I guess in these scenarios it is really hard to find the really responsible. As I have stated in many threads, and following the line of argument of The Economist (which supports the war, but criticises Rumsfeld for how it is conducted and especially the treatment of detainees), I don’t believe Rumsfeld or Bush “ordered” the abuses.
But they did set the stage by creating 2nd class prisoners, with less rights than others. That is indeed a questionable, but not really punishable thing - and socialpsychological literature is full of examples for how wrong this can go (check Zimbardo or even Goldhagen for example).
Are they legally responsible? No. And if the article is correct, I am relieved, as it seems to indicate that the checks and balances put into the system seem to be working.
Are they morally responsible? In my book, yes: Political responsibility exceeds legal responsibility - politicians are indeed responsible for how the policies they set, are conducted.
In that sense, I would find them “guilty”. I found it quite interesting that alledgedly Rumsfeld had offered his resignation more than once during the scandal (which was alledgedly denied by Bush) - given the fact that I don’t like the man, I would have to concede that he perhaps tried to take a responsibly, which he himself felt was his.
I appreciate your serious reply on the topic.
I definitely think moral and legal culpability are different things. There’s no evidence of any top-down orders for legal culpability, 100meters’ hysteria notwithstanding. No one has had serious criticism of Major General Taguba’s findings and report. However, the question of being responsible for creating an atmosphere in which such actions were more probable is another question.
I think that to get to the heart of that matter you’d have to define a baseline of what is actually acceptable practice during war time – it cannot possibly be perfection, or realy even close to the acceptable standard for civilians in peace time, just given the nature of what is going on around at the time and what gets bumped higher on the priority scale – and then look at the resources that were available to be partitioned among the various priorities. Of course I won’t argue that nothing could have been done that would have prevented the abuses – that would be ridiculous. There is almost always something that could have been done in any such situation that would have significantly reduced the probability of its occurrence – the question, in my mind, is whether it would have made sense at the time to have taken that action (whatever it may have been), given competing concerns.
In this case, you have brought up making two classes of prisoners – I would want to know why they did so – what harm they were trying to avoid or strategic objective they were trying to achieve – and then see at what level the decision was made, and whether other things would have necessarily been shorted resources in order to do things differently (I assume it’s a zero-sum game, at least in the relatively short/medium terms).
Overall, I think moral culpability is an increasingly difficult question as you move further and further away from the people who did the abuse, or who had direct supervisory roles.
Now, political responsibility is another matter entirely removed from both moral and legal responsibility. Political responsibility, in my mind, is all about giving people someone important to blame. Kind of a “blame the boss” mentality that is sometimes perfectly right, and sometimes misplaced. Basically, the guy at the top (or close enough to the top to be really important) is politically repsonsible simply because he was at the top of whatever organization had the problem. In that case, I’ll definitely grant you that Rumsfeld was politically responsible.