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Pentagon Was Blindsided by Bush Pledge to Raze Prison

Published: May 27, 2004
WASHINGTON, May 26 On Monday night, President Bush made the dramatic announcement that the United States would demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a modern maximum-security center in Baghdad to replace it. But on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said the president's words had taken them by surprise, and they scrambled without success to come up with details of the plan.

"This office was not aware of any plans to raze Abu Ghraib or build another prison," said a Pentagon spokesman who insisted that he not be identified because he did not want to be seen as contradicting the president.

A senior Pentagon official said that any plans would have to be discussed with a new Iraqi government, as Mr. Bush himself stipulated in his announcement, and that in any case razing the prison could not happen quickly.

"It's just an idea the president came up with," the official said. "The Iraqis could decide they don't want to tear it down. It's not ours to tear down. It will be some time before I can give you the kind of details you want."

A White House official said Wednesday that it had been Mr. Bush's idea to insert the prison announcement into his speech Monday, at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., where he outlined his strategy for handing over power to a new Iraqi government by June 30. The official said Mr. Bush discussed the idea last week with his war cabinet and with L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator in Iraq.

Mr. Bremer, the White House official said, was asked to look into the viability of building a new prison and then razing Abu Ghraib, which Pentagon officials had said until then they would not tear down. Mr. Bremer, the White House official said, consulted with Iraqis and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who is in charge of detention operations in Iraq. Mr. Bremer worked on the idea over the weekend and recommended it as a good plan, the official said.

The prison announcement was one of the few pieces of new information in Mr. Bush's speech, which focused on walking Americans through a five-step plan, all pre-existing American policy, that the president said would move Iraqis toward sovereignty.

It was toward the end of the speech that Mr. Bush suddenly pledged that the United States would pay to build a new prison in Baghdad, relocate Abu Ghraib detainees there and then, if the new Iraqi government agreed, demolish what has become a notorious symbol of abuse by both Saddam Hussein and American soldiers.

"Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture," Mr. Bush said. "That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." A new Iraq, Mr. Bush said, will need "a humane, well-supervised prison system."

Mr. Bush's announcement also surprised Capitol Hill, including the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, which oversees reconstruction spending in Iraq.

"None of the groundwork was done for something like this to be more than a public relations announcement," said Tim Rieser, a senior Democratic aide to the subcommittee. "And now we're going to have to figure it out after the fact." White House officials, Mr. Rieser said, "routinely treat Congress as their personal A.T.M. machine."

Last fall, the administration asked Congress for $400 million to build two maximum-security prisons in Iraq, but Congress, citing what it described as excessive estimates, reduced that to $100 million for one prison, in Nasiriya. Although the administration has money for another prison Congress appropriated $18 billion last fall for Iraqi reconstruction, with much not yet spent officials would have to get lawmakers' approval for it

homepage: homepage: http://nytimes.com/2004/05/27/politics/27PRIS.html

Not a Done Deal 26.May.2004 22:14

Oregonian

I have already written letters to both Senators and my Representative regarding Bush's statement re. the razing of the prison. Here is the text in case anyone else wants to do the same:

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I am writing to express my displeasure at President Bush's statement that his administration plans to dismantle the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Such a project will not only prove costly to us, but razing the structure and building a new prison doesn't do a thing to resolve any of the abuse and management issues that have recently arisen.

In addition, it seems that the Iraqis do not want to see the prison razed and view President Bush's proposal as political grandstanding and a ploy to garner votes for the upcoming presidential election. The prison was built by Iraqis and belongs to the citizens of Iraq; what right do we have to destroy it without their input?

If the prison is dismantled, who will pay for the demolition? Who will pay to build a new prison? Where will that money come from? Will it come from the money Congress authorized to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure or provide needed medical and humanitarian services? Or will the President be asking for even more money to cover this showboating project? This plan smacks of earlier proposals offhandedly thrown out by Mr. Bush which have turned out to be nothing more than vapor or distractions: the development of alternate fuel automobiles and investment in the exploration of Mars. Not that I have anything against these ventures, but surely we have enough urgent economic and social challenges on our plates to fully occupy us at this time without embracing further costly schemes.

The Abu Ghraib prison facility itself is not evil. No building or structure is inherently "evil"; the evil occurs in the way it is used to inflict pain and humiliation upon its inmates, in excess of what is allowed by the Geneva conventions and in keeping with recognized concepts of human respect and decency.

It's completely irrelevent 27.May.2004 00:34

Satan

..."United States would demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a modern maximum-security center in Baghdad to replace it."

It's a total non-issue.

Spot the spin... 27.May.2004 16:51

Tony Blair's dog

First the header;

"Pentagon Was Blindsided by Bush Pledge to Raze Prison"

created to imply that Pentagon, for some bizarre
reason, was suddenly not "in the loop".

That was the BIG miss on the spinner meister's part.

Then the "comment";

""This office was not aware of any plans to raze Abu Ghraib or build another prison," said a Pentagon spokesman who insisted that he not be identified because he did not want to be seen as contradicting the president."

Now, since this "Pentagon spokesman" can not be identified
it is very likely that the person - if he/she is a real person -
was asked just BECAUSE the office he/she is working in
is not working with the Iraq conflict.

Think about it, the possibilities are endless when it comes
to construct damage controlling statements and/or articles.