(credit: Doug Mills/New York Times)
Donald Rumsfeld’s testimony (for a full transcript of the entire hearing visit washingtonpost.com) yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee was uncharacteristic Rummy. Contrite (some of the time), apologetic (some of the time), respectful (some of the time) and lacking in smirky, know-it-all attitude. But Rummy knows his job and legacy as a public servant is on the line. And maybe at the end of the line, for that matter. It was put his tail between his legs and crawl (but only up to a point) or face ignominious dismissal from a President who hates to fire even his toadies.
But when you really examine Rumsfeld’s and Myers’ testimony and questioning from some of the Committee members, a pathetic, even craven picutre emerges. Many of the things Rumsfeld said might appear benign or even benevolent on their face, but these statements concealed the utter hypocrisy behind them.
Yes, he mentioned that he was trying to devise a method of paying Iraqis who suffered abuse. Note he said “trying,” not that he was doing it. But think about this–when an Afghan’s family is killed by an errant U.S. bomb they MIGHT pay the survivors a couple of hundred bucks. The same thing will happen with the Iraqi survivors of Abu Ghraib. What this means is that Rummy is trying to buy his way out of a sordid mess. There aren’t enough U.S. dollars to get him out of this one, I’m afraid.
Note in his testimony, Rummy chose to focus a little on the U.S. military perpetrators of this abuse. But he really went to town about Spl. Draper, the guy who reported the abuse and the dirty pictures to his CO, who then reported it to military criminal investigators. His point was to say to America and the Arab world: “See the system works.” But there are a few key points that he leaves out of the deliberation. If the prison system had been working properly, you would not have needed any military heroes to uncover this mess.
Then Rummy goes on to trumpet the “exemplary” behavior of the military who, in the person of Gen. Kimmitt, announced “to the wide world” an investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuse. What he leaves out is that in January, Kimmitt made a terse announcement that there would be an investigation of possible abuse at a U.S. detention facility. That is NOT a candid, clear and full statement of what the situation was. It is more deception and concealment than anything else.
Then, why did it take Sy Hirsh to bring the scandal fully to light last month? Why didn’t Rummy himself and his generals bring it to the President, Congress and the American people’s attention in January or February. Rummy is a idiot if he thought that this event would “just blow over” or that it wasn’t important or explosive enough to merit everyone’s attention. He showed appallingly bad judgment and there’s only one response appropriate for failing both his President and his nation: resignation.
If he had only had the good sense and flexibility (not qualities he’s known for) to see ahead to the consequences of his policy of benign neglect on this issue and instead had chosen to make a full disclosure himself of the matter. Things would undoubtedly be quite different now for him. Sure, there would’ve been a scandal. But at least he could say that he ‘owned’ it right from the beginning.
Speaking of resignation, he seemed to acknowledge the possiblity in an interchange chronicled in the New York Times,
Rumsfeld Accepts Blame and Offers Apology in Abuse:
Mr. Rumsfeld admitted he had “given a lot of thought to” since the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison became public.
“Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I’d resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it.”
Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, pressed Mr. Rumsfeld on whether his resignation might not help cauterize the wounds to America’s image.
“Even though you weren’t personally involved in the underlying acts here, would it serve to demonstrate how seriously we take the situation — and therefore help to undo some of the damage to our reputation — if you were to step down?” Mr. Bayh asked.
Mr. Rumsfeld replied tersely, “That’s possible.”
Another thing that enrages me about Gen. Myers statements on this issue is that he’s made a special point of saying several times to the media (and again during the hearing) that he still has not read Maj. Gen. Taguba’s report on the Abu Ghraib incident. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he did not go too far into the incident before it became public because he did not want to prejudice the case against the accused American soldiers and give the defense ammunition to say that he’d cast judgment before trial. I assume that’s why Myers is saying he’s not read the report. Further, Rumsfeld, while admitting he knew about the scandal, says he hadn’t seen any of the photographs until they were revealed by Hirsh nor had he read the report either (“Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not see the 53-page internal Army report on the abuses that was leaked to the press until Monday” from the Toledo Blade). I don’t know whether this is an outright lie or the truth. But if it’s the truth then to me it’s further grounds to fire him. Rumsfeld has as good as admitted that while he was at the wheel of the Titanic before it crashed, he refused to read the navigation charts or look at the radar panel. What kind of skipper is that?
If both the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs have not read the only document which fully lays out the scandal, then how can they tell the American people what happened? I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy this excuse. If a scandal like this happened on my watch, I’d make damn sure I knew everything about it from top to bottom. If you say you don’t want to know everything about it in order to preserve “plausible deniability” then you’re a horse’s ass as far as I’m concerned. What did he think–that he was going to get away with merely blaming the evildoers and separate their behavior from his own? That dog just won’t hunt.
Rumsfeld’s and the military’s final bit of hypocrisy concerns the Geneva Conventions. The Bush Administration has made a point of refusing the accept the application of the Convention to our suspected terrorist detainees, whether in Guantanamo or Iraq. Rumsfeld himself affirmed this position regarding Al Qaeda detainees in 2002. But now all of a sudden with their backs against the wall and their reputation in tatters, they now agree that the Convention does apply (at least to the Iraqis). Well, well–how the tide has turned. Now the Convention is a useful crutch so they embrace it.
This portion of Rumsfeld’s testimony was perhaps the most disingenuous and enraging:
however terrible the setback, this [incident] is also an occasion to demonstrate to the world the difference between those who believe in democracy and human rights and those who believe in rule by the terrorist code.
We value human life; we believe in their right to individual freedom and the rule of law.
Right. How can Rumsfeld dare talk about rape, murder and torture by U.S. military personnel in the same breath as our belief in democracy and human rights?? It’s a travesty. How can he dare say he or the U.S. military (or the Bush Administration for that matter) values human life, individual freedom and the rule of law? Sure, they value these things for most American citizens. But if you’re an Iraqi or even a Muslim different standards apply and we’ve seen this time and time again, not just in Abu Ghraib.
Most of the members of the Committee were absolute wimps in their questioning. Not one called for his resignation. Bayh’s comment above was the most forthright on this issue and it was phrased so obliquely as to have little power or passion. This is why the Democrats are in such a sorry state nationally. This is why Howard Dean resonated so much during the primaries. We need a presidential candidate and Senate opposition that is going to OPPOSE, not acquiesce. I don’t know what they’re waiting for. The American people–and I believe many Republicans as well–are rapidly turning against this war. Where is the Democratic party? AWOL, that’s where.
Senator Warner, the committee’s chairman, gave an opening statement that was so deferential towards the witnesses and the military that there was no hope that anything substantial would come of the hearing. He called on all committee members to remember during their questioning that the world was watching them and expecting them to honor our Armed Forces and not to besmirch their reputation before the world, and especially our enemies.
I’m sorry but this is ridiculous. What this hearing cried out for was tough love, not deference. We’ll never put this scandal into perspective if no one in authority is really willing to confront what happened and take all necessary measures to ensure it won’t and can’t happen again.