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Senator: "[I'm] Outraged by the Outrage [Against U.S. Torture in Iraq]"


The New York Times, May 12, 2004

The administration and its Republican allies appear to have settled on a way to deflect attention from the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: accuse Democrats and the news media of overreacting, then pile all of the remaining responsibility onto officers in the battlefield, far away from President Bush and his political team. That cynical approach was on display yesterday morning in the second Abu Ghraib hearing in the Senate, a body that finally seemed to be assuming its responsibility for overseeing the executive branch after a year of silently watching the bungled Iraq occupation.

The senators called one witness for the morning session, the courageous and forthright Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who ran the Army's major investigation into Abu Ghraib. But the Defense Department also sent Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, to upstage him. Mr. Cambone read an opening statement that said Donald Rumsfeld was deeply committed to the Geneva Conventions protecting the rights of prisoners, that everyone knew it and that any deviation had to come from 'the command level.' A few Republican senators loyally followed the script, like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who offered the astounding comment that he was 'more outraged by the outrage' than by the treatment of prisoners. After all, he said, they were probably guilty of something.

These silly arguments not only obscure the despicable treatment of the prisoners, most of whom are not guilty of anything, but also ignore the evidence so far. While some of the particularly sick examples of sexual degradation may turn out to be isolated events, General Taguba's testimony, and a Red Cross report from Iraq, made it plain that the abuse of prisoners by the American military and intelligence agencies was systemic. The Red Cross said prisoners of military intelligence were routinely stripped, with their hands bound behind their backs, and posed with women's underwear over their heads. It said they were 'sometimes photographed in this position.'

The Red Cross report, published by The Wall Street Journal, said that Iraqi prisoners - 70 to 90 percent of whom apparently did nothing wrong - were routinely abused when they were arrested, and their wives and mothers threatened. The Iraqi police, who operate under American control and are eventually supposed to help replace the occupation forces, are even worse - sending those who won't pay bribes to prison camps, and beating and burning prisoners, according to the report.

The Red Cross said most prisoners were treated better once they got into the general population at the larger camps, except those who were held by military intelligence. 'In certain cases, such as in Abu Ghraib military intelligence section, methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel,' the report said.

It was alarming yesterday to hear General Taguba report that military commanders had eased the rules four times last year to permit guards to use 'lethal force' on unruly prisoners. The hearing also disclosed that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander in Iraq, had authorized the presence of attack dogs during interrogation sessions. It wasn't very comforting that he had directed that these dogs be muzzled.

These practices go well beyond any gray area of American values, international law or the Geneva Conventions. Mr. Cambone tried to argue that Mr. Rumsfeld had made it clear to everyone that the prisoners in Iraq were covered by those conventions. But Mr. Rumsfeld's public statements have been ambiguous at best, and General Taguba said that, in any case, the Abu Ghraib guards had received no training. All the senators, government officials and generals assembled in that hearing room yesterday could not figure out who had been in charge at Abu Ghraib and which rules applied to the Iraqi prisoners. How were untrained reservists who had been plucked from their private lives to guard the prisoners supposed to have managed it?

General Sanchez did give some misguided orders involving the Abu Ghraib prison and prisoners in general. But the deeply flawed mission in which he participates is the responsibility of the Bush administration. It was Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld, not General Sanchez, who failed to anticipate the violence and chaos that followed the invasion of Iraq, and sent American soldiers out to handle it without the necessary resources, manpower and training.