,000. Such increased troop levels have immediate implications for Puerto Rico. Since the beginning of the war on terrorism, the island has seen its largest mobilization of Reserve and National Guard units in history.

Presently 800 Puerto Rican Reserve soldiers are in the Iraq/Kuwait Theater. So far, some 70% of its strength has been mobilized and Herald military sources on the island see the probability that the remaining 30% will be called up in phases if the war in Iraq continues at the current pace. Some of those who have already served will probably be called again, because of their specialties and the needs of the Army. It is the same story with the Puerto Rico National Guard that has seen half of its total strength of 8,300 mobilized in the war on terrorism. Currently it has 1,300 men and women on active duty worldwide.

Late last week, the world witnessed "shock and awe" in Iraq, not from a laser directed bombardment, but from a series of pictures taken sometime last fall in the Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s notorious place of torture and death, now run by the American military. On the popular TV news magazine, "Sixty Minutes II," shots of male and female American soldiers humiliating naked Iraqi detainees formed part of a report based on a U.S. Army investigation of torture and death occurring in U.S. run prisons in Iraq.

The most compelling photo was the image of a hooded and shrouded prisoner standing on a small box with electric wires attached to his hands. The audience was told that the victim understood that if he fell from the box, he would be electrocuted. In fact, there was no current running through the wires. This haunting picture has become an icon of protest against the U.S. occupation throughout the Arab World.

Within minutes, the pictures were seen all over the world. Within hours, administration spokespersons were trying to contain the damage, saying that five separate investigations were underway, that the offending military personnel had been relieved of their duties and that there was no evidence of any "systematic" prison abuse in Iraq. Within days, international outrage at the sight of naked and hooded Iraqi men, posed in sexually degrading positions, being ridiculed by American prison guards, brought charges that the U.S. claim of altruistic intentions in Iraq were forever discredited.

The report generated by the first of these official investigations -- and the one on which the "Sixty Minutes II" segment was based -- was completed by U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba. Intended for internal use and reportedly not circulated at high Pentagon levels, the highly classified report found that "systematic" violations of prisoners’ rights occurred throughout the theater of operations in Iraq. Columnist Seymour Hersh, publishing in the current The New Yorker magazine, released segments of the Taguba Report, suggesting that the reason such abuse was administered to prisoners was to break them down psychologically for subsequent interrogation by intelligence operatives.

By Herald deadline this week, the leadership of both parties, flabbergasted that top civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon appeared not to have read the Taguba Report, called for a Congressional investigation of the incidents. President Bush, saying that he had not seen the pictures until they were transmitted on TV, called the acts, "shameful and appalling." On Wednesday, he expressed the same sentiments in interviews to Arab speaking networks in the Middle East. Administration figures, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, issued apologies to the world, stressing that the actions of a handful of soldiers do not represent the humanitarian efforts of hundreds of thousands of American and Coalition personnel currently in Iraq.

The Pentagon has announced reforms, including less crowded prisons and the suspension of the use of hoods to disorient detainees. Military brass in Iraq are issuing public "mea culpas," promising that no such thing will happen again. Meanwhile new pictures continue to surface on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, each one adding to the worldwide disgust for the perpetrators of these deeds and for the authorities that either authorized them or turned a blind eye to such practices.

The "picture scandal" came on the heals of what had been a troubled two months for the Bush administration’s advocacy of the war in Iraq. In March, Richard A. Clarke, a security expert in Republican and Democratic administrations and – until his resignation - President George W. Bush’s Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism, published "Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror."

In it he describes the Administration’s persistent focus on Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein since the first days of his administration and considerably before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States.

Another book, "The Politics of Truth" by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was released last week calling into question a statement made by the President in his 2003 State of the Union address, charging Saddam with attempting to import nuclear materials from Africa. Wilson, who had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate the charge, states that he reported to the Administration that the allegation was erroneous, news that the White House did not want to hear. After Wilson went public with the information, he charges, the Bush Administration sought to discredit him by leaking to the press that his wife, a CIA agent of 36 years in deep cover, somehow influenced the information. Currently there is a Justice Department investigation trying to ferret out the White House source of the leak. Revealing the identity of a confidential CIA agent is a felony.

In spite of all difficulties, the Bush Administration remains steadfast in its resolve to see the war through to the achievement of a "stable, peaceful and democratic" Iraq. The troop build-up is an indication that it means to "stay the course," regardless of the cost.

This week, Herald readers may choose among the options above concerning the deployment of troops in the war in Iraq.

Please vote above!


Over the past nineteen months, the Herald has offered its readership eight opportunities to register an opinion as to how it viewed the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Anyone wishing to review the developing events of the war and reader response to it may do so by clicking on the links below.

Oct 18, 2002, Volume 6 # 42 - "Should the U.S. Initiate War Against Iraq?"

Jan 31, 2003, Volume 7 # 05 – "What Course Should Pres. Bush take?"

Feb 18, 2003, Volume 7 # 07- "War or Wait?"

Apr 11, 2003, Volume 7 # 15 – "Who Will lead Iraq’s Postwar Reconstruction?"

Jul 25, 2003, Volume 7 # 30 - "Quo Vadis, Iraq?"

Sep 12, 2003, Volume 7 # 37 - "When Are We Coming Home?"

Dec 5, 2003, Volume 7 # 49 – "The Resident Commissioner’s Trip to Iraq?"

Mar 26, 2004, Volume 8 # 13 - "The Iraq War – Plus One"

This Week's Question:

Choose among the following options concerning the deployment of troops in the war in Iraq.

US . Residents
. PR
Begin an immediate total withdrawal

11% Downsize to minimal levels

9% lMaintain present troop level

45% Increase strength as necessary.



.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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