Abu Ghraib, Whitewashed
New York Times EDITORIAL
March 11, 2005
It was good to learn yesterday that the
military commander in Iraq has issued definitive rules about how
to treat captives in American prison camps. Unfortunately, that
was about the only good news in the newest Pentagon report on
prisoner abuse, actually a 21-page summary of a larger, classified
study by the Navy inspector general of interrogation rules in
Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just consider that it took more than a
year after the military says it first learned of the nightmare
at Abu Ghraib to issue the new rules. And don't ask what they
are, because they're classified. The report spoke of the regulations
approvingly. But its author, Vice Admiral Albert Church III, now
director of the Navy staff, admitted yesterday that, well, he
had not actually read them.
This whitewash is typical of the reports
issued by the Bush administration on the abuse, humiliation and
torture of prisoners at camps run by the military and the Central
Intelligence Agency. Like the others, the Church report concludes
that only the lowest-ranking soldiers are to be held accountable,
not their commanders or their civilian overseers.
It conveniently ignores President Bush's
declaration that terrorists are not covered by the Geneva Conventions
and that Iraq is part of the war against terror. Mr. Bush later
said the conventions would cover Iraqi military prisoners, but
the Church report said military commanders in Iraq had never been
given guidance on handling prisoners, a vast majority of whom
were not soldiers. Still, the report tossed this off as merely
a "missed opportunity." It overlooked Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques for Guantánamo
that violated the Geneva Conventions. It glossed over the way
military lawyers who were drafting later rules were ordered to
ignore their own legal opinions and instead follow Justice Department
memos on how to make torture seem legal.
The Church report said that "none
of the pictured abuses at Abu Ghraib bear any resemblance to approved
policies at any level, in any theater." Admiral Church and
his investigators must have missed the pictures of prisoners in
hoods, forced into stress positions and threatened by dogs. All
of those techniques were approved at one time or another by military
officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld. Of course, no known Pentagon
policy orders the sexual humiliation of prisoners. But that has
happened so pervasively that it clearly was not just the perverted
antics of one night shift in one cellblock at Abu Ghraib.
The Church report said assessing the personal
responsibility of Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials had been
the job of another panel headed by a former defense secretary,
James Schlesinger. Well, not exactly. That group, appointed by
Mr. Rumsfeld, found "both institutional and personal responsibility
at higher levels" for Abu Ghraib. But the panel declined
to name names.
Who will? Not the Pentagon, clearly. The
Senate Armed Services Committee plans another hearing or two,
but that's inadequate. Congressional leaders could open a serious
investigation, but have shown no interest, although they are issuing
subpoenas on steroid use by baseball players.
We're not holding out much hope that the
White House will step into the breach because Mr. Bush has rewarded
many of the officials responsible for the prison policies - one
of them now serves as attorney general. Still, the only real solution
is for Mr. Bush to follow the American Bar Association's advice
and appoint an independent, bipartisan commission.