Reports Place Blame At Top Levels
The time has come for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to leave his Pentagon post, either by dismissal or resignation.
Two separate reports this week make it clear that Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials were ultimately responsible for the sadistic abuse of prisoners in Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib.
A report by four-member panel headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger traced the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq to failures that went all the way up the chain of command in the Pentagon.
Another military report Wednesday said 27 persons attached to intelligence agencies, as well as four private contractors, participated in abuses, some tantamount to torture, of prisoners.
“We discovered serious misconduct and a loss of moral values,” said Army Gen. Paul Kern, head of the investigation. This gives lie to early Pentagon efforts to paint the prison abuses as the work of a handful of low-level MPs, acting out their frustrations.
The Kern report also noted that eight “ghost detainees” were concealed from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). One of them died in custody.
The origin of the scandal traces back to Feb. 2, 2002, when President George W. Bush abrogated the Geneva Conventions requiring humanitarian treatment of prisoners. Bush declared that those rules didn’t apply to the U.S. war against terrorism. Bush has been scrapping our international agreements since he came into office, but for this one he has paid dearly in terms of just plain decency.
When he canceled the Geneva accords, the U.S. focus was in Afghanistan, where American forces were rounding up al Qaida and the Taliban suspects.
Later that year, in December, Rumsfeld authorized ruthless interrogation practices against detainees rounded up in Afghanistan and held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Those approved practices included the use of dogs to terrify prisoners, forcing prisoners into prolonged, painful stress positions, stripping them naked, solitary confinement, shaving them and hooding them.
The train then completely left the tracks after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where American military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison adopted the same interrogation tactics used in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.
The photos provided the shocking evidence earlier this year, and the investigations, court martials and congressional hearings began.
Top military officials ignored the mistreatment of prisoners until the graphic photographs of naked prisoners piled in a pyramid at Abu Ghraib horrified the public.
Red Cross reports about prison abuses fell on deaf ears at the Pentagon until the administration was faced with exposure.
Several reviews of the military mistreatment of prisoners have been underway, but the Schlesinger panel was the first to assign any responsibility to the highest levels of the Pentagon.
“There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels,” the Schlesinger report said.
Schlesinger said the prison problems were “well known” and corrective actions “could have been taken and should have been taken.”
Human Rights Watch
Despite all of this, the report concluded that Rumsfeld and other senior leaders, including Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should not be forced to resign.
Since he is a Washington “establishment” figure who headed the Pentagon in the Nixon era, Schlesinger was not about to go any higher than a brigade commander to parcel out responsibility.
Schlesinger said Rumsfeld’s resignation would be “a boon to all of America’s enemies and consequently, I think that it would be a misfortune if it were to take place.”
Wrong. It would show the world that Americans are not afraid to topple leaders when the country is dishonored on their watch. For those who have lived under totalitarian rule, a challenge to the leadership could have dire consequences. But that’s not our system. In a democracy, public servants must be held accountable.
Rumsfeld should have thrown in the towel months ago for this scandal.
In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the Rumsfeld coterie bragged about the “shock and awe” of the planned U.S. invasion. The secretary has since lost some of his swagger and is no longer a TV rock star. As the gravity of the scandal gradually sunk in around the world, Rumsfeld has become virtually invisible to the public.
Rumsfeld stands indicted by the very panel that he appointed to assess responsibility. The fact that the Schlesinger panel veered sharply at the last curve and said Rumsfeld should keep his job can’t bury the reality that they traced the footprints right to Rumsfeld’s office.
It’s time for him to take responsibility for this scandal. It’s time for him to leave office.