In the same week that a low-ranking Army soldier was swiftly sentenced to 10 years for abuses he committed in a United States-run jail in Iraq, the President’s lawyer, who drafted memos calling the Geneva conventions “quaint” and “obsolete,” was, just as swiftly, all but confirmed as the next attorney general. Ten years ago hypocrisy like this would have been met with public outrage, but today it’s the standard operating procedure in the White House.
Those “quaint” days of 1995, when the United States could afford to live up to the high ideals it espoused for itself and other nations, certainly are over.
In the post-9/11 world of George Bush’s presidency, the country, force-fed fear at every press conference, has had to make sacrifices to thwart terrorists lurking in the shadows. Fortunately for the top earners and the top decision-makers in the country, the sacrifices don’t apply.
Alberto Gonzalez crafted the legal argument excusing the United States from internationally agreed upon rules of war. Donald Rumsfeld grossly understaffed the war effort, its prisons included. And Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, according to the Army’s own internal investigation of Abu Ghraib in August, approved “aggressive interrogation techniques” in Iraq. But the only people who will serve time, or be held accountable in any way are the low-ranking soldiers who carried out these shameful policies.
The fact that no high-ranking officials in the civilian leadership have been held accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib is just as alarming as the abuses themselves. The United States has a tradition of the civilian leadership making strategic decisions involving national security. It’s a central tenet of our democracy that only elected officials, armed with a mandate from the public and accountable to that public, should be deciding paths of war and peace.
In this administration, however, there is absolutely no accountability. At any other time in this nation’s history, Rumsfeld’s resignation, along with that of his second-in-command, Paul Wolfowitz, would have been on the President’s desk a year ago. Instead, top military leaders, like Secretary of the Army Thomas White and Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, who cautioned against sending so few troops into Iraq were unceremoniously fired. When it turned out they were right, the repercussions were so unceremonious that there were none.
Listening to testimony in the trial of Specialist Charles Graner Jr., it’s easy to see how the jury came to such a quick decision. There was overwhelming proof that Graner took an active role in the physical and sexual abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. His bespectacled face is smiling in several of the most disturbing photographs that made their way into the press. He also sent home dozens of e-mails gleefully describing the abuse and sexual humiliation as the “really cool stuff” he was doing in Iraq.
There’s no question Graner is guilty, and the 10 years he will serve is more than fair. There is also no question that Graner is not the mastermind behind all the indecent acts perpetrated in Iraq. The proof is overwhelming. In the same fateful week that Graner was convicted and Gonzalez sailed through his Senate hearings, the Justice Department opened an investigation into FBI reports of similar abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Incidentally, unless the Senate receives an unlikely infusion of backbone, Gonzalez himself will be heading the department’s investigation of these abuses.
If that investigation goes the way of the others, wrongs will be uncovered, low-ranking soldiers will be hung out to dry and no one in the civilian leadership will lose a minute’s sleep wondering if their job is safe.
As the President said in an interview in Sunday’s Washington Post, “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.” Apparently owning up to mistakes is only for losers.