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Europe

European Press Review: The Bolting of Washington's Horse

The editorials in Thursday's European press continued to focus on the U.S. government’s attempts to limit the damage caused by revelations of abuse in Iraqi prisons as outrage continues worldwide.

The Milan paper Corriere della Sera had a surprisingly forgiving attitude. The abuses allow us a view of a taboo subject which those western countries which have been confronted by terrorism have all had to deal with, wrote the paper, countries like France, Italy, Germany and Israel. Of course, torture of prisoners of war is illegal and immoral, but, the paper asked, what about the issue of preventing terrorist attacks? What about applying threats to get admissions? Or applying psychological degradation? The arguments are repulsive, said the newspaper, and public opinion refuses to deal with them.

The Polish paper Rzeczpospolita reminded its readers of the village of Mai Lai in Vietnam. The news of the massacre of the villagers there was one of the turning points in the Vietnam War. Although the guilty were punished, wrote the paper, international public opinion turned against America. This could happen again, it mused.

The Berliner Zeitung said the Americans must do more than talk on television. They have to show what the advantages of modernity are. And the paper listed them: compensation for the victims, a credible apology, and tough punishments for military crimes. But it added it’s a task for a hero, to maintain civil rights in the middle of a guerilla war. You’ve got to keep your nerve when confronted with a faceless enemy, but, it concluded, “without this heroism the American army will certainly fail."

According to the German Frankfurter Rundschau, the current US government media offensive is being carried out with the superficiality of an advertising campaign. The fact that the Pentagon leadership admits it hasn’t read the newspaper reports is not just what the paper called “the scandal after the scandal,” but also a mockery of the victims. And the paper was amazed that Washington is sending a Major General from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq to investigate. What a signal, cried the paper.

The Financial Times in London placed the blame on those it claimed should take the rap. “The responsibility goes to the very top of the defense establishment,” it said. And that means: only the departure of the Secretary for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, “will convince public opinion around the world that Mr Bush is serious when he says Abu Ghraib is not the true face of America.”

The Tages Anzeiger of Zurich agreed that Rumsfeld should either resign or be dismissed, but it didn't see that as likely. “That would be too much to ask,” it wrote, “of a government whose pushy self-righteousness prevents it from admitting its mistakes. Resignation? Dismissal? Not a hope!” it lamented.

Der Standard of Vienna complained that the media offensive came too late. President Bush’s arguments to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq sounded hollow, it wrote. And the fact that publication of the US government’s annual international human rights review has been postponed, officially “for technical reasons,” wrote the paper, “is only the first of many tragic contortions to which the scandal of Abu Ghraib will force the Americans.”