Monday, May 10, 2004

Did Bush and Rumsfeld Know of But Not Care About Prison Abuse


Dear Hosts, Producers and Journalists:

I urge that the Abu Ghraib scandal has already reached the point where it gives rise to two vital questions. The two have not yet been investigated or discussed by the media, but should, I believe, become a focus of discussion. I would implore you to address them.

The first question flows from the fact that the very highest levels of the American government -- the Secretary of Defense and the President -- have known of the abuses at Abu Ghraib for a long time. This fact gives rise to the following question: Did the Secretary, the President, and generals in the chain of command not care about the abuses, and even tacitly or explicitly encourage them, because the abuses were being used to obtain information useful in combating guerrillas in Iraq and in combating the war on terrorism. There seems to already be evidence that would lead to such a conclusion. For example, it is very hard to believe that low ranking soldiers like privates, corporals, or sergeants would grinningly pose for the kinds of pictures we have seen unless they felt the abuses were approved up the chain of command. The abuses apparently were known at high levels for a long time, but little was done about them for quite a while (despite urgings by human rights organizations). It has lately been written by Fox Butterfield of The New York Times that these kinds of abuses are common in American prisons, especially in George W. Bush’s Texas, and many “veterans” of American prison work were guards in Abu Ghraib. Our soldiers in Iraq were under fire and being killed daily, which creates an understandable incentive to obtain relevant information by any means possible.

In addition to this already existing evidence, there also is an unhappy analogy that shows that the very top levels of the administration may simply not have cared whether abuses were occurring. Let me explain this in the following way:

Rumsfeld and Bush now claim that their lack of concern over the abuses was because they had not seen pictures, but merely had read or were told about the abuses. Well, I would be the first to “admit,” and am perhaps the only one to believe or say, that it is perfectly obvious that George Bush seems to not really grasp what he reads or is told. But why didn’t Bush and Rumsfeld ask to see the pictures -- Rumsfeld, at least, knew the pictures existed (though we can’t say, at least not yet, that Bush did). Perhaps Rumsfeld (and Bush?) did not ask to see the pictures because he did not want to see them lest the awfulness of the situation became graphic and unavoidably require corrective action, which Rumsfeld, Bush and generals did not wish to take because the abuses were useful in getting information. If this in fact occurred -- as frankly seems likely to me -- it constitutes not caring about the facts of a situation so long as the administration gets what it wants (in this case, information from prisoners). And not caring about the facts is, by way of analogy, exactly how the administration got us into this war in the first place. The administration presented weapons of mass destruction as the reason for going to war even though, as we now know, there was much reason to doubt that Iraq had such weapons (most Americans now believe it didn’t), and even though the real reason for going to war was that George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfwitz and their cohorts wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

So, in addition to all the evidence set forth above to show the likelihood that the top levels of American government knew but did not care about the abuses, we can say by analogy that there is no reason to believe Rumsfeld and Bush when they claim (basically for public relations purposes?) that not seeing the pictures of the abuses, rather than not caring about them, is the reason they did nothing. These people previously have shown that they lie. So why believe them when they say that not seeing pictures, rather than not caring about abuses which they thought helpful in getting information, was the reason they did nothing about them?

The second question which arises from the Abu Ghraib matter is this: What kind of a country are we? It has been appalling to see Senators (e.g., John Warner), Congressmen (e.g., Christopher Shays), media pundits, and ordinary citizens all over the nation attempting to excuse, lessen the culpability of, or whitewash people who committed or knew of these abuses, with the attempted diminution of responsibility often occurring by means of politicians’ statements that constitute the usual 4th of July statements about how great we are. Particularly since we are now given to understand that rapes and murder are also involved, it seems to me that, if we want to soften or evade culpability, then we likewise ought to say it was alright for Americans to use the water torture, burn down villages and kill civilians in the Philippines insurrection, to slit living, conscious Japanese soldiers from ear to ear in World War II in order to get the gold from their teeth, to create, and kill civilians in, free fire zones, and to engage in My Lais, in Viet Nam, and so forth. There is a major segment of this country -- who seem to vastly disproportionately came from one side of the political spectrum, from one political party, and from particular geographic areas – that seek to excuse horrible conduct by Americans, that did so in Viet Nam and now are doing so with regard to Iraq. These people implicitly, if not explicitly, take the position that if Americans do something, it must be alright. They are also generally the people, one may say, who in years past fought against equal rights for all Americans, especially African Americans and women, and who sometimes continue this fight today. These people bear the major responsibility for the culture war which has existed in this country since the mid 1960s, and their present actions, like their past ones, raise a question that the press should be but is not discussing: What kind of people are we as a nation, and, in particular, what kind of people are they who try to lessen responsibility for what occurred at Abu Ghraib? I would urge the media to discuss this question.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence R. Velvel
Dean, Massachusetts School of Law

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