By Neil S. Friedman
Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Needs Justice Not Apologies
President Bush’s bungled Operation Iraqi Freedom has sustained another setback with graphic revelations of torture and sexual humiliation of native detainees at Abu Ghraib — the infamous prison where executions and acts of cold-blooded torture were administered to thousands of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s victims.
One of Bush’s motives for invading Iraq a year ago was to rid that desert nation of its ruthless dictator, so it’s terribly disturbing that American soldiers engaged in repulsive mistreatment to "soften" Iraqi prisoners, hoping they’d reveal some critical bit of information.
Regardless of one’s opinion of the war in Iraq or enduring rage about 9/11, Americans with a conscience have to be sickened by the shocking evidence presented thus far. When all is said and done, any investigations must lead to suitable punishment for everyone involved — from grinning soldiers in the pictures to the officers, civilian intelligence agents and others out of camera range who may have ordered, suggested or known about the cruel tactics.
Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have both publicly expressed disgust and apologized for the abuse. However, their words carry little significance until everyone in the chain of command is held accountable and, if warranted, brought to justice.
On Monday, the president expressed his steadfast support for Rumsfeld, saying, "You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror…You are doing a superb job."
This was in stark contrast from a week earlier when Bush reprimanded the secretary of defense for his failure to inform him about photographs of prisoner abuse before they were broadcast by CBS’ "60 Minutes II." The network actually withheld the story for two weeks at the request of General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, purportedly to allow investigators to pursue the matter before it became public knowledge.
Within days after the evidence was on television, Bush condemned the actions, then appeared on Arab television to appease the resurgence of resentment in the Middle East.
Appearing before a Congressional committee last Friday, Rumsfeld apologized and accepted responsibility for the abuses, but at times appeared more arrogant than contrite responding to some questions. So far, there’s no concrete evidence he had knowledge of the abuses until early this year, but he is at fault for keeping the president in the dark and ultimately culpable for the actions of his subordinates.
Despite the apologies, there’s no reason for inhumane treatment of detainees, whether in Iraq, Af-ghanistan or suspects tied to terrorism being held in Guantanamo, Cuba. At least one field commander and several human rights groups, including the Red Cross and Amnesty International, claim they alerted American military officials about prisoner abuse in Iraq months ago. Their now-valid complaints ob-viously fell on ears typically deaf to such charges.
One court martial is scheduled to begin next week with more likely to follow. Those charged with prisoner abuse in Iraq are likely to echo the customary responses uttered by those at Nuremberg and other military tribunals — they were following orders. That’s essentially what subordinates do — take orders — especially in a combat zone! However, it does not absolve them of their dreadful acts. Nevertheless, when it’s their turn to testify they should be forth-right and acknowledge what prompted their actions and from where their orders came, naming names, regardless of rank or status.
The Abu Ghraib scandal, amplified by grinning American soldiers brutalizing and degrading suspect Muslim prisoners, is the latest reminder that the Bush Administration is embedded in an unnecessary war that has cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars and has been mismanaged from the start.
Even if the images of Iraqi prisoner abuse prove to be an isolated aberration, resulting in a few rotten apples ultimately being held accountable, it’s going to take more than military justice and earnest apologies to restore faith in America’s blemished honor and questionable leadership.