W. is Clear: Rumsfeld Stays

Article for Ethics of Reporting Conflict May 14, 2004

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Two weeks since CBS's 60 Minutes 2 aired the graphic photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused and humiliated under US care at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, it appears Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has no intention of resigning and President George W. Bush will not remove Rumsfeld in spite of the outrage from senators, congress and the public.

After being interrupted in his opening statements to the Senate last Friday by protestors screaming, "War criminal, war criminal," Rumsfeld stated in regards to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, "I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility for them."

As more horrid images surface, what is in question is how systemic and high up the chain of command these abuses reach.

An Army Times report issued last Tuesday said the expediency of Specialist Jeremy Sivits' hearing next Wednesday, the first of the seven people indicted for abuse and misconduct, should not be seen as a show trial to quickly put the matter at rest.

Rumsfeld's spokesman Bryan Whitman maintains, "The policies of the United States and the defence department are consistent, in that we do not permit activities or interrogation procedures that are torturous or cruel and that all the techniques that are approved for use are within the law." For security reasons, Whitman said he cannot comment on any specific interrogation techniques employed in Iraq.

According to the current issue of Newsweek, senior Congressmen had briefings indicating that, "US interrogators were not necessarily going to stick with the Geneva Conventions in Iraq or elsewhere."

Of the seven people currently indicted for abuse from the 372nd MP Company, the highest ranking officer to face a court-martial is Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II who stated he was following orders and direction from military intelligence. Frederick's lawyer Gary Myers, one of the military defence attorneys for the My Lai cases during the Vietnam Conflict, told the journalist Sy Hersch, "Do you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?"

Twenty-four of the witnesses to appear for Spc. Sivits' court martial defence, including all his co-defendants and Brigadier General Janis Kaprinski in charge of the 800th MP Brigade which includes the 372nd MP Company, will not appear because they were dismissed for pleading the 5th Amendment or by being deemed too far away.

At his Senate hearing, Rumsfeld said he was "blindsided" by the CBS news broadcast because he was not aware of the graphic power of the photos, and although he had known about the pictures for months, he saw them for the first time on television.

The Army Times reported on May 7th that, "Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he asked CBS anchor Dan Rather in April to delay broadcasting the Abu Ghraib photos because he was concerned their public release would endanger American lives during military operations in Fallujah."

Senior military officers and President Bush insist that the pictures from Abu Ghraib represent the actions of a few and do not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole.

Provost Marshal Donald Ryder filed a report reviewing the operation of prisons in Iraq on November 5th, 2003. His findings concluded there were, "potential human-rights, training, and manpower issues, system-wide, that needed immediate attention," and addressed, "serious concerns about the tension between the missions of the military police assigned to guard the prisoners and the intelligence teams who wanted to interrogate them". However, no significant restructuring took place.

The recently filed report by Major General Antonio Taguba states, "Unfortunately, many of the systemic problems that surfaced during MG Ryder's Team's assessment are the very same issues that are the subject of this investigation. In fact, many of the abuses suffered by detainees occurred during, or near to, the time of that assessment." Taguba's report found that the commanders of the 800th MP Brigade did not instruct its personnel to set "favorable conditions" for interrogation, but, "that this was done at lower levels."

Military Intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors "actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses."

MG Taguba's report commends certain companies excellence, but illustrates there are major problems with the structure of the command system. Neither Military Intelligence nor Military Police, as with reconstruction by the US Agency for International Development and the Coalition Provisional Authority, appear to be in ultimate control.

A serious problem of accountability is brought to light by MG Taguba's report: the accountability of contract interrogators. In Iraq, they do not fall under military jurisdiction and the Iraqi courts to try them do not exist yet creating an environment to act with impunity.

Abu Ghraib was notorious as a torture center under Saddam Hussein. The pictures of US interrogation do not help the American plight to be seen as liberator.