Friday, September 10, 2004

No Accountability on Abu Ghraib

The New York Times
September 10, 2004
No Accountability on Abu Ghraib

After months of Senate hearings and eight Pentagon investigations, it is obvious that the administration does not intend to hold any high-ranking official accountable for the nightmare at Abu Ghraib. It was pretty clear yesterday that Senator John Warner's well-intentioned hearings of the Armed Services Committee are not going to do it either.

James Schlesinger, who was picked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to head a civilian investigation of Abu Ghraib and seems determined to repay the favor, gave unhelpful testimony that included an incredible statement that there was no policy "that encourages abuse." He told that to the same senators who had heard earlier from a panel of generals that the Central Intelligence Agency was still refusing to account for its practice of hiding dozens of prisoners from the Red Cross. Mr. Rumsfeld personally approved that violation of the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties on at least one occasion.

At the hearing, Mr. Warner asked Mr. Schlesinger and Harold Brown, another former secretary of defense, to be specific about their report's talk of "institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels." Neither man had any intention of doing that.

Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam era, asked Mr. Schlesinger with evident exasperation: "Isn't there some accountability? Isn't there some responsibility?" Mr. Schlesinger managed to come up with the colonel who read the first Red Cross report on the abuse of prisoners in late 2003 and decided that it was not credible. As for high-ranking officers and civilians, he intoned, "careers will be negatively affected."

Senator Edward Kennedy tried again. He read a list of naval officers fired for minor infractions committed by those under their command and asked why the same high standards of responsibility should not apply to, say, Mr. Rumsfeld. Mr. Schlesinger, who had earlier offered the bizarre theory that "what constitutes 'humane treatment' lies in the eye of the beholder," replied that "it's more complicated" when it came to holding a high-ranking politician accountable. He said a man like Mr. Rumsfeld must be judged on his "full performance."

We agree, enthusiastically. And with due respect to Mr. Warner - who has bravely continued his hearings and seems willing to keep going for months more - the answers are in.

Mr. Rumsfeld gave President Bush the legal advice that led to the president's famous memo declaring that the United States could, at his discretion, suspend the Geneva Conventions in the "global war on terror," and that prisoners with the newly minted designation of "unlawful combatants" were not entitled to the conventions' protections. Mr. Rumsfeld authorized the use of brutal interrogation techniques at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, some of which he later rescinded. His war plans left the Army without enough forces to face the uprising that followed Mr. Bush's ludicrously premature "mission accomplished" photo-op. Those policies - which commanders were afraid to challenge - left 97 untrained military police guarding some 7,000 Iraqis at Abu Ghraib who were not considered prisoners of war.

Mr. Rumsfeld's staff sent the chief Guantánamo Bay jailer to Iraq. There, he gave Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was under immense pressure from Washington to get intelligence on the Iraqi insurgency, a rundown on how the military forced information out of prisoners at Guantánamo. General Sanchez used that briefing, and the logic of the president's memo on unlawful combatants, to authorize the use of dogs and other illegal interrogation methods. He later tried to rescind the order, but every investigation has shown that the notion that the rules had changed was already widespread in Iraq, as well as at American military prisons in Afghanistan.

Most broadly, Mr. Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General John Ashcroft, has led the administration's efforts to justify the use of brutal interrogation techniques in the name of fighting terrorism.

Late in the day of hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, offered a wry observation on how Mr. Rumsfeld's future had become wrapped up in Mr. Bush's campaign. "I guess we'll get the real answer to that after the election," he said.

Perhaps so, but that will be a year after the Red Cross first told the Army that prisoners were being brutalized at military detention centers all over Iraq, especially at Abu Ghraib. The American public, and the rest of the world, should not have to wait that long.