June 19, 2008
Predictions, Please

I beg your indulgence for a rant, intended to provoke you to respond to some blog-poll questions at the end.

The price of honesty

You remember Antonio Taguba, right? The only person I can immediately think of who came out of the whole Abu Ghraib thing looking good. As Froomkin says,

In his 2004 report on Abu Ghraib, then-Major General Anthony Taguba concluded that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.” He called the abuse “systemic and illegal.” And, as Seymour M. Hersh reported in the New Yorker, he was rewarded for his honesty by being forced into retirement.

Now, in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report based on medical examinations of former detainees, Taguba adds an epilogue to his own investigation.

taguba.jpgSeymour Hersh’s New Yorker profile of Taguba was impressive. Antonio grew up in a Catholic home with a strong sense of what he says is “above all, integrity in how you lived your life and practiced your religion.” His father was drafted into the Phillipine Scouts, captured by the Japanese, and survived the Bataan Death March. His mother, who spent most of the war in Manila living across the street from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, told stories about prisoners who were bayonetted arbitrarily or had their fingernails pulled out. When he was eleven his family moved to Hawaii, where his father retired from the military to work on the logistics of preparing units for deployment to Vietnam.

When Antonio was handed the Abu Ghraib investigation, because they needed a major general to investigate a lieutenant general, he realized he was well and truly screwed: “If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose.” Sure enough.

That’s not abuse, that’s torture

Thing was, he couldn’t deny the facts without dumping his upbringing, his honor and integrity and truthfulness, as well; and he wasn’t as facile at compartmentalization as his colleagues. One lieutenant general refused Taguba’s requests to look at the Abu Ghraib pictures (WARNING, graphic depictions of violence): “I don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”

Taguba also knew that senior officials in Rumsfeld’s office and elsewhere in the Pentagon had been given a graphic account of the pictures from Abu Ghraib, and told of their potential strategic significance, within days of the first complaint. On January 13, 2004, a military policeman named Joseph Darby gave the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) a CD full of images of abuse. Two days later, General Craddock and Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, the director of the Joint Staff of the J.C.S., were e-mailed a summary of the abuses depicted on the CD. It said that approximately ten soldiers were shown, involved in acts that included:
Having male detainees pose nude while female guards pointed at their genitals; having female detainees exposing themselves to the guards; having detainees perform indecent acts with each other; and guards physically assaulting detainees by beating and dragging them with choker chains.
No one ever tells me anything

Rumsfeld claimed to Taguba the day before testifying to Congress that he’d followed the hear-no-evil see-no-evil strategy.rumsfeld.jpg

Here I am,” Taguba recalled Rumsfeld saying, “just a Secretary of Defense, and we have not seen a copy of your report. I have not seen the photographs, and I have to testify to Congress tomorrow and talk about this.” As Rumsfeld spoke, Taguba said, “He’s looking at me. It was a statement.”

At best, Taguba said, “Rumsfeld was in denial.” Taguba had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through several channels at the Pentagon and to the Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, which ran the war in Iraq. By the time he walked into Rumsfeld’s conference room, he had spent weeks briefing senior military leaders on the report, but he received no indication that any of them, with the exception of General Schoomaker, had actually read it. (Schoomaker later sent Taguba a note praising his honesty and leadership.)

Not among the poll questions following this rant is whether Rumsfeld is the most disgraceful person ever to hold the office of Secretary of Defense (including his predecessors, the more accurately named Secretaries of War). The implementation of torture as a policy of the United States government has dropped our moral standing below that of our opponents in most of our conflicts, and no amount of corruption can top that.

The obvious question is, what we will do about it? The Senate investigation has shown that the Bush administration initiated the use of torture. Consistent claims that the initiative came from field commanders, and the actions in the prisons were those of a few bad apples, have been shown to be what we knew all along they were in fact: lies.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
What will happen?

So here are the promised/dreaded poll questions.

  • Was the Bush administration honest with American citizens about its reasons for invading Iraq?

  • Does the responsibility for the torture of detainees lie in the offices of the President and the Vice President?

  • Did the Bush administration violate laws prohibiting the government from eavesdropping on American citizens?

  • Do you agree with Antonio Taguba that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes”?

  • Which of the following outcomes do you think is most likely?
    • History won’t be as harsh on the Bush administration as we are.
    • History, possibly even near-term history, will condemn the actions of the Bush administration, but no one, or at least no senior official, will be punished for the abuses.
    • Congress will hold hearings resulting in impeachment actions or providing information for indictments for war crimes.

  • Have you made your views on this subject known to your Representative and your Senators?

To say that this is not a scientific poll is tautological, of course, but there it is.


Posted by Chuck Dupree at June 19, 2008 01:33 AM
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Outcomes should include a war crimes trial at the Hague.

Posted by: Michael on June 19, 2008 5:43 AM

The amazing part is that he ever made major general in the first place. Time to take another look at those promotion boards.

Actually the military has been full of welcome surprises lately. An important part of the pushback against the White House torture boys has come from military lawyers.

Posted by: Red Tide on June 19, 2008 5:53 PM

Not only the military, but the CIA as well.

We won't invade Iran, regardless of what the chickenhawks try, because the military brass have read H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty and they don't want to repeat that particular history. That's not a trivial service they're performing for the country — another example of checks and balances in action.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on June 19, 2008 9:27 PM
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