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Europe

European Press Review: Bush and Rumsfeld Lack Credibility

European newspapers on Thursday analyzed the decision by the American administration to publish documents detailing the discussion over rules for interrogating prisoners.

“This is torture, whatever it is called by the White House”, reads the headline of an editorial in Britain’s The Independent. The apparent purpose of this exercise, it said, is to demonstrate that President George Bush’s first concern was that the prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and elsewhere should be treated “humanely”. But the paper concluded that what the mass of material actually reveals is that the approach of the administration was to ask not “how humane can we be?” but “how far can we go before we cross the boundary from tough interrogation to torture?” To the ordinary person, the paper commented, practices such as hooding, the perpetual playing of loud music, sleep deprivation, diet change, sexual humiliation and intimidation with dogs constitute torture. But the bigger point, it said, is that no government should have to resort to hair-splitting over definitions to extricate itself from such accusations, least of all a government that has set itself up as the beacon of freedom and the protector of the oppressed.

Belgium’s Le Soir titled its editorial “The ghost of Guantánamo is following Bush”. It appeared to agree with U.S. Democratic senators who’ve criticized the publication of the papers as too selective to provide a real insight into what went on. Furthermore, the paper added, these documents say nothing about how the government directed the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

The U.S. government wanted to counter the disastrous impression that it approved the torture of Iraqi prisoners, wrote the Salzburger Nachrichten in Vienna; but, it commented, this plan has completely backfired. What’s come to light instead is the laxity with which Bush & Co. have approached human rights. The paper accused them of tearing up international treaties and casting aside global legal norms. In turning its back on America’s own basic values, the paper said, the Bush administration was at least approving torture. It remarked that, in a democracy, the concept of “a bit of torture” is as improbable as “being a bit pregnant”.

So Bush never authorized the use of torture, because it’s a clear contradiction of the values of the United States, mused Germany’s Berliner Zeitung. OK, well,

that’s a pretty clear statement. Now, though, the paper continued, we have proof that his Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld not only approved but even ordered the use of methods of torture. So what’s going to happen now to this minister who ignored not only his boss’s instructions but also America’s fundamental values? the paper asked. We don’t seem to be hearing anything about his dismissal. If the President wants people to believe that his are more than just hollow words, the paper said, he has to fire Rumsfeld.

In Munich, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung commented that both Rumsfeld and Bush now lack credibility. These papers don’t exonerate the government, it wrote, they incriminate it. They prove that, before the very eyes of the political leadership, a grey zone was allowed to develop in which torture became a possibility. The paper saw U.S. policy as having lost all sense of proportion since the terror attacks of September the 11th, which it says shattered the

traditional understanding of right and wrong.