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Arabs Express Mixed Reactions Over Bush TV Interviews - 2004-05-05


President Bush's appearance on two Arabic television stations [Al-Arabiya, Al Hurra] Wednesday denouncing the alleged prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers and promising action will be taken to punish them has met with a mixed reaction in the Arab countries.

Arab commentators welcomed Mr. Bush's appearance on Arabic television stations, but said his words will go only so far in allaying public anger over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Former Egyptian diplomat and expert on Arab affairs, Abdullah al-Ashaal, says the president's words will resonate with many Arabs, but not all.

"In the Arab world, I think this is very much welcome because we want to hear from the president of the United States that the United States is committed to punish the culprits and the wrongdoers in these incidents," he said. "But, at the same time, some circles of course are not taking the message as straight as I may take it."

One such person is the spokesman for the 22-member Arab League, Hossam Zaki. He says the president's promises of punishment won't satisfy many Arabs who are already angry over the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

"So far we have only seen military confrontation," he said. "We have only seen abuses in Iraqi prisons. The United States is holding this banner of freedom and democracy and respect for human rights. But, I think this goodwill and good intention has not been translated on the ground."

President Bush said Wednesday that this week's revelation about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers was abhorrent and the culprits will be punished. "We are an open society," said Mr. Bush. "We are a society that is willing to investigate, fully investigate in this case what took place in that prison. There will be investigations. People will be brought to justice."

The head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, says Mr. Bush will now have to deliver on his promise.

"What will sway people is if they see real punishment, being more than reprimands," said Mr. Baroudi. "How the United States is going to deal with the perpetrators of those acts. That may be more effective than a speech by [President] Bush."

Mr. Bush said the allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq are being taken seriously, and assured the Arab viewers that justice will be done.

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