Abu Ghraib: Another Timid Step


Yet another committee investigating Abu Ghraib has taken yet another timid step in assigning responsibility for the torture to the top of the Administration. Months after the initial revelations about the Admin’s cold and calculating search for legal loopholes in the Geneva Convention that would allow the US to torture prisoners for information (White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called the Convention ‘quaint’ and ‘irrelevant’) and its in-house support for torture as a tactic, the Schlesinger panel concludes that responsibility lies with Rumsfeld and the DoD.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 – For Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign over the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib would be a mistake, the four-member panel headed by James M. Schlesinger asserted Tuesday. But in tracing responsibility for what went wrong at Abu Ghraib, it drew a line that extended to the defense secretary’s office.The panel cited what it called major failures on the part of Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides in not anticipating and responding swiftly to the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq. On the eve of the Republican convention, that verdict could not have been welcome at the White House, where postwar problems in Iraq represent perhaps President Bush’s greatest political liability.

The report rarely mentions Mr. Rumsfeld by name, referring most often instead to the “office of the secretary of defense.” But as a sharp criticism of postwar planning for Iraq, it represents the most explicit official indictment to date of an operation that was very much the province of Mr. Rumsfeld and his top deputies.

A ‘failure’ is not the same thing as a ‘decision’. The panel is saying what the evidence compels it to say but putting it in a context that ignores some key decisions that suggest very strongly that Abu Ghaib was planned all along. A few of those questions:

***Why was Boykin not fired after his anti-Muslim/pro-fundamentalist Xtian comments?
***Why was Boykin put in charge of the Army’s prison system?
***Why did Rumsfeld allow Boykin to appoint MajGen Geoffrey Miller as head of the prison system in Iraq even though Miller’s use of torture techniques while he was in charge of Gitmo was an open secret and potential scandal?
***Why was Army Intelligence put in charge of the ‘interrogations’?
***Why was Gen Karpinski–and others in the theater–told not to interfere with them even though she was supposed to be in command at AG?
***Where–and who–did that order come from?

The Schlesinger panel’s criticism of Rumsfeld’s ‘failure to respond’ doesn’t connect any of these dots or answer any of those questions; it ducks altogether the thorny possibility that Rumsfeld didn’t ‘respond’ because it was a policy he knew all about and had in fact deliberately implemented. Instead it pretends that leaving Boykin and Miller in charge was somehow an accidental oversight. That’s quite an assumption given the intensity with which the DoD, DoJ, and BA hunted for legal rationalizations for the US to justify precisely what US interrogators later did at AG. It’s an incredible assumption given that Rumsfeld not only knew what had been going on at Gitmo under Miller but had publicly defended it.

The only way to avoid pointing the finger directly at the Bush Admin is by compartmentalizing all these separate findings and then making believe they’re totally unconnected to each other. Put them together and the inevitable conclusion is that Rumsfeld and the BA planned, developed, and implemented a specific policy; the pieces can’t be explained rationally any other way.

It is becoming, bit by bit, clearer and more inescapable that responsibility for the torture at Abu Ghraib belongs on the desk where Harry Truman said the buck stopped.

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