Abu Ghraib toll spreads

In a speech in Pittsburgh last month, President Bush said, "Because of our actions, Saddam Hussein's torture chambers are closed."

He did not say they had reopened under new management.

It is because the documented abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib goes to the heart of the president's proclaimed values that the administration is having so much difficulty contending with the almost universal sense of outrage generated by the disgusting photos.

Now, with something close to desperation in its effort to get control of the situation, the Pentagon has offered more damaging images for inspection only by Congress - and not for the America public or foreign (read Islamic) countries. Meanwhile, an American businessman in Iraq was taken captive and decapitated by terrorists who say they're avenging the abuse of Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison.

In a further effort to fend off the tide of denunciation, the military command has moved with uncommon speed to schedule the first court-martial in the Abu Ghraib case for May 19 in Baghdad's cavernous convention center.

Arab media especially are being invited to view what may be something of a show trial, but without cameras. That is, unless the court waives the customary court- martial rule banning them. Family and other observers will be allowed to attend. That should make for a lot of TV correspondent "stand-ups" outside the courtroom.

Soldier Jeremy Sivits reportedly is trying to negotiate a reduced sentence in return for testifying against others among the seven charged as of this writing.

The position of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has taken on great symbolic importance. At the Pentagon Monday, Mr. Bush praised him for "courageous" leadership and doing a "superb" job. But that must be considered a holding operation while the administration waits to see how the anti-Rumsfeld campaign develops, especially among Republicans in Congress. Mr. Rumsfeld has said he'd resign in a minute if he thought he was being "ineffective."

It remains to be seen whether reaction in Iraq and in Congress conspire to render him ineffective.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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