Mr. Rumsfeld's Responsibility
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; Page A22
The extraordinary power of the images of the abuse of Iraqi detainees should not prevent us from questioning Donald H. Rumsfeld's preposterous claim that words have no power. In his testimony before the Senate, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that, though he knew about the abuse, he did not really know about it until he saw photographs: "It is the photographs that gives one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don't do it."
What is not clear about the words in Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's report ["Probes of Detainee Deaths Reported," front page, May 5]: "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" or sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light?
H. PERRY CHAPMAN
Although Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at televised congressional hearings Friday ["Rumsfeld Takes Responsibility for Abuse," front page, May 8], he appeared to be more embarrassed about the publication of the photos on "my watch" than the actual abuse of detainees.
Asked why he did not inform President Bush about their existence sooner, Mr. Rumsfeld responded that he hadn't seen the photos himself until the night before. He also said, "I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive."
That leaves me with the impression that Mr. Rumsfeld judged that the problem could have been managed if the photos did not exist.
When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld sidestepped questions in congressional hearings by expressing a desire to protect the rights of junior enlisted personnel now facing court-martial charges, he fell back on the Pentagon's equivalent of "the lawyers made me do it."
Regrettably, Mr. Rumsfeld was not challenged on this. More important, he failed to demonstrate that he intends to use the tools available to him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to allow for a transparent and fair evaluation of responsibility of the disaster at Abu Ghraib.
If the secretary is serious about addressing this misfeasance and malfeasance, he should suspend the current court-martials, as well as the initiation of new charges, to ensure that officers making judgments about the actions of subordinates are not themselves potentially subject to disciplinary action when more information becomes known.
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