“ABUSE REPORT WIDENS SCOPE OF CULPABILITY” blares over the full top page of the Washington Post this morning. One of the subtitles reads “Generals Point to Contractors, Military Intelligence Soldiers.”
The author, Josh White, writes:
Gen. Paul J. Kern, Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay flatly reported that they had found “serious misconduct and loss of moral values” in the ranks of Abu Ghraib and explained that abuse occurred both in the chaos of the military police-run nightshift and also during official interrogations by military intelligence soldiers. Tactics employed by military intelligence set the stage for a subsequent escalation of maltreatment.”
What these generals are saying is that they do not accept responsibility for being in charge or for establishing the values system operating in the prison.
It’s hard for me to believe that any of those of the 372nd Military Police Academy could be responsible for establishing the norms and rules of handling prisoners; nor were they in command. They followed others, be they professional intelligence extractors of the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion, other CIA officials, and apparently some military officers. Those being tried for prison abuse and torture are small time compared to those really responsible.
The Schlesinger Report goes a long way in at least speaking about the importance of accountability — but then disappoints when it gets to its punch line. Donald Rumsfeld was the overlord of this entire operation and meddled in the rules for managing detainees. I cannot understand why both Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner and former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger pull their punches when it comes to the real issue at hand: Rumsfeld failed to manage his responsibilities well and presided over a climate that led to the humiliation and torture of people in custody. I happen to know Schlesinger, not well but well enough to know that he would be resigning now if he had Rumsfeld’s job.
All of the reporters are asking Warner, Schlesinger, and others if Rumsfeld ‘should’ resign. The better question I hope reporters ask Schlesinger next time (or today??) is “Would you resign if you were Secretary of Defense and this had happened during your watch?”
What I dislike about the report and the coverage of it is that it deals with the detention abuses at Abu Ghraib and other facilities as isolated from fundamentally deeper questions about military values and culture. I realize that this is a complicated subject for many, particularly those who believe that the core values embedded in military organization and service are those to which society should aspire. I grew up as a military dependent and am familiar with the positive and negative aspects of military life.
One of the things I learned when growing up in a military household is that enlisted men and officers, and their families, are inculcated to a great degree “to not make waves,” to not challenge authority, to just go along with what is instructed and expected. This creates a climate where those at the top set the rules and norms, and those in lower ranks either contribute to the values architecture promulgated from above, or they drop out of the system and are often harassed for resisting and not going along.
Abu Ghraib is a small blip on a long list of military culture questions I have.
In July 1999, Private First Class Barry Winchell, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was murdered by two soldiers who thought he was gay. An investigation later found that Winchell had endured taunts for four months prior to this murder. The Commanding Officer of that installation, Major General Robert Clark, was nonetheless promoted and not found responsible for the behavior of his troops or for presiding while a hateful atmosphere thrived under his watch.
Why are the generals not in charge? These incidents do differ in some ways, but they are similar in the sense that generals in both circumstances are denying responsibility — when they are in fact paid by taxpayers to be those responsibly charged with important duties.
During the Nazification of Germany, there were numerous German generals who tried to maintain their charges and follow their duties as they believed them to be. They were often demoted, transferred, imprisoned, or shot if they crossed instructions coming from informal authorities in the SS, which were loyal to Hitler rather than to the military’s command structure.
I am not implying that our military system is being Nazified, but I think it is legitimate to question why responsibility and accountability seem to be disappearing from the historical code of conduct and honor of the military forces and the civilian leadership that manages them. Why aren’t the generals responsible when those beneath them do bad things? Why isn’t the president responsible when his Defense Secretary fails to take responsibility for the military he is managing?
Remember the rape scandal and cover-up at the U.S. Air Force Academy? Or the rape of a 12 year old girl in Okinawa by three U.S. military troops? In that case, the presiding Admiral in charge, Richard Macke, at least apologized. Remember Tailhook?
I am not anti-military and was proud of my own father’s service in the Air Force. However, when I lived overseas (in particular), I never could quite understand why the military police — which was often harassing us high school students — turned a blind eye to prostitution, public drunkenness, rapes, and petty crime that servicemen would engage in along “the strip” near the air base where we lived. I soon learned that these “strips” existed around nearly every U.S. military base abroad, at least in Asia — and I saw them at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, around the bases in Okinawa; and also South Korea, the Philippines, and Guam. Our military police were complicit with the host nation’s military police in “managing” the rebelliousness of 18 and 19 year old (and often older) troops and keeping most of the problems hidden — short of murder and really violent rapes.
The Schlesinger Report does not delve into the bigger question of what has gone wrong in military culture where evil things occur but those in charge aren’t held accountable. There is something wrong in a “don’t make waves” military culture where so few feel empowered to blow the whistle on abuses. Even Joseph M. Darby, the young reservist who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib is now in military protective custody because of death threats.
In the future, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate as a whole — when considering senior Pentagon appointments — needs to inquire of those they are charging with important responsibilities whether or not they will readily accept responsibility for the failures as well as the successes of people and institutions under their command.
That is clearly not happening today.
— Steve Clemons