Iraq Ignites Partisan Warfare

In NYU speech, Gore blasts Bush and sexual humiliation of prisoners

On May 26, former Vice President Al Gore blasted the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, opening a speech at New York University with: “George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.” Gore squarely placed the blame for the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal on Bush, implicating the administration’s suspension of the Geneva Conventions’ protocols as the opening that led to the murder and sexual torture of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gore delivered his remarks at the same time that Attorney General John Ashcroft, just before the start of the Memorial Day weekend, held a press conference and warned that Al Qaeda is planning a large-scale attack on American soil likely to be carried out this summer.

Whether or not both men’s addresses were timed to preempt each other is not known. However, Gore was clearly seeking to further damage the Bush administration the same week as polls have shown the president with his lowest job approval ratings since taking office.

A CBS poll this week showed that by 52-41 percent, Americans disapprove of Bush’s overall job performance and only 34 percent approve of his handling of the war in Iraq, down from 72 percent a year ago.

Midway through his speech, the audience rising to its feet, Gore called upon Republicans to join Democrats in demanding the resignations of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon officials including, Douglas Feith and Steve Cambone, who handle intelligence matters for the Pentagon.

“The nation is especially at risk every single day that Rumsfeld remains as secretary of defense,” said Gore.

Gore spoke warmly of C.I.A. Director George Tenet before calling on him to resign as well.

Gore spoke nearly a week after Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill, during which the president, in a closed-door 35-minute rally in the basement of the Capitol, assured Republican lawmakers that the U.S. will turn over full sovereignty of Iraq on June 30 to an interim government of Iraqi officials. Bush was also seeking to break a logjam in the budget negotiations between Republicans in the Senate and House.

After Bush’s visit, Republican and Democratic members of Congress delivered highly partisan remarks about the war in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal.

The Democratic House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, who previously called Bush “incompetent,” said: “We did not have appropriate hearings before we went into Iraq. Congress—the House of Representatives, I’ll just speak to that—has been delinquent in its duties in exercising oversight.” In response to a question about whether or not she had referred to the president as incompetent, Pelosi replied, “I believe the president’s leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.” Pelosi also criticized Bush for sending troops into battle ill-prepared, lacking Kevlar lining in flak jackets, armored vehicles and electronic devices to detonate roadside bombs hidden by insurgents.

In an interview published on May 19 in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pelosi was quoted as saying that Bush has the deaths of thousands of American troops “on his shoulders.”

Republicans fired back during their own press briefings. Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a three-term Republican from upstate New York who is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which raises money to elect GOP candidates to the House, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “If Nancy Pelosi has nothing to offer our troops, who are living and dying thousands of miles away, besides taunting them by saying they are dying needlessly and are risking their lives on a shallow mission, then she should just go back to her pastel-colored condo in San Francisco and keep her views to herself.”

On May 21, Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, said that the congresswoman was traveling and had no specific comment on whether Reynolds remark was a homophobic reference. Pelosi’s district is more or less coterminous with the City of San Francisco, where earlier this year thousands of gay and lesbian couples were wed. Pelosi also opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposal that originated in the House with Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican, which seeks to amend the Constitution to codify the definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman. Pres. Bush endorsed the amendment proposal earlier this year.

Mike Brady, a spokesman for Reynolds, returned a phone call seeking clarification of the congressman’s “pastel-colored” reference, and directed the query to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Carl Forti, a spokesman for the NRCC, never returned a call seeking comment.

As for Pelosi, her spokesperson said the congresswoman lives in a “red brick house.”

Despite the release of the lurid images of naked male Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib Prison, many posed in simulated anal and oral sex act positions, Gore did not specifically mention homophobia as the basis for the sexual abuse. However, the 2000 standard bearer of his party went as far as perhaps any Democrat has gone in depicting the factors that lead to such abuse.

After attacking the president’s justification for toppling Saddam Hussein—including Bush’s assertion that Iraq had manufactured weapons of mass destruction and that Hussein was complicit in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—Gore denounced the characterization that Iraq posed a grave and gathering threat to the United States. In terms colored with biblical overtones, Gore said that Bush “planted the seeds of war and harvested a whirlwind. And now, the corrupt tree of a war waged on false premises has brought us the evil fruit of Americans torturing and sexually humiliating prisoners.”

Gore also had harsh words for radio personality Rush Limbaugh and said the president should denounce Limbaugh for saying that “the torture in Abu Ghraib was a ‘brilliant manuever’ and that the photos were ‘good old American pornography’ and that the actions portrayed were simply those of ‘people having a good time and needing to blow off steam.’”

At an earlier point in his speech, Gore spoke of the checks and balances enshrined into the Constitution to guard against the corruption of centralized power. Gore went on: “Listen then to the balance of internal impulses described by Specialist Charles Graner when confronted by one of his colleagues, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who later became a courageous whistleblower. When Darby asked him to explain his actions documented in the photos, and please excuse my language, Graner replied: ‘The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss on himself.’”

Graner, a former prison guard in Pennsylvania, has been charged with abusing detainees and is awaiting a court martial.

While denouncing the actions of those Americans stationed at Abu Ghraib who participated in the abuse, Gore asserted that the mistreatment was not the fault of just “a few bad apples,” but rather was caused by policy decisions made by the White House beginning with the 2001 war in Afghanistan.

The intent of the Bush foreign policy to dominate the world, said Gore, is “as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people.”

Gore suggested that Bush’s gambit to forsake international law in the war on terror has been a “Faustian bargain” that has destroyed America’s international standing.

At times, Gore waxed philosophical. “We also know—and not just from De Sade and Freud—the psychological proximity between sexual depravity and other people’s pain,” said Gore. “It has been especially shocking and awful to see these paired evils perpetrated so crudely and cruelly in the name of America.”

Some Democrats have criticized Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, for not delivering speeches that pillory the Bush administration for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Gore disagreed that Kerry needs to be more outspoken and praised Kerry for dealing with “this unfolding tragedy in an impressive and extremely responsible way.”

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