Seems that Rummy wasn’t issuing orders concerning stacking Iraqi prisoners in naked pyramids after all…
Obviously Abu Ghraib was bad, but I think the editorial is spot on in saying it didn’t implicate people up the chain of command, and that the Army did an excellent job of handling it.
Wall Street Journal Editorial
Abu Ghraib Accountability
April 27, 2005; Page A14
We’d have thought every American would be relieved to learn that 10 major inquiries, sworn statements from 37 high-level officials, and information gleaned from dozens of courts martial and criminal investigations have cleared most senior civilian and military leaders of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib scandal and other Iraq prisoner abuses. Instead, the latest Army report reaching this conclusion has induced further cries of whitewash.
This wailing says more about the accusers than about any facts that have emerged in the year since the scandal broke. The media and Congressional Democrats flogged the Abu Ghraib story for months throughout the 2004 election year, with a goal of stripping the Iraq War of moral authority and turning President Bush into another LBJ. But now that their worst chain-of-command conspiracy hypotheses haven’t panned out, they refuse to admit it.
Senator Ted Kennedy all but blew a gasket yesterday, essentially accusing both the U.S. military and Bush Administration of moral perfidy. “Our nation will continue to be harmed by the reports of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, the failure by top officials to take action, and the abandonment of our basic rules and traditions on human rights,” he said. He even stooped to the moral-equivalence canard that some in the U.S. chose “to stoop to the level of the terrorists” and “deserve to be held fully accountable.”
Unpacking so many falsehoods takes more space than we have. But let’s review the speed and seriousness with which Abu Ghraib was handled, which does the U.S. military credit by any standard: The abuse reports went up the chain of command on January 13 last year; within a day an Army criminal probe had started. Two days after that, Central Command issued a press release notifying the world of that investigation; on March 20 it was announced in Baghdad that criminal charges had been brought against six of the soldiers involved. A month earlier, meanwhile, Major General Antonio Taguba had completed an internal investigation of what had happened. This is all before the infamous photos were leaked to the press one year ago this week.
Recall as well what Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits, the first of the Abu Ghraib offenders to face a court martial, said in his sworn statement of the photographed abuses: “Our command would have slammed us. They believe in doing the right thing. If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay.” No one has since proven otherwise. Convicted abuse ringleader Charles Graner tried the “just-following-orders” defense. But this January a jury of his peers in an Army court martial rejected it, handing him a 10-year sentence.
The independent inquiry headed by former Defense Secretary Jim Schlesinger – whose Cabinet career included a stint in the Carter Administration – likewise concluded last summer that the Abu Ghraib abuses weren’t related to interrogations at all. That should have put the nail in the coffin of the theory that high-level Bush Administration discussions about techniques for handling al Qaeda detainees somehow resulted in the abuses in Iraq.
Yes, there were abuses in Iraq beyond what was pictured at Abu Ghraib, but abuses happen in war and in civilian prisons too. No evidence has been produced to support allegations that the abuses were “systematic” or that they were inspired or condoned by superiors up the chain of command. As Mr. Schlesinger also noted, by any statistical measure – such as the rate of reported abuse incidents per detainee – treatment of detainees in the overall war on terror has been exemplary. In short, the so-called “torture narrative” that was so hyped by the media last year was entirely false.
Sometimes we wonder if proponents of this torture-cum-whitewash accusation have ever stopped to consider the improbable nature of the coverup they are now suggesting. Mr. Schlesinger and other investigators would all have to be lying. And where are the whistleblowers? There would have been a widespread outcry in the military if senior brass and civilians really were trying to shift blame for abuse onto the lower ranks.
Yet the only military people claiming that they are taking some kind of fall are the convicted Graner and the former Abu Ghraib Commander, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was blamed for weak leadership in the original Taguba report – which, by the way, remains a thorough and insightful account of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib.
The salient and remarkable truth here is that America has punished its own for the Abu Ghraib abuses; and it has done so even before Saddam and his henchmen have faced justice for the horrors they propagated in that same prison. More than a few good soldiers have had their careers tarnished by the media and Democratic innuendo that they somehow condoned human rights abuses. They deserve an apology. After all the evidence to the contrary, continuing to allege systematic prisoner abuse – and a coverup – by the U.S. military is itself shameful.