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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- The battle is over. The United States will never win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. George W. Bush's disastrous war has now produced atrocities that are permanently etched in the minds of the people we "liberated," and will be used to foster even more hostility toward the occupying forces.

The scale of this disaster cannot be overstated. What has happened cannot be undone and there is evidence of more horrific torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The photographs "60 Minutes II" aired last week showing U.S. Army Reservists mistreating Iraqi prisoners have prompted a wave of public revulsion around the globe, especially in the Arab world.

One picture shows a bound and blindfolded Iraqi trying to balance himself on a box, with wires attached to him. He had been falsely told by his taunters that he would be electrocuted if he fell. In another picture, a laughing female U.S. Reservist points her finger like a gun at the genitals of a naked Iraqi man. Another picture shows naked Iraqi men forced to pose in sexual positions. It doesn't get any sicker.

"The New Yorker" Magazine has obtained a classified Army report that documents sexual humiliation of prisoners, including an incident in which a chemical light and a broomstick were used to sodomize a detainee.

A London tabloid has published photographs of a British soldier urinating on an Iraqi captive and slamming a rifle butt into his groin. Amnesty International has issued a statement saying its investigation shows that the abuse "is not an isolated incident."

Can you imagine the outrage if the situation were reversed and Iraqi troops did this to Americans? Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News Channel pundits would be volunteering for military service, Rush Limbaugh would rant for weeks, even without drugs, and it might force the New York Post to take Michael Jackson off the front pages.

In the Middle East and Europe, the story is dominating the news and hostility toward the United States is getting worse, and that means even more bloodshed is likely in Iraq.

The U.S. Army Reservists committed their despicable deeds at the infamous Abu Ghuraib prison outside Baghdad where Saddam Hussein used to entertain himself watching the tortures and sadistic murders of his political foes -- a disturbing irony not missed by the Iraqi people.

"That picture showed exactly the type of torture that Saddam's thugs used," Hassan Saeed told Newsday. "The Americans promised us that things would be different from what they were under Saddam. They lied."

The torture photos are adding to Iraqi rage and insurrection and will result in more deaths for U.S. troops.

Ghalbed Ribahi told Newsday how the revelations inflame the already hostile people.

"These are the things that make Iraqis pick up a weapon and want to kill American soldiers. When I saw those pictures, I wanted to pick up a weapon too," he said.

President Bush condemned the maltreatment, saying, "I share a deep disgust."

A military spokesman promised "very aggressive steps" to prevent such acts from happening again.

But Juan Cole, an expert on Iraq at the University of Michigan, says such brutality is directly related to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's policies to privatize military operations, as well as to poor preparation.

"In significant part, these practices are a direct result of Rumsfeld's policies -- the kidnapping of unprepared Reservists for long-term military duty in Iraq, supplemented by unregulated cowboy security firms," Cole says.

Lawyers for some of the soldiers accused of the prisoner abuse say they were acting under the direction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of the military police brigade involved in the torture, says her troops were under the direction of Army intelligence officers, who may have encouraged the abuse. George W. Bush's "You're either with us or with the terrorists" mentality and his repeated lie that the occupation of Iraq is an extension of the war with al-Qaeda also foster an atmosphere of distrust and violence.

Cole says, "The rhetoric that all those who oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq are 'terrorists' also dehumanizes prisoners of war and implies that they are akin to the Sept. 11 hijackers, when, in fact, many of them are just neighborhood boys who took up a gun to defend their city quarter from what they saw as foreign incursion."

The torture scandal comes just one year after another ignominious episode. It will be remembered in history as the "Shrubstrut" -- a staged theatrical event for a vainglorious political leader basking in his moment of great triumph. The president of the United States looking sassy, dressed in a flight suit after landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, walking across the deck and saluting smartly.

The world watched in awe, the worshipers in the media gushed with praise, the White House image-makers dubbed the moment "Mission Accomplished," and the president himself declared that "major fighting" was over in Iraq.

One year later, the war in Iraq looks more like "mission impossible." April was the bloodiest month so far, with 140 U.S. soldiers killed. But George W. still defends his wildly premature declaration.

In the convoluted logic to which we've grown accustomed, Bush says the mission really was accomplished -- the removal of Saddam. No mention of the phantom weapons of mass destruction, the fundamental reason given for the war.

Yesirree, we got the "dictator" out. And without missing a beat, Bush bragged that "as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms." The president of the United States may be the most oblivious man on earth.

Bush was spared, however, the entire thrust of an ABC "Nightline" report that brought home the horrible cost of his war. Friday night, host Ted Koppel simply read the names of all the U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire since the war began.

The pictures of the dead appeared as their names were read. It was respectful and poignant and did what we often try to do in the news business -- "put a face" on the story. These are not abstract numbers. These are lives gone. Real humans leaving grieving families and friends.

But the executives at the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owners of seven ABC stations and big Republican-campaign contributors, would have none of it and yanked the show.

Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman defended the decision, saying "Nightline" was sending an anti-war message and reading the names of the dead was unimportant because "someone who died 13 months ago -- why is that news?"

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sinclair was shirking its responsibility and protested the "Nightline" pre-emption, blasting the broadcast company for censorship.

"Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic," he wrote to the president of Sinclair Broadcasting.

Even though the program was available in Washington, D.C., we know Vice President Dick Cheney was not watching it from his hidden bunker.

Cheney, part of the administration that promised to restore "dignity" to the White House, has become an undignified huckster for his favorite media power, the Fox News Channel.

The Washington Post reports Cheney plugged Fox during a conference call to fund-raisers for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Cheney said it's easy to complain about the press, but he tries to focus on the elements of the media that do an "effective job."

Cheney urged the Republican faithful complaining about "the inconsistencies we see in the media" to do what he does.

"I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News because they're more accurate, in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets," the vice president said.


More accurate?

A University of Maryland study found regular viewers of the Fox News Channel to be the most misinformed on factual matters relating to the war in Iraq of any media outfit in the survey. We're not talking about opinions, just facts. And the level of misperception the vice president seems to enjoy and recommends is staggering.

"The more closely you followed Fox, the more misperceptions you had," said Clay Ramsay of the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy. He adds, "No other news outlet came anywhere near that."

But Cheney and his ilk won't switch their media loyalty.

They don't want to hear anything about Americans dying in Iraq and little about Americans torturing Iraqis.

Life's easier that way.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 4 2004