Jewish World Review May 12, 2004 /20 Iyar, 5764
Edward I. Koch
Abu Ghraib will go away but Rummy and Bush shouldn't
Is defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld a liability to President Bush's chances of reelection? I believe not, but I've been wrong before.
Yes, Rumsfeld is responsible, as he himself acknowledged at the Senate hearings on May 7th. However, I don't believe he should be forced to resign. There has been no charge that he ordered the mistreatment in Iraq or elsewhere or was or should have been aware it was taking place. The key question then is what did he do about the prisoner abuse once he knew about it?
According to Rumsfeld's testimony before committees of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Pentagon made public on January 16, 2004 that a criminal investigation was opened on prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib. That, apparently, was when Rumsfeld became aware of the charges. Thereafter, there were a number of Pentagon announcements making the charges public and announcing criminal investigations and reports. Interestingly, they were not picked up by the media, other than briefly.
To reiterate, the judgment to be made by the public is, did Rumsfeld take appropriate measures to deal with the abuses once he learned of them? The same question must be asked about the actions or inactions of everyone in the chain of command from those in the prison committing the atrocities to those supervisors responsible for the safety of Iraqi prisoners to their supervisors at central command.
Those who failed to take appropriate action when they knew or should have known of the abuses deserve to be severely punished. If appropriate action was taken by Rumsfeld and his top generals in charge, including Generals Ricardo S. Sanchez and Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then demanding they be removed from their positions is simply playing politics in the hope that it will detrimentally impact on President George W. Bush's reelection.
While the polls will rise and fall many times with respect to support or opposition to President Bush, at the time of the writing of this commentary, it does not appear that President Bush has lost the hearts and minds of America's citizens and maintains a lead over Senator Kerry. Why is that?
One set of reasons is that people generally trust the President's fundamental decency and have concluded that when it comes to national security, Bush and the Republican Party are far more reliable than Kerry and the Democratic Party. Voters apparently do not emotionally connect with Kerry. A New York Times article recently reported that he is seeking to move to the political center. It won't wash.
My close friends are overwhelmingly liberal: After all, I live in New York City. Everyone knows that I have always described myself as a liberal with sanity. When I asked a group of ten close friends, "Who is voting for Bush?" in addition to me, one or two raised their hands. All the others said they were voting for Kerry. When I asked who they thought would win irrespective of who they personally were supporting, invariably they all said Bush.
America bows its head in shame because of the horrors a small number of their fellow Americans visited upon Iraqi prisoners. The actions of those few the exact number is yet to be determined has disgusted the American people. In recent years, Americans, civilian and military, have been the subjects of barbarism, torture, kidnappings and death by Arab insurgents and terrorists. The gruesome sight of four American civilians killed in Fallujah, two of whom were hanged from a bridge and set on fire posthumously, enraged Americans.
Yet, there are very few Americans who would defend the criminal acts and war crimes committed in Abu Ghraib on the basis of revenge. No excuse for what took place there is acceptable to most Americans.
On the other hand, the people around the Arab world overwhelmingly cheered the killings of the near 3,000 innocents in the World Trade Center and the dragging of the dead bodies of American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Those same multitudes applauded the point-blank execution of a pregnant Israeli mother and her four infant daughters riding in a car in Gaza.
Our society condemns barbarism and savagery. We do not confer martyr status on those who kill or torture others, particularly innocent people. To the contrary, our society demands such miscreants be punished. I believe Rumsfeld is innocent of any departure from the legitimate rules of war and should not resign, provided he does what I am certain he will do identify the guilty and seek appropriate punishment for them.
According to The New York Times, "A new poll showed that most people thought that Mr. Rumsfeld should not lose his job over the issue. Asked whether he should resign, two-thirds of 1,030 people questioned… said Mr. Rumsfeld should not resign."
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© 2002, Edward I. Koch