Wednesday, May 5, 2004

The American shame at Abu Ghraib


The pictures and stories of prisoners being abused in Iraq should fill all Americans with outrage and revulsion.

Nothing done to our troops in Iraq warrants such behavior. How can we expect the Iraqi population to react favorably to Americans if we behave like Saddam Hussein's thugs?

An investigative report by the U.S. Army has found pervasive flaws in the leadership, training and morale of the military police at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and elsewhere. It was Abu Ghraib where pictures were taken of U.S. guards abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.

The investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba found 27 cases of escapes by prisoners, prison riots, prisoner shootings and beatings at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers run by Americans in Iraq. The report said some information about escapes could only be estimated because the operations were so poorly supervised that nobody conducted such basic routines as regular prisoner counts.

A point of contention is the question of who was actually in charge of the prisons - uniformed military police, or civilian contractors working with military intelligence. Some uniformed personnel have said they reported to intelligence personnel who wanted prisoners "softened up" for interrogations.

President Bush has rightly condemned the actions of the abusers, and the military announced Monday that six officers who were supervisors at Abu Ghraib received reprimands that will probably end their careers. Another military supervisor received a lesser reprimand, and lower-ranking personnel who administered the abuse may face criminal charges. It is not enough.

The impact of this abuse goes far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. It has aggravated an already volatile situation among the Iraqi civilian population and increased the danger for all Americans in Iraq. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should come before a congressional committee to explain what happened and what is being done to see that it doesn't happen again.

McCain is right. This scandal requires a major reassessment of our interrogation and detention policies, not just the discipline of some low-level guards.

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