Powell vows justice in prison abuse
DEAD SEA, Jordan – U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Saturday appeared before a largely Arab audience for the first time to express American regret at the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees. But the Arab business leaders and dignitaries reacted coolly, and said the outrage would not be easily overcome.
Powell told those in attendance at a World Economic Forum meeting that “we were in a state of disbelief for days, as you were here . . . as we saw what our young men and women had done. . . . Our heads bow, our hearts ache over what a small number of them did” to detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
“I can tell you straight from my heart that we will deal with this, ” Powell told the group, a nonprofit international organization. “We will see that justice is done.”
The audience, however, fell silent at Powell’s words, which came as part of a broad effort to reach out to Middle Eastern audiences upset at the detainee scandal, turmoil in Iraq, and President Bush’s recognition of Israeli claims to large West Bank settlement blocs as part of an Israeli plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
“This gesture is welcome. But more will be needed, much more than words,” said one Jordanian businessman, who asked to remain unidentified because he is negotiating for work with U.S. authorities in the region.
The businessman said he agreed with a recent comment by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that unhappiness with the United States is at an all-time high.
Powell met Saturday with Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian Foreign Minister Maher, and Arab League President Amr Moussa.
In the meetings, “People made it clear to us there was a lot of anger in the Arab world,” said a senior American official. He added that America’s friends in the region knew “justice would be done” in the cases.
Powell compared the episode to problems the United States faced in helping rebuild Europe and Asia after World War II and the Korean war.
“We’ve always gone through rough patches in the aftermath of these struggles. We’ve made mistakes. But we always succeeded.”
Powell said he hoped the scandal would not keep Arab nations from “losing sight of the larger picture in Iraq,” since the beginning of its reconstruction.
He spoke confidently of the U.S. effort to build the next government in Iraq, predicting that that the United Nations Security Council would put aside past differences over the issue and approve a resolution supporting plans for the transitional government in Iraq.
Powell also made a pitch for the controversial reform program that the United States hopes to launch next month at a summit of the so-called G8 industrialized nations.
The program, called the Greater Middle East Initiative, is aimed at helping Middle Eastern countries to accelerate reforms in education, human rights, democracy and free markets. Powell sought to overcome the perception that the program was designed to impose Western values on the region.
“The United States does not intend to impose reform. . . . We couldn’t if we wanted to,” he said.
Powell’s visit to the meeting was in part to show support for Jordanian King Abdullah, who has helped convince the Arab League to adopt a resolution calling for reform.