America must apologize for Abu Ghraib

By Joel Lanceta

From the President to the Pentagon to the Senate to the army, each has tried to come up with the best excuse to explain the more than 300 pictures from Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where inmates were allegedly abused and humiliated by army personnel. The pictures demonstrate a basic disrespect for all humanity if they aren’t doctored, and sadly, they probably aren’t.

Yet for all the attention paid to the failure of civility and humane treatment in Iraq, where is the accountability? Every official has given a reason why they are not responsible, but not one sincere apology for the abuse. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes on a publicity tour of Iraq saying that those involved will be brought to justice. Major General Antonio Taguba, who testified before the Senate on Wednesday, said that the soldiers were not acting under orders, but the soldiers being court-martialed say that they were given orders by their superiors to torture and “break the prisoners.”

Reasons, reasons, reasons—we have millions of reasons for failure, but not a single excuse. This perpetual blame game has nothing but losers—it has destroyed the credibility of both the U.S. army and its government and only inflamed the ire of an already hostile Islamic world ready for revenge. One of the first victims: Nicholas Berg, the 26-year old businessman beheaded on video, whose extremist murderers flimsily justified the act by claiming retaliation for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. The prison abuse has only given these extremists more fodder for their jihad against Americans.

It certainly doesn’t help to ignore this problem. Take President Bush, who went on Arab television to say that he’s horrified about what occurred at Abu Ghraib, and then turned around and praised Rumsfeld’s work in Iraq. The last thing people need to hear on this issue is self-congratulatory praise. If Rumsfeld was really doing his job, he would have investigated this issue when it supposedly started almost a year ago. And people wonder why Bush’s popularity is dropping.

So, what should America do, as we have to face this problem, continually bombarded by pictures of these atrocities? The wrong action—denial, justification—reflects poorly on America, a course we cannot afford to take. The right action then is to move on and repair the damage done with real changes, and to accept that all people involved have some culpability in this. It is as simple as that. Of course, maybe it didn’t occur to anyone that the commander-in-chief, or the secretary of defense and his Pentagon architects and managers of the Iraq war, should be held accountable, instead of the handful of troops taking the fall for atrocities at the prison.

What do I expect then? Improved conditions for the prisoners and the release of some of them, as it appears many of them do not have any intelligence that army personnel can interrogate out of them. The army troops, who themselves are exhausted from continual war since March 2003, should be relieved. There are units of militarily trained police guards that can be used to do the job, which these soldiers aren’t prepared to do.

As for Rumsfeld, he first has to stop ignoring this problem. He was quoted as saying he stopped reading the newspapers on his “patch up my image” trip to Baghdad. It would be great for him to issue new regulations on the handling of prisoners and detainees in the spirit of the Geneva Convention and to ban the harsh indignities we are now so sick of seeing.

The biggest improvement that Rumsfeld, the Pentagon, and the rest of the government can make would be to stop putting the blame on the shoulders of America’s enlisted men and women and include the entire chain of command in Iraq in a Congressional inquiry. The torture at Abu Ghraib can’t be limited to the unlucky soldiers the army picked to sacrifice with a court-martial. There’s more to the story than what many people in the administration are saying.

So enough with the blaming; it is equally patriotic to face mistakes as it is to humbly win. Here’s one: I regret the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and I apologize as a citizen of the United States for what happened.