Arab television stations air Rumsfeld testimony live, few Arabs won over | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Arab television stations air Rumsfeld testimony live, few Arabs won over

PTI | ByAssociated Press, Cairo, Egypt
May 11, 2004 03:53 PM IST

The Arab world's main news channels carried live images Friday of US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offering apologies to Iraqi prisoners abused by US troops. But many viewers said the apologies meant little, and that the damage was already done.

The Arab world's main news channels carried live images Friday of US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offering apologies to Iraqi prisoners abused by US troops. But many viewers said the apologies meant little, and that the damage was already done.

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"If any Arab did that, they would call them terrorists and savages. The apologies of Bush and Rumsfeld are not accepted," said Ahmed Hassan Hussein, a 29-year-old security guard in Baghdad. "We demand that they be punished in an international court." Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya - the two most popular news stations in the region - and the US-sponsored Alhurra channel all aired Rumsfeld's Senate testimony in its entirety, with simultaneous translators dubbing the words into Arabic.

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Al-Arabiya at times showed the photographs of US soldiers gloating over humiliated Iraqi prisoners in a split-screen with Rumsfeld's image.

"I don't even care if Rumsfeld resigns," said Helmi Sharawy, director of the Cairo-based Arab-African Research Center. "For us, the physical and mental and social damage can't be made up for by an apology or even a resignation."

Some - but few - viewers said they were pleased. Lebanese political analyst Satie Noureddin said the hearings were, at least, a beginning.

"This is the first sign that the American system is working again," he said. "I hope that someday in the future, the whole issue, the whole story of the war in Iraq, will be put on trial, with all its lies and fabrications."

US officials have accused Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya of bias in their coverage of the war in Iraq. But since the prisoner-abuse scandal created widespread resentment in the Middle East, the US government has tried to use them to deliver its message directly to Arabs.

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya on Tuesday, and US President George W. Bush himself gave interviews Wednesday to Al-Arabiya and Alhurra. At the end of Friday's hearing, Al-Jazeera Washington correspondent Mohammed al-Alani described Rumsfeld's testimony as "convincing."

"I've never seen him in such an embarrassing, defensive position as I saw him today," he said.

Critics have called for Rumsfeld to resign over the scandal, but Bush said flatly Thursday that "he'll stay in my Cabinet." Many Arabs see Rumsfeld as responsible for the Bush administration's move to war in Iraq.

"We demand that Rumsfeld resign," said Bassem Shamkhi, a 29-year-old university student in Baghdad. "In the Iraqi tribal system, one who commits a wrong should leave."

In the Jordanian capital of Amman, Nidal Mansoor, head of the Center for the Protection of Journalists, said it was good - but not enough - that Rumsfeld offered an apology.

"Acknowledging the mistake is better than denying it," he said. But he called on an independent committee to investigate the US abuses. "Otherwise," he said, "there is no value in Rumsfeld's apology."

Many viewers questioned the intentions of both Rumsfeld and the senators grilling him.

"Is this really repairing the harm that took place, or just an attempt to improve their image?" said Yehia el-Gammal, a 31-year old development consultant in Cairo.

While Rumsfeld is a "scapegoat" for the administration, el-Gammal said, US officials have lost credibility in the region and "are really in trouble."

Alaa al-Aswani, an Egyptian novelist and writer, said Rumsfeld's appearance was little more than an attempt to avoid prosecution by a war-crimes tribunal.

"Sorry is not enough. Compensation is not enough," he said. "These are all attempts by the administration officials to avoid being treated as war criminals."

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