Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
That sizzling sound you’re hearing from U.S. Army posts across the nation is little fish frying. It reminds me of the battlefield, where it’s almost always the grunts who get hung out to do the dying.
A squad of the enlisted perps who made their bones via the Abu Ghraib abomination are going down, and so they should. They’ve disgraced the American profession of arms by committing atrocities as high on the national shame scale as Vietnam’s My Lai. But while the accused – untrained, part-time soldiers ill-prepared for their prison-guard mission – most definitely deserve to be punished, where are the whales who disregarded the Geneva Convention in line with our president’s ill-considered insistence that prisoners in the war on terror are “unlawful combatants”?
Unlike Nuremberg, which led with the trials of the top leadership of the Third Reich and only gradually worked its way down to the bottom of that evil ladder, our leaders are, so far, successfully ducking any responsibility for the crimes perpetrated on their watch.
In the duck-and-cover-up scheme, Alberto R. Gonzales, the president’s legal adviser and his nominee for attorney general – who told the president in writing that the war on terror made the Geneva Convention obsolete – is now ferociously tap-dancing away from his advice to his boss as fast as he can toward his probable new and totally inappropriate job as America’s top law-enforcer.
Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, who said it was cool for the president to permit “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners in the war on terror if he so desired, has been rewarded with a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, whose approval of torture at Guantanamo set a sorry precedent that spread as quickly as the plague to Afghanistan and Iraq, has also been duly rewarded – with a second term in his sugarplum Cabinet power post.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Rummy’s torture impresario at Gitmo, whom the SecDef dispatched to Abu Ghraib – where, soon after he marched into the prison to teach his dirty tricks, prisoners were humiliated and demeaned in horrific, SS-like human-rights violations – is now ensconced in a VIP office at the Pentagon.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former ground commander of the Iraqi counterinsurgency, who put out his own appalling guidance regarding the treatment of prisoners, has pretty much disappeared from the scene, along with his intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast. The Army has hidden the once-certain shoo-in for a fourth star in Germany, while Fast has become the two-star ghost that walks at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where she makes occasional, quickie cameo appearances and the troopers in residence refer to her as the “invisible general.”
Let’s face it – the reservists now on trial didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s mail-order some dog leashes and play some photo-op games with these ragheads keeping us away from home.” I know U.S. soldiers, and my call is that an officer or officers – going all the way back to the Pentagon – told them how to break their prisoners down and to go and do it. So, in my book they’re taking the rap for the brass as well as themselves, and that’s not how it should be in our America.
Hopefully, Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel, who well understand terrorism, torture and national honor, will do their duty and lead the way to the big fish who called the shots and then did a Houdini when the notorious Abu Ghraib pix made the top of the news and shocked the entire world. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski might be a smart place to start – the word is that she’s both an eyewitness and a straight shooter who will do her duty as well.
Because in a democracy, the truth must come out, and all the guilty – no matter what their rank or power – must be held accountable. Our country’s very honor is at stake.
That said, in no way should the dishonorable behavior of the Abu Ghraib prison guards stand as representative of the average American soldier in Iraq – whose overall conduct in a terrible war has been most honorable and nothing less than magnificent.