For two years, decent people have agonized over the photo of Iraqi prisoners piled naked in an interrogation room at Abu Ghraib prison, leering American soldiers posing beside them. Another shows an American soldier leading a naked detainee on a dog leash.
There were hundreds of similar pictures documenting the torture, humiliation and abuse heaped on the detainees. All but a handful of these prisoners were later released as innocents caught up in U.S. military sweeps.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee then that these crimes were “systematic, flagrant violations of international law.” The scandal spread to other U.S. military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now it comes down to who will pay for these crimes. A few low ranking enlisted personnel have been tried and convicted. Pfc. Lynndie England was ready to plead guilty until a military judge threw that out May 3. The action came after Pvt. Graner testified at England’s sentencing hearing that pictures he took of her holding a naked prisoner on a leash were to be used as a training aid for other guards. Now her case goes back to the military equivalent of a grand-jury proceeding.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski is the only officer being held accountable. She was removed as commander of U.S. military prisons in Iraq and reassigned.
The Bush administration has exonerated itself from crimes it instigated. Alberto Gonzales, now attorney general, wrote the infamous Jan. 25, 2002, memo advising President Bush to insulate himself from war crimes prosecution by declaring detainees “enemy combatants” not protected by the Geneva Conventions.
The “war on terrorism,” Gonzales wrote, “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” and makes “quaint” the prohibitions against torture.
Frustrated by the lack of “actionable intelligence,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then commandant of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo, Cuba, to travel to Iraq to train U.S. interrogators on extreme methods of squeezing information from Iraqi detainees. There is evidence that Bush himself signed a secret Executive Order authorizing the use of torture.
There are millions of people out there with bumper stickers on their cars that proclaim, “Support our Troops.” Will they remain silent as enlisted soldiers are scapegoated for carrying out the Bush administration’s criminal orders?