|May 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Who Is Most Responsible For The Abuse At Abu Ghraib Prison?
The Executive and Legislative branches of the United States Government are consumed by events that occurred some months ago in a tawdry detention center in Iraq operated by the U.S. led coalition events made even more notorious by recently released video evidence showing brutal and perverse maltreatment of Iraqi detainees at the hands of American military personnel.
The White House, the Pentagon, the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives all turned attention this week from routine business to a single-minded focus on "Abu Ghraib," Saddam Husseins epicenter for the torture and death of his political rivals, but now a jail operated by the U.S. Army, used for the detention and interrogation of suspected enemies of the Coalition, rounded up in U.S. military operations.
So far, the general public has not seen most of the reported hundreds of photos and videotapes held by the military, but enough have been leaked to news media, and subsequently broadcast and published worldwide, to engender universal disgust and anger at the conduct of American military police guards and interrogators who systematically harassed, humiliated and injured Iraqis who were hooded and stripped naked in the cells and corridors of Abu Ghraib. Perhaps most surprising is that the tormentors, all in Army uniform, gleefully posed for cameras in the midst of their victims.
The U.S. Army has announced that seven courts martial have been called to determine the guilt or innocence of low-ranking guards seen in the pictures. The first to face charges next week in Baghdad is Army Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits, whose image appears prominently in several pictures. He is a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit drawn from volunteers from Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. Additionally, several officers of the unit, including a female Army General, have been reprimanded and removed from command.
As far as the Pentagon is concerned, that is where the incident ends. As far as many in Congress and the press are concerned, that is where it begins. Nowhere is the case for wider military responsibility more forcefully articulated than in this weeks Army Times, a Gannet publication and the most widely read newspaper by Army personnel worldwide. In an editorial entitled, "A Failure of Leadership at the Highest Levels", it accuses the chain of command of "leadership failures from start to finish."
The Times specifically names Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as sharing in the responsibility for the scandal. Both testified before the Congress that they had not seen the pictures before they were broadcast by Sixty Minutes II, nor had they read the Armys months-old internal report, prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, before it had been leaked to The New Yorker Magazine. That report called the prisoner abuse systematic. The Army Times editorial pointed out that had it been in a battlefield situation, the top Pentagon leadership military and civilian would have been guilty of "a lack of situational awareness - a failure that amounts to professional negligence."
Calls for the Donald Rumsfelds ouster were checked this week by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom made public statements praising him, calling him "a courageous Secretary of Defense." Buzzards are still circling the Pentagon, however, based on the one word response that Rumsfeld himself made to the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked if he would consider resigning if he found that he was no longer effective. After a brief pause, he answered, "perhaps."
So the accusations and excuses are flying from every corner of official Washington.
Some see the lapses at Abu Ghraib as a training issue: Did the Army Reserve unit assigned to guard prisoners have the proper training before they were deployed to Iraq? Others say the pictured soldiers were clearly ordered by intelligence operatives to humiliate detainees as a means of "setting the conditions" for successful interrogation. One accusation focuses on Pentagon policy that failed to enforce applicable articles of the Geneva Convention defining the rights of prisoners of war, specifically prohibiting hooding, stripping and painful constraint.
Rarely has a Capitol Hill Senate hearing room seen so many silver stars on so many epaulets, as Army Generals sat for a grilling this week by a U.S. Senate still smarting from not being informed of the scandal until after it became public. The Senators want to know why the Army high command restricted and downplayed a summer 2003 report by the International Red Cross, detailing widespread abuse in Iraqi prisons under Coalition control. They also want to know if and when the rest of the pictures and videos are to be released to the public and they also want details of the six other investigations initiated by the Department of Defense, intended to cast light on one of the worst disgraces in U.S. military history.
The Pentagon has circled its wagons around its reluctance to share information with the Congress and general public. It cites its responsibility to "protect the evidence" in the court martial cases of the enlisted men and women now beginning and to avoid prejudicing on-going investigations. It is also concerned that further details and visuals of the abuse of Iraqi citizens will foment rage and attempts at retaliation against Americans on duty in the country. Military spokespersons point to Wednesdays news that Iraqi militants, who had kidnapped an American businessman in Baghdad, had executed him by decapitation, posting a video of the grisly event on the internet with captions justifying the act as retaliation for abuses inflicted on Iraqis by U.S. military personnel.
In Puerto Rico, the story gained added importance when news reports placed 130 soldiers from the U.S. Armys 301st Reserve Unit, based at Ft. Buchanan, at the Abu Ghraib prison since early March, considerably after the time that the abuses seen in the photos occurred. Sources told the Herald that the unit specializes in "the management of prisoner of war camps." The Associated Press reported that in 2003 Abu Ghraib was guarded by military police from the 770th Puerto Rico National Guard Unit, elements of which are still deployed in Iraq. No information is available if any Puerto Rican military or contractor personnel are the subject of an investigation.
This week Herald readers can register where they place the major blame for the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
Who do you think is ultimately culpable for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison?
Please vote above!