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The Transfixing Power of Image - Karen Kwiatkowski
Since this article was posted on May 12, 2004, Karen Kwiatkowski has become the target of a smear campaign that includes hit pieces published by the American Enterprise Institute and the National Review Online. She has also been subject to "blatantly false" accusations by Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. Kwiatkowski's response is posted here.

As the Arab man is forced to masturbate, his Pfc. dominatrix bids us to watch. Don’t take my word for it. There are images everywhere online, in print, and on TV of military abuse American-style — death in shrink wrap, prisoners on leashes, bleeding wounds and scars.

And what a grand distraction it is. Just when George W. Bush was nearly cornered by Congress with a $700 million scandal that would have potentially sunk his reelection — if not impeached him — we are awed by the power of image.

“The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is a media feeding frenzy,” Karen Kwiatkowski says. “It’s dominating the news. It's dominating Congress. What happened is a terrible thing…an awful thing. It was also VERY predictable.”

Predictable? An old women ridden like a donkey by soldiers? US military gang bangs? Why would Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski say these vile acts were predictable?

After two decades in the US Air Force, Kwiatkowski was working as a desk officer at the Defense department in the spring of 2002. That’s when she received an education in propaganda and the art of misdirection. Kwiatkowski watched in disgust as the Neoconservative wing of the Bush administration, including her superiors at the Pentagon Planning Department, ignored internal dissent, disregarded its own intelligence and arrogantly pushed for a war with Iraq. Kwiatkowski calls it a "Neoconservative coup, a hijacking of the Pentagon."

And Abu Ghraib? It’s just part of the pattern of the military adventure Neocons call “The War on Terror.”

“Abu Ghraib is not a surprise,” Kwiatkowski tells me on Weekly Signals, a KUCI radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar. “This is not a case of ‘oh my god I can’t believe Abu Ghraib has prisoners that were being mistreated by American guards.’ That’s not a surprise at all. It is symptomatic of the overall brutality of this occupation.”

Whether you’re outraged by outrage or just simply outraged, that occupation has turned into a Lynchian nightmare where images of coffins are trumped by images of prison abuse which, in turn, are trumped by images of beheading.

"Exactly,” Kwiatkowski says. “But think about the news that just went off the radar because this came up. The Pentagon had illegally spent over $700 million in preparing for the Iraq war when Congress had never authorized it. That’s an impeachable offense. That’s the kind of offense that gets presidents, vice-presidents and secretarys of defense impeached.”

"One week ago, this was front page news. Congress was getting ready to dig into it. Then suddenly from Abu Ghraib we have photographs.”

That’s not to take anything away from the excellent reporting of Seymour Hersh and others who helped to break the prison scandal. It does, however, point out how the image can overwhelm the word.

"It’s an important subject for the news media to tackle,” Kwiatkowski says.”But I think it’s more important for the media to look at what story was displaced. What it displaced was an actual crime committed by this administration that could get people impeached. And that went off the radar.”

The story that went off the radar was launched by Bob Woodward in his book, Plan of Attack. According to Woodward the President shortchanged anti-terror operations against al-Queda by $700 million in July 2002. Where did the money go? With no authorization from Congress, Bush and the Neocons clandestinely began to finance the invasion of Iraq. The President apparently diverted funds to fight terrorism from one of the two supplemental spending bills passed after September 11 and left lawmakers "totally in the dark."

"This is the kind of thing where people get caught,” Kwiatkowski says about the diversion of funds. “The Bush administration was extremely worried about it. I think they still are. There’s paper work and a trail of accountability. Congress takes a special pride in its ability to make law. When a law and the intent of Congress is violated they take that personally. They get angry. There was some righteous anger that was developing on this particular story.”

Indeed, there was. As Eric Alterman put it in The Nation on April 22, "The United States Constitution is meaningless to these people: The Bush Administration decided to lay out $700 million on a 'massive, covert public works program' in Kuwait in 2002, even though, as Woodward aptly notes, they did not inform Congress. This is a violation of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, which vests the power of the purse in Congress, along with various statutes that bar the executive from unilaterally moving money out of areas explicitly mandated by spending bills. It is, moreover, an explicit violation of the post-9/11 emergency supplemental bill, which gave the President discretion to direct the $40 billion it appropriated but specifically required him to 'consult with the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Committees on Appropriations prior to the transfer' of any funds. There is no evidence of any such consultation, and indeed the White House is not claiming any exists."

That appropriations stuff is sure boring. Now, instead, we have Iraq prison porn to watch. Bush calls it “cruel and disgraceful abuse.” He is "deeply disgusted” by this “affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency.” Yeah, it got my attention, too. Like many others, I read about it months ago.

"Rumsfeld said the administration knew that some of this abuse was going on,” Kwiatkowski says. “The Abu Ghraib story had been out there since the fall. We had already done an Army investigation. Taguba’s report was preceded by several other reports and Article 32 hearings in December and October. The Red Cross, the international media and al Jazeera were all talking about it. But somehow it’s not news in America until the administration decides that it’s news in America.”

And when it became news, it couldn’t have happened at a better time for Bush. With images of POW abuse in the headlines, the $700 million scandal disappeared from the front page.

"Financial misdoings and misdeeds are sometimes hard to follow,” Kwiatkowski says. “It’s much easier to be concerned about the kinds of things that we’re seeing in the news today.

“I’m not going so far as to say that the Neocons planned the release of these photos, but what I’m saying is that they can be beneficial to the administration. They’re going to make the most of it. If this keeps Congress from looking at the true illegalities of this administration and instead focuses their attention on blaming a bunch of idiot soldiers for a prison scandal — who are going to, in turn, blame their abuses on lack of training — then this could work out great for the administration.”

All except for Donald Rumsfeld, right? He’s a goner for sure.

“Rumsfeld will hold his job,” Kwiatkowski says. “The Bush administration’s best bet is to hope that the 50% of the American population who don’t care will simply be happy that the President is ‘standing firm.’ The more we focus on the faces of those people who committed the prison abuses, the more the attention is off of the real criminals… like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush.”

— Nathan Callahan, May 12, 2004


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