25 August 2004
Few people - other than blind supporters of the way President Bush has conducted the war in Iraq - will be surprised to learn that top Pentagon and US Army officials have been implicated in the maltreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Yesterday an official commission for the first time linked the abuse with the guidance and policies set by top officials in Washington. Its language was not dramatic - after all, its chairman, James R Schlesinger, a former Defense Secretary, was handpicked for the inquiry by Donald Rumsfeld, the man many regard as the prime villain - but its message was unmistakable.
The Schlesinger report places the blame for the scandal on General Ricardo S Sanchez, then the top US commander in Iraq, who once called on intelligence officers to work more closely with military police to "manipulate an internee's emotions and weaknesses". Another report, by Major General George R Fay, due out tomorrow, will recommend that at least 20 intelligence officers face punishment for their behaviour, which included sanctioning the use of unmuzzled dogs to intimidate prisoners. All this further undermines the claim by the Bush administration that the abuse was the work of the few "bad apples" currently being court-martialled at a US base in Mannheim.
It was not a claim which ever had much credibility. The same reports of systematic brutality, gunpoint interrogation, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation which came from Abu Ghraib were also voiced by those released from Guantanamo Bay and Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Some of the measures were even enshrined in the official advice of Pentagon lawyers, who drew up a 72-point matrix of approved "stress and duress" techniques for use in interrogation. They were part of what the Red Cross denounced as "a general pattern of mistreatment of detainees" right across the prisons of Iraq.
Now an official US commission has given its verdict too. Whatever the show trials in Mannheim find, few will doubt that George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are guilty of setting the moral climate which allowed such behaviour to take place.