So it wasn’t just a bunch of renegade soldiers after all. This should come as no surprise.
Two reports issued this week conclude that responsibility for the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison extends beyond the soldiers who committed the abuses. The reports back what the accused soldiers have said all along, despite the Bush administration’s efforts to portray them as having acted entirely on their own.
One report finds that military intelligence officers either participated in the abuse, which sometimes included out-and-out torture, or solicited military police to do so. The other report assigns indirect responsibility to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top military commanders in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The reports, one by the Army and one by an independent commission headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, describe a chaotic situation in which prison commanders were inadequately supervised, were given instructions that frequently changed, were overwhelmed by a growing insurgency and a rapidly swelling prison population, and were under heavy pressure to extract intelligence.
It was a formula for disaster, and disaster is what resulted.
What should be done about it? The Army report recommends punishment for the top two military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib. The independent panel recommends a sweeping overhaul of U.S. policies and procedures for interrogating prisoners in the war against terrorism. Officials should embrace both sets of recommendations.
Human Rights Watch
Neither report calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation or dismissal. Schlesinger went so far as to assert that a Rumsfeld resignation “would be a boon for all of America’s enemies.”
That’s doubtful. Rumsfeld’s attitudes and policies have made a mess of post-war operations in Iraq, and not just at Abu Ghraib. It’s highly unlikely, though, that President Bush will ever see enough or be pressured enough to demand the resignation of a Cabinet member on whom he relies heavily.
Still, this is an administration that says it places high value on personal responsibility, so there should at least be a trip to the woodshed. The abuses that occurred on Rumsfeld’s watch were egregious. They have severely damaged America’s image as a model democracy, swelled the ranks of its enemies, made the war against terrorism harder to win and disgraced all Americans in the eyes of the world.
Rumsfeld’s arrogance is to blame for much of what has gone wrong in Iraq. A trip to the woodshed is probably better than he deserves.