Report accuses Rumsfeld of responsibility for detainee abuse

The Senate Armed Services Committee released a “bipartisan” report accusing former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the responsible for the plan to use harsh interrogation techniques on captured fighters and terrorism suspects,

According the Washington Post, the Committee report, released by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, rejects the Bush administration’s contention that the policies originated lower down the command chain:

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the panel concludes. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

Apparently the report is considered “bipartisan” because it was released by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain:

“The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody,” McCain, himself a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said in a statement. “These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.” 

The report cites a memo signed by President Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, declaring that the Geneva Convention’s standards for humane treatment did not apply to captured al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as the “true genesis of the decision to use coercive techniques.”

It’s been a while since I read Doug Feith’s objective and thoroughly sourced history of the decision to go to war in Iraq — War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. My recollection is that there was a lengthy debate and very good reasons supporting the determination that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to the terrorists.

I also remember in 2001 there were no rules for a conflict such as the war the Islamic extremists are waging against us. Very smart and thoughtful people concluded you could not automatically apply the Geneva conventions to the terrorists without degrading the Conventions.  

I remain very thankful that we had the benefit of serious people willing to look closely at these unsavory issues and try to hammer out a policy that was in our national interests, legal, and, yes, humane. A policy that and has kept us safe for more than seven years. I am concerned that a witch hunt of the sort pursued by Senators Levin and McCain will discourage their successors from going anywhere near such thorny issues.  

All of us, including Senators Levin and McCain, need to remember that our detainee policy doesn’t just happen of its own accord.  It cannot migrate like a flock of birds. It is either established by lawful orders or it isn’t. Numerous Courts Martial concluded that the  abuse at Abu Ghraib was not established by lawful orders within the Defense Department — in other words it was not an extension of the orders given in regards to GTMO as is claimed in this report. I’m not sure how this “migration” of policy is supposed to work.  Furthermore, Senators Levin and McCain seem to have taken little trouble over the differences between CIA and Defense Department policy, which further muddies these important issues.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the Armed Services Committee’s report.  Nevertheless, from the Post’s report it is clear that it’s an attempt to rewrite the history of the war in order to persecute the Americans who waged it. It is unfortunate that Senator McCain gives such an effort the credence of his name.