By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
OXFORD - The photographs of prisoner abuse at the hands of Americans in Abu Ghraib prison are "disastrous'' for United States efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, said Adeed Dawisha, an Iraq native who teaches political science at Miami University.
But Dawisha - a staunch defender of the war in Iraq who has served as a consultant to the State and Defense departments and the CIA - said another image seen recently by the Arab world could help repair the damage: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld being questioned on worldwide television by the U.S. Senate.
"Who in the Arab world has ever seen one of their own leaders grilled and even humiliated on television?'' said Dawisha, who is often called on as a Middle East expert by national and international media. "We are showing them we are a true democracy; that we are not afraid to hang our dirty linen in public."
Dawisha has believed from the outset that the Bush administration's stated goal of spreading democracy in the Arab world by toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in his native Iraq was worthy and even noble.
But the photographs of smiling U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad - photos that have been shown "over and over again'' on Arab television stations - have been "a major setback'' for the effort to win the hearts and minds of Arab people, Dawisha said.
"We are trying very hard to sell them on the notion that we have freed them from a tyrant in order to bring democracy to Iraq, and now they see this happening in the very prison where Saddam Hussein used to torture his own people,'' said Dawisha. "That's pretty disastrous.''
Dawisha, who is studying the historical roots of democracy in pre-Saddam Iraq, said there is a way to mitigate the damage.
"Complete transparency,'' Dawisha said. "We must deal with this in a transparent way, for all to see."
"We can't talk to the Arab world about democracy and do it in abstract terms,'' the political science professor said. "We must show them.''
The decision to try Spc. Jeremy Sivits for his alleged role in the prisoner abuse in a court martial that will be open to media coverage is a good step, Dawisha said.
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