If you have not emerged from the academic bubble of this University recently, I urge you to come out and look at the photographs that are consuming Washington, D.C. and enraging the world.
They show a U.S. soldier dragging a naked Iraqi prisoner across the floor with a leather leash. They show American soldiers posing next to a group of men lying naked and bound to one another. They show a naked man handcuffed to a bed with women's underwear covering his face. They show a female soldier gleefully pointing to the genitals of hooded, naked prisoners chained to a wall.
They show images that would disgust anyone who believes in the basic dignity of all people.
And today, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is holding hearings on the repugnant practices that these pictures expose, will question Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He must tell these senators and the country why he did not address, let alone fix, this abhorrent problem when it first reached the Pentagon months ago. He must tell these senators and his fellow Americans why he chose to dramatically alter U.S. foreign policy by ignoring the Geneva Conventions. Finally, he must tell them why, in spite of his mistakes, he should not resign.
By turning the other cheek when reports of these atrocities reached the Pentagon, Rumsfeld committed grave negligence. Various U.S. officials have said Rumsfeld and the Pentagon resisted appeals in the past months from the State Department and the Coalition Provisional Authority to deal with problems relating to detainees. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Paul Bremer, Bush's proconsul in Iraq, submitted a report at the beginning of 2004 urging the Pentagon to address the problem and predicting the political fallout that could occur if they did not. Other White House aides, speaking under the condition of anonymity, leaked that Powell had been adamant about Rumsfeld confronting the issue.
Yet Rumsfeld only gave the President minimal information concerning the torture. In fact, he did not tell President Bush the extent of the images even after the Pentagon knew that CBS had the photos. Like the rest of America, President Bush received the news of the atrocities not from Rumsfeld, but from 60 Minutes II and various print media. Had the Secretary of Defense taken prompt action when he learned of these transgressions, perhaps the practice of humiliating and torturing prisoners could have been contained. Instead, Rumsfeld, for whatever reason, decided to ignore the offenses and hide them from his President, the Congress, and the American people.
But even if Rumsfeld had dealt with the war crimes immediately, he should still be held responsible. He made the decision in January of 2002 to fundamentally change the way foreign prisoners of war and detainees are treated, by obliterating international law and American precedent. More than two years ago, his Pentagon arbitrarily decided that the U.S. would no longer be constrained by the Geneva Conventions, a decision, which in effect, allowed interrogation of detainees to go unobserved, permitted any detainee to be held incommunicado, and barred any independent organization, such as the International Red Cross, from examining prison conditions. In effect, Rumsfeld removed the possibility that foreign detainees could enjoy the most basic rights of law that the American justice system affords every citizen in this country. Without any rules or guidelines and without any mechanism to detect abuses, it was only a matter of time until heinous acts occurred. Rumsfeld's deliberate choice to ignore international and American precedent on conditions of detainees allowed these atrocities to take place.
Rumsfeld's actions allowed this scandal to explode, and it has annihilated the scant progress that the United States had made with the Iraqi people and the Arab world. Anyone in the Middle East who is critical of the United States will point to these pictures as evidence that America's presence in Iraq is not one of liberation, but of occupation. Moreover, Muslims have a deeply religious belief that the naked human body is sacred, as evidenced by their conservative dress and their demands that women cover their heads. To see other Muslims naked and abused in a prison by American soldiers is utterly humiliating not only because of the perversity of the acts, but also because of the cultural and religious context in which they occurred. Finally, these monstrous crimes were committed in Abu Ghraib prison, the same exact prison that Saddam Hussein used to torture his people. The grim irony is revolting. How can the United States say with any legitimacy that it is a liberator when it is using the torture chambers of the tyrant from which it supposedly liberated the Iraqi people?
The United States has suffered a major blow in Iraq, from which it will never fully recover, one that America certainly does not need as American soldiers are facing more and more armed hostility all over Iraq.
The sins of these atrocities are not Rumsfeld's alone. Every soldier involved in the crimes and every Pentagon official that ignored them must be punished. The Bush administration must continue to apologize to the Iraqi people, the Arab world, and America for its appalling mistake. Yet if there is one man who enabled the crimes to be committed by rejecting legal precedent, deliberately ignoring the atrocities when they were committed, and refusing to take necessary action, it is the Secretary of Defense.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures seem to be worth more, and yet I can muster only these last three: Rumsfeld must resign.