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US Papers Sun: From Captive To Suicide Bomber
Fresh Paint and Flowers at Iraqi House of Horrors
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
The two main stories today deal with prisons which have caused their share of controversy – Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The Post’s Guantanamo story is a must read. It follows the road traveled by one young Kuwaiti man which ends with a 30-foot-wide crater in the ground, at an Iraqi army base near Mosul.

Guantanamo Bomber
The Washington Post gives more then half of their front page to a fascinating story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, detailing the known history of Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti citizen who was arrested as an enemy combatant in Pakistan, spent years in Guantanamo Bay prison, and was eventually released. On March 23, 2008, he smashed a makeshift armored pickup truck carrying tons of explosives through the gate of an Iraqi Army base outside Mosul, which killed 13 and wounded 42 when it detonated.

This story wasn’t written in a weekend – it bears the marks of reflection. The central question that Chandrasekaran asks is “Was his descent into unrepentant radicalism an unintended consequence of his incarceration?” The reader is led to believe that is was, yet a strong point of the article is that it affords the reader their own conclusion, and whatever conclusion is reached is equally uncomfortable.

What makes Ajmi's journey from inmate to bomber so disturbing to top government officials is the fact that he never was deemed to be among the worst of the worst. He was not one of the former top al-Qaeda operatives considered "high value" detainees; nor was he regarded as someone who posed a significant, long-term threat to the United States.
Members of Ajmi’s lawyers are extensively interviewed, and there is a great difference between the contact in the beginning and at the end. "What happened to him?" Wilner (the head of the legal team) asked. "It was Guantanamo." Wilner points to the first letter he received from Ajmi, which is signed, “The happy detainee Juhayman Al Ajmi.” The last reads very differently - “To the vile, depraved Thomas, descendant of rotten apes and swine... Fiercely and harshly, Juhayman Al Ajmi.”
In Wilner's view, Ajmi's initial misbehavior may have accelerated his downward spiral because of the punishment it elicited. He was placed in isolation, with all of his meager personal effects removed, provoking more anger and more misconduct, which was in turn punished with more time in the detention blocks. "Guantanamo took a kid -- a kid who wasn't all that bad -- and it turned him into a hostile, hardened individual," Wilner said.
Chandrasekaran doesn’t propose any solutions, but brings up all the questions and provides a truly chilling history, at a time when the future of the prison and its remaining detainees are being decided.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Sam Dagher reports that Iraq’s Ministry of Justice allowed reporters rare access on Saturday to the Abu Ghraib prison, which has been partly renovated by the Iraqis and now holds about 400 prisoners. Despite the infamous nature of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi government says it needs the facility (which holds up to 15,000) to ease prisoner overcrowding in Iraq.

Reporters were invited in to see the new kinder, gentler Abu Ghraib, now known Baghdad Central Prison (at least they didn’t call it “Xe”). Dagher seems a bit skeptical.
Officials were eager to highlight a different face of Abu Ghraib, one they emphasized was more focused on reforming prisoners. The prison’s outer walls were painted a bright cream color, and Iraqi flags fluttered at the entrance. The driveway to the main gate was spruced up and lined with colorful lampposts, flowers and other plants.

...Inside, the hallways reeked of fresh paint: lavender, cream and light blue. Glittering party decorations hung on the walls, and pots of plastic flowers lined the corridors. Slogans in ornate Arabic calligraphy filled the walls. “Respecting the dignity of the internees is one of the noble goals of the Iraqi correctional services,” proclaimed one. ...There were no prisoners to be seen. All 400 of them were moved to a section beyond the sight of reporters behind a shuttered and heavily guarded metal gate covered with blue sheets.
“It was damp; you really felt the horror,” said Saad Sultan, an official at the Ministry of Human Rights. “Now there is more light, much more light.”

Also in the New York Times, Katherine Q. Seelye covers the recent news that Pentagon officials are reconsidering the ban on news coverage of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base from Iraq and Afghanistan. She reports that they are studying the media policies of other countries. They are also soliciting the views of families who have lost loved ones.

It is informative for showing how other countries go about this, but doesn’t report much news on the U.S. side, other than the reaction from some families of lost American servicemen, many of whom support the ban.
Since Mr. Obama’s announcement, Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, which represents 60,000 families of military personnel, including some who have died, has publicly opposed lifting the ban. The group also asked its members in an e-mail message whetherthey favored keeping or changing the ban. Of the roughly 600 people who responded, the group said, 64 percent said the policy should not be changed; 21 percent said that if the ban were changed, the families should be able to determine news media access on a case-by-case basis, and 12 percent said the policy should be changed to allow cameras.
The established arguments on both sides remain the same.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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