Whitewashing Rumsfeld

Circling the wagons around the defense secretary and his commander in chief

I'm perfectly comfortable in telling you [that] our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity. George W. Bush to a Russian reporter in Slovakia, February 24


Mehboob Ahmad, a 35-year-old Afghan, was left hanging upside down by a chain, sexually assaulted, probed anally, threatened with a snarling dog at close range. Los Angeles Times, March 2, on Ali et al. v. Rumsfeld, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First detailing Rumsfeld's responsibility for the torture and other abuses of U.S. detainees


Then [the guard] brought a box of food and he made me stand on it, and he started punishing me. Then a tall black soldier came and put electrical wires on my fingers and toes and on my penis, and I had a bag over my head. Then he was saying, "which switch is on for electricity?" "United States of America: Human Dignity Denied: Torture and Accountability in the 'War on Terror,' "Amnesty International, 200-page report


On March 10, Vice Admiral Albert T. Church III, former navy inspector general, presented the "Church report" to the Armed Services Committee—purporting to be the most comprehensive of all the official investigations into alleged abuse of American detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantánamo.

Church had been appointed by the secretary of defense to conduct the investigation. At a press conference on March 10, he said he had not interviewed chief policy maker Rumsfeld for this definitive investigation because he didn't think it was necessary.

Not surprisingly, the vice admiral concluded in his report that the Department of Defense "did not promulgate interrogation policies . . . that directed, sanctioned or encouraged the torture or abuse of detainees."

He added, "[The] vast majority of detainees held by U.S. forces have been treated humanely." Lest he appear clueless as to actual reports from the prisons by troubled FBI and counterintelligence agents there, Church slipped in the comment, "There was a failure to react to early warning signs of abuse."

In my recent column "Defendant Rumsfeld" (March 23-29), I had space for only a small part of the extensive, documented cases of torture and other abuses in the ACLU and Human Rights First lawsuit filed on March 1 against the ever self-confident Rumsfeld.

Shamefully, most of the media, in their continually expanding forms, gave minimal attention—often none at all—to this historic legal action demanding accountability from a secretary of defense during wartime.

The media gave much more space and time to Vice Admiral Church's genuflection to his superior in the chain of command. The Washington Post, however, characteristically refused to be cozened by Albert T. Church III. In a March 13 editorial, "More Excuses," that sharply vigilant newspaper called the Church report "a blatant example of . . . whitewashing," and continued, reinforcing the ACLU/Human Rights First lawsuit:

"[D]ecisions by Mr. Rumsfeld and the Justice Department to permit coercive interrogation techniques previously considered unacceptable for U.S. personnel influenced practices at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and later spread to Afghanistan and Iraq. Methods such as hooding, enforced nudity, sensory deprivation and the use of dogs to terrorize—all originally approved by the defense secretary—were widely employed, even though they violate the Geneva Conventions.

"But," The Washington Post then cut to the core of this whitewashing not only of Donald Rumsfeld but also of Commander in Chief George W. Bush: "But no genuinely independent investigator has been empowered to connect these decisions and events and conclude where accountability truly should lie. Congress could put a stop to this bureaucratic cover-up, but despite loud public protestations, its Republican leadership appears not to have the stomach to do so." (Emphasis added.)

I especially admired the stinging indictment in the last sentence of this editorial: "Willingly or not, congressional Republicans are identifying themselves as a party ready to accept systematic American violations of human rights." (Emphasis added.)

Where the hell is the Democratic leadership—Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and that touted veteran sage Joe Lieberman? Where are the Democratic press conferences, the ringing statements against these Republican chieftains circling the wagons around the lawless secretary of defense and the commander in chief who, on June 26, 2003, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, declared:

"The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading the fight by example." (Emphasis added.)

From Amnesty International's "United States of America: Human Dignity Denied: Torture and Accountability in the 'War on Terror' ":

"An Iraqi detainee has recalled how the U.S. soldiers 'used to beat up a prisoner who was from Syria and strip him all night. We heard him screaming all night.'

"It is not known if this was the Syrian national who was kept incommunicado 'in a totally darkened cell measuring about 2 meters long [a meter is a little over 39 inches] and less than a meter across, devoid of any window, latrine or water tap, or bedding.' On the door of the cell was the inscription 'the Gollum' and a picture of this character from the film Lord of the Rings."

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