Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Rumsfeld’s Responsibility

Dear Colleagues:

One so often has to eat crow in this world that perhaps it would be forgivable to crow when one has said something that almost nobody wanted to believe or investigate but that is later shown to be true. Maybe, therefore, the report of the Schlesinger panel justifies a partial crowing by this writer. For it was said time and again in this blog, beginning almost four months ago in early May, that responsibility for the prison abuses in Iraq ran to the top of the Pentagon and White House. The idea underlying this assessment was that Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. desperately wanted intelligence about terrorists and insurgents. They were willing to countenance torture in order to obtain it (as supported by the now infamous memos saying the commander-in-chief can authorize torture regardless of the law). And, while seeking to preserve deniability, they unavoidably knew that torture and other abuses were being used to get the information which they so desperately wanted. (Why else were captives, as Bush et al. knew, being sent to undisclosed locations in places like Egypt, Pakistan and Thailand to be interrogated?) The correlative of all of this was said here to be that Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al., were guilty of crimes under domestic law, not to mention international law.

Almost nobody wanted to believe, say or investigate these things at the time. This fact even remains true today, as one can see from the lack of discussion about or investigations of them. Nor, to be sure, has the Schlesinger panel said these things. But even though all four members of that panel sit on Rumsfeld’s own Defense Policy Board, the panel -- unlike other bodies investigating what went on -- has put its toe into the water by saying that responsibility ran to the top of the Pentagon.

True, when discussing bad stuff the panel does not mention Rumsfeld by name, but refers only to the "Secretary of Defense." True, this is the Washington game of trying to lessen responsibility, at least emotionally, by not assigning blame to individuals by name, but instead assigning responsibility only impersonally to institutions, titles, offices and forces. True the panel places far more blame on others lower down the chain of command. All true. Yet the unavoidable fact remains that four members of Rumsfeld’s own Defense Policy Board -- four people whom some might justifiably think to be generally aligned with his views -- have had to admit that dear old lovable Rummy bears part of the blame. Perhaps, then, a minimal level of crowing is in order here.

And mark my words. If there are serous investigations rather than military whitewashes in future, then a much higher level of blame will attach to Rummy, Wolfowitz, and others in the Pentagon and serious blame will attach to Bush himself. As said before in this place, Bush, Rummy and that whole lot desperately wanted information about terrorists and insurgents. They were willing to countenance methods which most Americans consider outrageous in order to get it. And for various reasons -- such as knowing and approving of guidelines that approved abusive methods of interrogation, the high level memos approving of torture, and knowing that prisoners were being interrogated in places like Thailand and Egypt -- they could not help but be aware that bad stuff was going on. But they didn’t care, because they thought it crucial to get the information they wanted and, to get it, they were willing to countenance whatever they thought might work.*
*If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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