U.S. defence chief apologizes to Iraqis; senator alludes to rape and murder
WASHINGTON — A contrite Donald Rumsfeld apologized yesterday to Iraqi prisoners abused by their American captors, and warned that the outrage will worsen if other images of the actions of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison become public.
“There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist,” the U.S. Defence Secretary told the Senate armed services committee. “If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse. That’s just a fact.
“I mean, I looked at them last night and they’re hard to believe,” he continued glumly, without going into detail.
He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning the treatment of prisoners, insists that they “must at all times be protected… against insults and public curiosity”. This may number among the less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable. If you break them, you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes.
This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department, responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to put him away for the rest of his natural life.
- One Rule For Them…
U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters yesterday that “the American people need to understand that we’re talking about rape and murder here. We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience.” He did not elaborate.
U.S. soldiers and military police who were involved in making the infamous photos and videos are beginning to speak out, saying there were no rules other than breaking down prisoners.
“The job of an MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk,” Specialist Sabrina Harman, a military police officer, said in e-mail correspondence published today by The Washington Post.
Featured in the photo involving a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners, Spec. Harman, 26, is one of seven reservists charged with abuse. But in the e-mail she says that her unit took direction from Army intelligence officers and Central Intelligence Agency agents, and that “the Geneva Convention was never posted, and none of us remember taking a class to review it.”
Mr. Rumsfeld did not duck responsibility for the scandal, but rejected widespread calls to resign. “Needless to say, if I thought I could not be effective, I would resign in a minute,” the Pentagon chief said, adding that he will not quit “simply because people try to make a political issue out of it.
“These events occurred on my watch,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “As Secretary of Defence, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility. . . . To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.”
Mr. Rumsfeld said efforts would be made to offer compensation to Iraqis who suffered the abuse. He also announced that an inquiry would be held into the handling of the prison affair and said that not just those who perpetrated the acts but those who authorized or condoned them would be brought to justice.
It should not be necessary to point out that hospitality of this kind also contravenes the third Geneva convention, which prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”, as well as extra-judicial execution. Donald Rumsfeld’s department, assisted by a pliant media, has done all it can to suppress Jamie Doran’s film, while General Dostum has begun to assassinate his witnesses.
It is not hard, therefore, to see why the US government fought first to prevent the establishment of the international criminal court, and then to ensure that its own citizens are not subject to its jurisdiction.
- George Monbiot, One Rule For Them
“The pictures I’ve seen depict conduct, behaviour that is so brutal and so cruel and so inhumane that anyone engaged in it or involved in it would have to be brought to justice,” he said.
The scandal broke last week after CBS television broadcast photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and forced into simulated sexual positions by their smiling U.S. captors.
A military report into the abuse speaks of threats against some detainees and the sodomizing of others.
Six U.S. soldiers, members of the army reserves, have been charged in connection with the abuse at Abu Ghraib and face courts-martial.
Yesterday, the military also charged Private Lynndie England, the woman shown in photographs smiling and pointing at naked prisoners, with four counts, including assaulting detainees and committing an indecent act. Six officers of the reserve unit have been issued career-ending reprimands.
In the Washington Post article, Spec. Harman, who is accused of taking photographs and videotaping prisoners who were ordered to strip and masturbate, said prisoners were routinely stripped, searched and made to stand or kneel for hours.
“The person who brought them in would set the standards of whether or not to ‘be nice,’ ” she said. She said Army and intelligence officers “made the rules as they went.”
President George W. Bush has insisted he retains confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld, but Democratic presidential contender John Kerry said Mr. Bush must take ultimate responsibility for the scandal. “The chain of command goes all the way to the Oval Office,” he said while campaigning yesterday. “Harry Truman did not say, ‘The buck stops at the Pentagon.’ “
Mr. Rumsfeld conceded that he failed to adequately inform Mr. Bush and Congress about the seriousness of the abuse allegations, but denied there was a cover-up.
“The idea that this is a story that was broken by the media is simply not the fact,” he said, noting that the U.S. military had announced an investigation in January, two days after a soldier reported on the abuse to his superiors.
But he said that the scale of the problem was not evident until the photos were made public. “It is the photographs that give one the vivid realization of what actually took place,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He called the pictures “radioactive” and said if he had known what was in them sooner he would have made a public statement, rather than wait until they were televised.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said the abuse scandal has resulted in “a catastrophic crisis of credibility for our nation.”