Just when President Bush was trying to accentuate the positive in Iraq and declare a new beginning in the war on terror, a rash of bad news comes from multiple fronts in the global struggle.
New details are emerging in the killings of two dozen Iraqi civilians at the hands of Marines. Anti-American protesters are staging riots in Afghanistan after a U.S. military convoy rammed into several civilian cars. And a reported 75 military detainees at Guantanamo Bay are on a hunger strike to protest their continued imprisonment without charges.
Add the trouble to the continuing daily violence in Iraq _ at least 40 were killed in a series of bombings Monday, including two from a CBS News crew _ and Bush could be in danger of losing even more support for his mission.
Bush has tried to keep the nation behind him with repeated talk about the importance of defeating the terrorists abroad so they cannot attack the United States again. He has expressed confidence that the U.S. will prevail and spread democracy. And he has acknowledged costly mistakes along the way.
In the past week, Bush has spoken about a new chapter in the nation’s relationship with Iraq since a new government has taken control. But that hasn’t kept the violence and unrest out of the headlines every day, and some in the White House have been arguing that he needs to do more to push back. His public relations blitzes on the war have helped build support in the past, according to public opinion polls taken before and after his campaigns.
At a press conference last week, Bush said the war has featured personal mistakes _ specifically his “tough talk” about capturing Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” and challenging U.S. foes to “bring it on.” And he said the worst mistake the country has made in Iraq was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. “We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time,” Bush said.
He has not yet commented publicly on an incident in Iraq that Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Marine war veteran and prominent critic of Iraq policy, has contended could undermine U.S. efforts there even more than Abu Ghraib did.
Murtha, D-Pa., has spoken critically about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, a city western Iraq that has been plagued by insurgents. The congressman also believes that the deaths were initially covered up by the military.
The killings came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine. Marines then shot and killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into homes and shot other people, according to Murtha, who has been briefed by officials.
The Pentagon is investigating the deaths in Haditha, along with the events in Afghanistan that sparked rioting there Monday.
Witnesses said the incident began when a convoy of at least three U.S. Humvees came into the city from the outskirts, then rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting several civilian cars. There were disputes about the number of deaths, but at least one person died.
The crash sparked a riot by dozens of stone-throwing Afghans who shouted “Down with America.” Witnesses said U.S. forces then fired on the crowd, and the violence escalated.
Hundreds of Afghan army troops and NATO peacekeepers in tanks were deployed around the city, as chanting protesters marched on the presidential palace and rioters smashed police guard boxes, set fire to police cars and ransacked buildings.
The military also is dealing with defiant prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who are trying to draw attention to the fact that some have been held for up to 4 1/2 years without charges and with little contact with the outside world.
The U.S. military holds about 460 men at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Human rights groups say many innocent people have been swept up in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and sent to the prison at the Cuban base in Guantanamo Bay, with no end in sight to their incarceration. Only 10 of the detainees have been charged with crimes.
Their military trials, the first held by the United States since the World War II era, are set to begin within months. The Supreme Court, however, is expected to rule in June on whether Bush overstepped his authority by ordering war-crimes trials for some of those held at Guantanamo Bay.
Nedra Pickler covers the White House for The Associated Press.
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