05 June 2005
When a leading US news magazine published, in good faith, a report that army interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed pages of the Koran down a lavatory in order to humiliate Muslim detainees and soften them up for questioning, it got it wrong, according to Donald Rumsfeld. What Newsweek should have said is that interrogators urinated on copies of the Koran, kicked them and soaked them with water balloons. The US defence secretary's criticism of Newsweek, therefore, was that the truth was far worse than it had suggested. The official Pentagon report released on Friday made a feeble effort to play down the seriousness of the abuses, saying that they were rare, sometimes inadvertent and never condoned. But the facts are stubborn.
Mr Rumsfeld cited one of them in an attempt to defend the conduct of the war on terror: "To date there have been approximately 370 criminal investigations into charges of misconduct involving detainees." It might be thought that wrongdoing on this scale suggested that there was a systemic problem for which the US Secretary of Defence should take responsibility. And Mr Rumsfeld has even appeared to accept this, as it has become known that he twice offered to resign over the disclosure of mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. His conduct is as cowardly as his policy is reprehensible. If he genuinely accepted responsibility, he would have quit, rather than allow President Bush to turn down his offer.
The so-called war on terror has been compromised by the semi-official US policy of the use of semi-torture in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq. It has been fundamentally flawed from the start by the refusal of George Bush to insist that it be fought - as even the Japanese were fought in the Second World War, despite their refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions - by the highest standards of international law.