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May 14, 2004

Rumsfeld, Sanchez 'Pow-Wow' in Iraq


by Mark Rothschild

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld quietly left Washington yesterday, flying first to Kuwait, and then on to Baghdad. Rumsfeld was accompanied by only a few reporters, Pentagon lawyers, and Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After arriving in Baghdad, Rumsfeld immediately met with the commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez.

Both Sanchez and Rumsfeld have been under fire as pressure is building toward legal actions in the case of Abu Ghraib prison. Some Congressional Democrats have called for Rumsfeld to resign.

Rumsfeld spoke with the reporters during the secret 15-hour journey to Baghdad. Addressing accusations that the Pentagon is trying to keep information about Abu Ghraib covered up, he called the accusations, "garbage."

Pundits in Washington have speculated that Rumsfeld’s visit to Iraq was a publicity stunt to pump up his falling stock with Congress and segments of American public. However, overlooked in all of the hoopla over Rumsfeld’s trip, is the probability that something less obvious was behind the trip’s stated goal of holding a morale boosting "town meeting" with American troops.

After meeting in Baghdad with Lt. General Sanchez, Rumsfeld took a helicopter to Abu Ghraib prison, where he arrived during a sandstorm.

Outside the walls of Abu Ghraib, in the flat desert, an Israeli-made armored bus circled the prison camp where most of the thousands of prisoners live.

Inside the bus, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld peered out of the smoked out windows, as hundreds of Iraqi detainees rushed at the razor wire. As the bus went past, churning up clouds of dust, US attack helicopters circled watchfully overhead.

Only a short distance from the razor wire, tearful family members waited patiently for any news of their loved-ones who might be incarcerated inside.

Secretary Rumsfeld’s trip to Abu Ghraib, may not have been a media stunt, but it surely was not an in-depth fact finding visit either, for he did not visit the notorious "1A"cell block where American personnel tortured prisoners.

Rumsfeld met with the commander at Abu Ghraib, Major General Geoffrey Miller, himself implicated in the scandal. Rumsfeld spoke to an assembly of the prison guards.

As Rumsfeld spoke to the guards in the prison mess hall, standing behind him both figuratively and literally was Major General Miller. Rumsfeld spoke about the mission in Iraq and the responsibility of the guards.

After speaking at the prison, Rumsfeld flew to a hastily organized Camp Victory "town meeting." Camp Victory, just north of Baghdad International airport is a sprawling military version of a miniature American city. Complete with shopping centers, Burger Kings and third world fast food workers, it is home to thousands of American GIs.

At the town meeting, Rumsfeld spoke at length and answered 9 questions from the troops, interrupting each solder’s question with a gag line.

All told, Rumsfeld spent seven hours in the Iraq. According to the transcript made available by the Department of Defense, his brief "town meeting" could not have taken an hour. Is it reasonable to believe that Rumsfeld flew 15 hours to spend a few hours doing media events at Abu Ghraib and Camp Victory?

There is no way to know what Rumsfeld and Sanchez discussed, but considering that both have their jobs on the line right now, it would be a stretch of the imagination to conclude that they did not take time to strategize their personal situations together.

The presence of Pentagon lawyers only adds to this probability.

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Mark Rothschild lives and writes from Los Angeles, California. Comments or questions are welcome.

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