What’s going on

by Ted on April 28, 2005

I’ve got some long quotes about the decision of the Army inspector general to clear all but one of the top officers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal of all charges under the fold.

Phil Carter has a long, erudite post that’s a sterling example of the potentional of blogging.

We trust commanders to do the right thing, and to make sure their units do the right thing. And we impose a very high legal standard on them when they fail to do so — we hold them liable for the actions of their subordinates — both for what they knew about, and what they should have known about as commanders…

Today’s news represents both an abandonment of this principle and the abdication of responsibility by the Defense Department and the Army. The question is not whether these officers actually directed the abuses or participated in them; rather, the question is how they acted as generals and leaders to facilitate the abuses, fail to prevent them, or fail to stop them. That is the standard to which commanders are held, and that is the standard which is not being enforced here today. I dare say that this story sends a staggeringly bad message to the soldiers and junior leaders now on the front lines: we will hold you, your sergeants and your lieutenants responsible for their actions, but we will not hold your colonels and generals responsible for theirs. It is hard to see how that message can possibly support the “good order and discipline” which is so essential for maintaining an effective fighting force…

Remember the Fay-Jones report? It was an exhaustive review of U.S. military intelligence activities in Iraq that was published in August 2004. Together with the Schlesinger and the Taguba reports, the Fay-Jones report provided a mind-numbing catalog of detail about the abuses which took places in Iraq. But did you know that the Fay-Jones report also produced a verdict with respect to the command responsibility of the senior officers involved?… LTG Jones minces no words later in his report — on page 30, he pins direct responsibility on specific officers within the chain of command who deserve blame:

(c) (U) I find that LTG Sanchez, and his DCG, MG Wojdakowski, failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations. As previously stated, MG Wojdakowski had direct oversight of two new Brigade Commanders. Further, staff elements of the CJTF-7 reacted inadequately to some of the Indications and Warnings discussed above. However, in light of the operational environment, and CJTF-7’s under-resourcing and unplanned missions, and the Commander’s consistent need to prioritize efforts, I find that the CJTF-7 Commander and staff performed above expectations, in the over-all scheme of OIF.

Despite these generals’ findings, none of the officers responsible for facilitating these abuses will face criminal charges. Or, put another way, the Army IG has wholly disregarded the record evidence before him to arrive at an arbitrary and capricious decision that the senior Army leaders involved should face no legal consequences for their actions. What kind of message does that send to our junior military leaders? What kind of message does that send to the world?

Reed Brody at the American Prospect has more.

The most recent such whitewash came from the Army inspector general. According to findings leaked to the press, his report absolved four of the five officers overseeing prison operations in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, including Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top U.S. soldier in Iraq. Yet we now know (although he misled Congress about it) that Sanchez gave the troops at Abu Ghraib the formal green light to use dogs to terrorize detainees (“exploit Arab fear of dogs” were his exact words), and they did, and we know what happened. And while mayhem went on under his nose for three months, Sanchez didn’t step in to halt it…

Unless the higher-level officials who approved or tolerated crimes against detainees are also brought to justice, all the protestations of “disgust” at the Abu Ghraib photos by President Bush and others will be meaningless. Indeed, if there is no real accountability for these crimes, for years to come the perpetrators of atrocities around the world will point to the United States’ treatment of prisoners to deflect criticism of their own conduct.

My emphasis.

Scrivner’s Error has tried to tone down his remarks to a publicly acceptable level of venom (via Discourse.net.)

The IG’s report presents a truly disturbing contrast with other recent international-law and law-of-war activities, particularly including the ongoing trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic can at least rationalize (although not justify) that he was participating in a centuries-long struggle between ethnic groups. In turn, this leads to an even more cynical view of the US refusal to participate in the ICJ. What this really says, more than anything else, is that our whitewashes are morally and ethically acceptable, but nobody else’s are, and most particularly that anyone else who ever questions the results of our disciplinary process (or the lack thereof) has no right to do so—primarily because they’re not ‘murikans. There are more horrible historical examples of the consequences of this attitude than I can begin to name.

Glenn Reynolds links to the same Phil Carter post, but has a different take on it:

(Phil Carter) also says there’s been a failure of responsibility over Abu Ghraib, though I suppose that’s not entirely surprising given the way it has been politicized.

The second link goes to some bog-standard Ted Kennedy-bashing. I’m not a law professor, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how Democratic opposition to torture led to the decision of the Army inspector general. Let’s say that I describe Democratic opposition in the most insulting terms. Here goes:

The Democrat’s opposition to so-called “torture” is a transparent, craven attempt to dishonor the brave men and women of the Armed Forces. Our soldiers have to fight the battle against terrorism on two fronts: not only do they face the bullets and bombs of our Islamofascist foes in the field, they face the smears of the party of Jane Fonda at home. What would Harry Truman think of his party if he could see Ted Kennedy attacking decorated generals for their attempts to keep us safe by (gasp) gathering information from terrorists!

(If I keep that up for 800 words, I get an automatic column at TownHall.) Now. Let’s accept for a moment, that Democratic opposition to torture is opportunistic, disengenuous, and/or much ado about nothing. Am I misrepresenting Glenn, or does he imply that the Army would have held its officers responsible for torture conducted under their watch if only the Democrats had been quieter? How is that supposed to work? Why would the Army treat the Abu Ghraib case with more accountability but for the Congressional hearings and the anti-torture speeches of Democratic politicians? What’s the mechanism?

I’m serious. We have some very smart conservative commentors; let me have it.

Despite his professed opposition to torture, Reynolds seemed much more interested in the prospect that Democratic opposition to torture was a political opening for Republicans. Again, we saw the familiar Kaus-esque sight of a right-leaning pundit enthusiastically rooting against the party whose values he purports to share.

I caught a few minutes of Limbaugh when I was out running errands today and my sense is that the GOP is thrilled with the idea of Congressional hearings in which Democrats can be characterized as soft on terror. It’s the old “soft on criminals” routine revisited. How did that work out again?

Limbaugh, of course, thinks that the whole “torture” thing is a joke. I could make a list of people I’d trust less to analyze the Abu Ghraib scandal, but it’d be a short one. Read this.

Glenn went on to protest that while he, personally, was opposed to torture, he didn’t want the Democrats to turn it into a political issue. He also protested that the lines between acceptable coersive interrogations and torture were being intentionally blurred. (For a brief refresher, the Taguba report included reports of:

* Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet;
* Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee;
* Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;
* Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.

Blurry, you see.)

I turn to The Poor Man:

You don’t want a partisan battle. I don’t want one either – that’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want you to actively oppose the Gonzales nomination and the legitimization of extra-legal torture. I want Republicans to fight against this damned thing so it stops and never happens again. There will be no ratification of torture if both sides oppose it. But if we don’t come together on this, and if it turns into partisan fight, and if it ends up validating the President’s supra-legal authority to torture who he pleases, the fault will not lie with those who tried to stop it. The blame will be on those who excused it, and on those who, while claiming opposition, stood around and did nothing.




P ONeill 04.28.05 at 3:58 pm

Not news of course that Reynolds is just a pure spinner on this one. There’s another inconsistency — his claim about why he couldn’t take a position on torture when Abu Ghraib was an issue was because there was an election coming up and that the issue had been “politicized.” But now there’s no election for another 18 months and it’s still “politicized.” Perhaps taking a position now might hurt Bush in opinion polls?


Scott 04.28.05 at 4:15 pm

If the Dems had been silent, then GOPers could condem torture without having to commit the crime of agreeing with Dems, and thus siding with the terrorists who are trying to kill us all.

Saying the US Govt was wrong is bad enough, but saying Dems are right is unacceptable, so the Dems should shut up about it. You can’t ask the GOP to do anything that would cost them votes and so make us less safe from terror.


(Note to readers: I’m being sarcastic)


David All 04.28.05 at 7:45 pm

I agree that Abu Ghraib was a shocking atrocity. What is more disturbing is the current cover up and whitewash to protect all officers higher then the Brig Gen. who was in command of the prison. Most disturbing question is did what went on at Abu Ghraib more brutal then in other prisons the US has set up since Sept.11th, including Guantamino, or is it typical of Guantamino and the other military prisons involved in the war against Islamic Terror?

Just because calling these prisons an American Gulag are overblown, does not make this any less of a scandel.

PS: Teddy Kennedy is the first Democrat I recall talking about AbuGhraib, seriously. Only Senators who have been pushing the investigation prior to this have been dissident Republicans, Sen. John Warner, John McCain and Chuck Hagel, with little if any support from their democratic collegues.


Mill 04.28.05 at 8:08 pm

I think Scott is actually exactly right. If the Democrats had kept quiet, sane Republicans could have spoken out against torture without being considered all… _Democratic_.

I sincerely believe that that is the logic at work here. (The fact that it is on the moral level of “If my wife didn’t keep nagging me all the time, I wouldn’t have to beat her” notwithstanding.)


Katherine 04.28.05 at 10:58 pm

“Teddy Kennedy is the first Democrat I recall talking about AbuGhraib, seriously. Only Senators who have been pushing the investigation prior to this have been dissident Republicans, Sen. John Warner, John McCain and Chuck Hagel, with little if any support from their democratic collegues.”

This is flatly false. There have been many attempts at supboenas, all turned down on party line votes. On every subpoena vote, on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales–zero Republicans have broken ranks. Ted Kennedy has been tireless, but Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin have been every bit as dedicated and probably more effective. There are House and Senate bills right now banning extraordinary rendition–both have zero Republican cosponsors. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate intelligence committee ranking minority member has requested hearings on CIA interrogation practices. The chair of the intelligence committee won’t even permit a vote on whether to hold hearings. Rockefeller took the unusual step of making a floor speech on the subject, but of course he got nowhere. Dick Durbin has gotten a few amendments through the Senate–once there’s a floor vote it tends to be unanimous–but they are always stripped out in conference. On Abu Ghraib itself, all the committee chairs said they were postponing subpoenas to see if they couldn’t get an agreement on what documents to release–then when the administration flatly refused, they said the issue was dead. They said they wanted to wait for the military’s internal investigations to conclude & the elections before scheduling hearings–and they now say, the military has proved it’s only a few bad apples; the scandal is over; why are you beating a dead horse?

The Democrats haven’t been as vocal as I like, ESPECIALLY Kerry & Edwards during the campaign, but some of them are working so hard on this, and they’re getting better and better. The Republicans–at best, like Graham or Hagel or McCain, they ask a few real questions about the hearings, but when it comes to a vote….they follow orders.


David All 05.02.05 at 5:33 pm

Thanks Katherine, I was not aware of the earlier actions that had been taken by Senator Kennedy and other Democrats. God Bless them, because what they are doing is definitly unpopular.

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