Friday, May 27, 2022 |
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• Prisoner abuse:
This is a time for Americans to show the world what makes us different from the al-Qaida terrorists who beheaded Nick Berg and claimed they were acting for the “dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib” prison.
As angry and sickened as we are at the barbaric murder and the exploitative way that al-Qaida has linked it to the prison scandal, we must not be deterred from squarely confronting the Abu Ghraib abuse.
Yet the commitment of some senators to the Abu Ghraib inquiry was wavering even before the release of the blood-curdling video.
At Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was “more outraged by the outrage than . . . by the treatment” of the prisoners. “. . . These prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we are so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.”
To his credit, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., walked out of the hearing and told reporters that Mr. Inhofe was off base. Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prison, has been a voice of reason on the prison abuse crisis. He has called for the prompt release of all photos and videos to the public.
Jim Talent, R-Mo., was not as offensive as Mr. Inhofe but set a disappointingly partisan tone. Mr. Talent made a point of the fact that the military police unit involved in the abuse had sloppy training, which he blamed on Army budget cuts made by the Clinton administration.
Mr. Talent is right on one point. The guards at Abu Ghraib were poorly trained. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote the Army’s frank report on the abuse, testified Tuesday that the military police at the prison had virtually no training in handling prisoners or in abiding by the Geneva Conventions.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the Bush administration tried to undercut Gen. Taguba’s testimony by saying that tactical control of the Abu Ghraib prison had been turned over to a military intelligence colonel. Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, disagreed with Gen. Taguba.
The two men also disagreed on whether it was appropriate for military police to set the conditions for interrogations by intelligence officers. Gen. Taguba said it was not; Mr. Cambone said it was.
These issues are important because the instances of abuse followed a visit to the prison by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been dispatched by Mr. Cambone to improve intelligence collection from the prisoners. Gen. Miller, who now heads the prison, recommended that military police set “the condition for the successful interrogation and exploitation” of prisoners. Gen. Taguba suggested that this advice may have led to the atmosphere conducive to the abuse.
If Gen. Taguba is right – and there is no reason to question the candor of this professional soldier – the problems at Abu Ghraib were systemic, not just an aberration.
All Americans wish they could avert their eyes from Abu Ghraib. The murder of Mr. Berg may seem to some like a reason to downplay the prison abuse. Compared to an actual beheading, why all the fuss about hooding prisoners or forcing them to strip? But the horror of al-Qaida murderers only underscores the importance of holding ourselves to the highest standards of humane treatment and international justice.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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