New York Times/ The Economist/ Knight-Ridder – 2004-05-08 10:41:36
Donald Rumsfeld Should Go
New York Times Editorial
(May 7, 2004) — There was a moment about a year ago, in the days of “Mission Accomplished,” when Donald Rumsfeld looked like a brilliant tactician. American troops – the lean, mean fighting machine Mr. Rumsfeld assembled – swept into Baghdad with a speed that surprised even the most optimistic hawks. It was crystal clear that the Defense Department, not State and certainly not the United Nations, would control the start of nation-building. Mr. Rumsfeld, with his steely grin and tell-it-like-it-is press conferences, was the closest thing to a rock star the Bush cabinet would ever see.
That was then.
It is time now for Mr. Rumsfeld to go, and not only because he bears personal responsibility for the scandal of Abu Ghraib. That would certainly have been enough. The United States has been humiliated to a point where government officials could not release this year’s international human rights report this week for fear of being scoffed at by the rest of the world. The reputation of its brave soldiers has been tarred, and the job of its diplomats made immeasurably harder because members of the American military tortured and humiliated Arab prisoners in ways guaranteed to inflame Muslim hearts everywhere. And this abuse was not an isolated event, as we know now and as Mr. Rumsfeld should have known, given the flood of complaints and reports directed to his office over the last year.
The world is waiting now for a sign that President Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened. It needs to be more than his repeated statements that he is sorry the rest of the world does not “understand the true nature and heart of America.” Mr. Bush should start showing the state of his own heart by demanding the resignation of his secretary of defense.
This is far from a case of a fine cabinet official undone by the actions of a few obscure bad apples in the military police. Donald Rumsfeld has morphed, over the last two years, from a man of supreme confidence to arrogance, then to almost willful blindness. With the approval of the president, he sent American troops into a place whose nature and dangers he had apparently never bothered to examine.
We now know that no one with any power in the Defense Department had a clue about what the administration was getting the coalition forces into. Mr. Rumsfeld’s blithe confidence that he could run his war on the cheap has also seriously harmed the Army and the National Guard.
This page has argued that the United States, having toppled Saddam Hussein, has an obligation to do everything it can to usher in a stable Iraqi government. But the country is not obliged to continue struggling through this quagmire with the secretary of defense who took us into the swamp. Mr. Rumsfeld’s second in command, Paul Wolfowitz, is certainly not an acceptable replacement because he was one of the prime architects of the invasion strategy. It is long past time for a new team and new thinking at the Department of Defense.
The Economist Editorial
(May 5, 2004) — You are fighting against international terrorists in a battle that both they and you describe as being one about values. You fight a war against Saddam Hussein at your initiative, not his, and you say that it is a war about law, democracy, freedom and honesty. A big metaphorical banner hangs above both wars proclaiming that your aim is to bring freedom, human rights and democracy to the Arab world. All of that sets admirably high standards for the conduct of your forces as well as of your government itself. Now, however, some of your own armed forces are shown to have fallen well below those standards. What do you do?
One answer is exactly what George Bush has done in response to revelations of torture and humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail (see article): to make it clear, in public, that you find such action abhorrent and unacceptable, and that the perpetrators of it will be punished. That has also been the approach of the British government in response to the publication of photographs that may well be fakes but that could nevertheless indicate that genuine abuses have taken place (see article).
Yet such statements are not enough, especially in the American case. The scandal is widening, with more allegations coming to light. Moreover, the abuse of these prisoners is not the only damaging error that has been made and it forms part of a culture of extra-legal behaviour that has been set at the highest level. Responsibility for what has occurred needs to be taken – and to be seen to be taken — at the highest level too. It is plain what that means. The secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, should resign. And if he won’t resign, Mr Bush should fire him.
Why He Should Go
That recommendation will elicit several different responses. One, from critics of the war, will be to point out that the highest level is in fact held by Mr Bush, and that it is the president who should go. The answer is that the electorate has a chance to dismiss Mr Bush in November, while Mr Rumsfeld is an unelected official who, if he is loyal to Mr Bush, ought to want to take the bullet in order to protect his boss.
Another response, though, will be to say that the expulsion of Mr Rumsfeld would be disproportionate: wars always bring some abuses, for the soldiers who take part in them have been trained to kill, and the important question is whether the abuses are properly punished when they occur. A third response would be a cynical one: perhaps he should go, it may be said, but he won’t. It’s an election year. Get real.
The cynics may be proved right; they usually are. But these are exceptional circumstances. The pictures of abuse, especially the one on our cover of the hooded man wired as if for electrocution, stand an awful chance of becoming iconic images that could haunt America for years to come, just as the famous photograph of a naked girl running during a napalm attack did during the Vietnam war.
One way of dealing with that risk is by countering it with your own iconic act: ejecting the man at the head of the Pentagon, the man most identified with America’s use of military power during the past three years. He is also, however, the man most identified with the wider culture to which these abuses may be connected.
That approach was epitomised by the setting up of a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in 2001. The decision to detain combatants caught in Afghanistan for an indefinite period, with no access to lawyers and no legal redress, was understandable as a short-term response to the threat of terrorism and to ignorance about who might actually be terrorists, but it was nevertheless both wrong and disastrous for America’s reputation.
It was wrong because it violated the very values and rule of law for which America was supposedly fighting, and soon produced evidence of double standards: some American citizens captured in Afghanistan were allowed to stand trial in American courts in the normal way, but such rights were denied to mere foreigners, every single one of whom was labelled as a dangerous terrorist by Mr Rumsfeld, regardless of any evidence. It has been disastrous for America’s reputation because of that hypocrisy but also because it has become a symbol of a “we’ll decide” arrogance.
The Geneva conventions that have governed the treatment of prisoners of war for decades were waved aside. And the argument used to justify America’s rejection of the new International Criminal Court – that its soldiers would be vulnerable to unreasonable persecution, with necessary military actions defined as crimes – looked ever more hollow. Thanks to Guantanamo, critics could argue that America really does need the check of the ICC, and that its claim that abuses would readily be dealt with in domestic courts was also hollow.
The domestic courts are now gradually taking on the issues raised by Guantanamo, with a ruling awaited from the Supreme Court. And the promise by Mr Bush and Mr Rumsfeld this week that abuses in Iraq will be punished is no doubt sincere. It may be that the shoulder-shrugging pragmatists are right when they say that abuses are an inevitable consequence of war; and it may be that they would have happened regardless of Guantanamo.
But the culture that it represented, with all prisoners considered guilty until proven innocent, with dubious interrogation methods widely considered to be condoned, could well have had an influence on the attitudes and behaviour of lower ranks. To stem such an influence right now, and to offer an indubitable demonstration to all Iraqis of the importance America places on eliminating such abuse, Mr Rumsfeld must take responsibility.
Some may worry that a change of defence secretary now would further endanger the effort in Iraq. The opposite is the case, for although Mr Rumsfeld is rightly credited with a successful steering of the conventional war a little over a year ago, he and his team have also been responsible for many of the blunders since then: appalling post-war planning, inadequate troop numbers, excessive deBaathification, and more. For that reason, if he were to go it would be unwise to replace him simply with one of his own team, such as Paul Wolfowitz.
As the recently retired British envoy to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, writes in this issue (see article), nothing is easy in an Iraq mired in violence and with fractured and volatile political groupings. But the political course now set, of handing more authority to a new, UN-picked interim government after June 30th in preparation for elections next January, is the right one. All efforts must be made to prevent that course from being disrupted or blocked by violence, by sectarian divisions or by Iraqi mistrust of the whole process.
This week, things seemed to be improving as an Iraqi-led force began to police Fallujah, the rebellious Sunni town to which the Americans had laid siege, and as the main Shia rebel, Muqtada al-Sadr, was becoming more isolated by his fellow Shias. Mr Bush’s television broadcasts condemning the abuses at Abu Ghraib and promising punishment probably helped cool the atmosphere, though he ought also to have offered a straightforward apology. Better still if he and Mr Rumsfeld were now to demonstrate one of the true American values: that senior people take responsibility.
It’s Time for Rumsfeld to Go
Joseph L. Galloway / Knight Ridder
(May 5, 2004) All that the Bush administration had in Iraq, in the absence of any grand strategy, was a grip on the moral high ground: Whatever else, we were way better than Saddam Hussein, who tortured and murdered the unfortunates who ended up in Abu Ghraib Prison.
We had the moral high ground until a week ago when news of the prisoner scandal came out.
The photos are disgusting. Iraqi prisoners hog-tied and heaped one upon the other. An American soldier sitting on top of a prisoner. Prisoners naked and abused. Prisoners, an Army investigation reported, who had broom handles and chemical light sticks shoved up them.
Six Army Reserve military police – part-time soldiers in a full-time war – face court martial on charges that could send them to Leavenworth military prison for years. Six officers and sergeants who should have had a better grip on the situation in Abu Ghraib Prison outside Baghdad have been given administrative punishment of a severity that will effectively end their military careers.
All that is well and good and as it should be. But the buck in this case should not stop at the lieutenant or captain level. There were people wearing silver stars on their shoulders who bore responsibility both for the prisoners and for the MPs guarding them. And above the generals there is a Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who until events forced him to couldn’t even be bothered to read the Army investigative report, written in February, which detailed the fresh horrors in a place of horror, Abu Ghraib.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on national television shows Sunday that he hadn’t read the report, either.
We are Americans. We are better than this. This is not about training and education and instruction on the finer points of the Geneva Conventions on the proper treatment of prisoners of war, although those things are important. This is about right and wrong. First graders know that. Any policeman who can’t figure that out needs some time on the other side of the bars.
It tars us all, just as Lt. Rusty Calley and Capt. Ernest Medina and their band of My Lai murderers tarred the reputations of everyone who served in Vietnam, and all Americans.
This takes us down in the eyes of the Mddle East and the rest of the world. It is one more disaster in a string of disasters that began with the idea that we would topple Saddam Hussein and the grateful Iraqi people would welcome us with showers of rose petals.
Heads ought to roll over Iraq in general and Abu Ghraib in particular, but George Bush seems to have an aversion to firing people even when they desperately need it. He didn’t fire anyone after Sept. 11 when too many of our watchdogs were asleep at the switch. He didn’t fire anyone at the Central Intelligence Agency for getting some very important information wrong in the lead-up to invading Iraq.
At times it seems that the only thing that can get you fired in Washington is telling the truth. President Bush needs to get out a long broom and do some housecleaning. There’s still time for him to go into the election looking tough and decisive and on top of the situation. No better way to send that signal than some creative firings.
A couple of weeks ago we suggested the dismissal for cause of L. Paul Bremer, head of the civilian reconstruction effort in Iraq, along with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace. This week we raise our sights and suggest that it is past time for Rumsfeld himself to depart.
He insisted on total personal control of everything to do with planning and carrying out the Iraq invasion and reconstruction. Now that things have become difficult, not to say bloody, the secretary of defense and his crew are bobbing and weaving and dodging and praying for June 30 when they can hand off responsibility to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the man they froze out of virtually every decision made, especially the bad ones.
As he leaves, Rumsfeld can take with him everyone in his office, especially including Under Secretary of Defense Douglas A. Feith, director of the Office of Special Plans. Myers should go, too.
We preach accountability to our children, so why should we not demand accountability from those whose decisions and obsessions have sent our soldiers and Marines into harm’s way? Get it right or get out. Now there’s a slogan a retread corporate czar like Rumsfeld should be able to identify with.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)