Officials, Critics Disagree on Handling Looting, Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Orrick

A daily feature with answers to readers' questions about the war.

Q. Were war planners unprepared for the looting and unrest in Baghdad?

A. Planners insist they were not unprepared. Critics say they obviously were.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Friday said U.S.-led invasion plans for Iraq included dealing with disorder after what he called the "catastrophic success" of the military campaign.

In addition, he downplayed worldwide media reports of widespread looting in Baghdad and Basra, criticizing words such as "chaos" and "anarchy" as misleading. "Stuff happens," he said when a reporter questioned him on the looting of a Baghdad hospital.

But Henry Perritt Jr., director of the Illinois Institute of Technology's Center for Law and Financial Markets, said the looting and unrest shows war planners dropped the ball.

"We should have learned from Bosnia, and Kosovo and East Timor," said Perritt, a failed Democratic congressional candidate and frequent critic of the Bush administration. "I'm just astounded that the Bush administration seems completely caught off-guard."

At Friday's media briefing, Rumsfeld said American soldiers were trying to stop looting and were arresting looters.

But Perritt, a lawyer who was part of international efforts to restore law and order in Bosnia and Kosovo, said soldiers enforcing order isn't the key; the "law" in "law and order" is just as important.

"Once you get people in custody, it's pretty soon that you need to have a system to present them with charges and guarantee due process. …