In his first comments on the two major investigative reports issued this week at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday incorrectly described one of the reports' central findings about the U.S. military's treatment of Iraqi prisoners by saying there was no evidence that prisoners had been abused during interrogations. The reports, one by a panel Rumsfeld had appointed and one by three Army generals, made clear that some abuses occurred during interrogations, that others were intended to "soften up" prisoners who were to be questioned, and that many intelligence personnel involved in the interrogations were implicated in the abuses. But on Thursday, in an interview with a radio station in Phoenix, Rumsfeld, who was traveling outside Washington this week, said, "I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes." A transcript of the interview was posted on the Pentagon's Web site Friday. Rumsfeld repeated the assertion a few hours later at a news conference there. After an aide slipped him a note during the news conference, however, Rumsfeld corrected himself, noting that an inquiry by three Army generals had, in fact, found "two or three" cases of abuse during interrogations or the interrogation process. In fact, however, the Army inquiry found that 13 of 44 instances of abuse involved interrogations or the interrogation process, an Army spokeswoman said. The report itself explicitly describes the extent to which each abuse involved interrogations. On Friday, the chief Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, sought to play down Rumsfeld's comments, saying, "He misspoke, pure and simple. But he corrected himself." Rumsfeld has condemned the prisoner abuses, and did so again in his public appearances on Thursday in Arizona. But he has also hewed to the line that a small band of rogue military police were largely responsible for the beatings, acts of sexual humiliation and other abuses, especially those depicted in a notorious set of photographs that became public in April, informs Startribune. According to the Daytona Beach News, the Pentagon investigation released this week implicates dozens of soldiers and military intelligence officers, including the top two military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib prison. Abuses, the report says, "were widespread and . . . serious both in number and in effect." When the reports first surfaced, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld vowed to be accountable. "These events occurred on my watch," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 7. "As Secretary of Defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility." These events, the Pentagon investigation reveals, did not happen in a void. Intent on invading and occupying a country on the cheap -- with limited personnel and overwhelming firepower -- Rumsfeld left American troops unprepared to face the consequences of a poorly planned occupation. Where manpower was lacking, force took over. At Abu Ghraib prison, one guard could be responsible for 75 inmates, with equally imprudent ratios between guards and supervisors. Force yielded to abuse for two reasons: too few soldiers to handle too large an operation, and too much confusion over which interrogation procedures were permissible. The confusion was not always the result of accident. Detention and questioning techniques at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where the Pentagon has held more than 600 "enemy combatants" rounded up in Afghanistan, did not necessarily comply with those sanctioned by the Geneva Conventions. Those techniques migrated to Iraq with Rumsfeld's blessing when the insurgency in Iraq intensified. Newsday tells that responsibility goes farther up the line than that: All the way to President George W. Bush.
"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the Schlesinger panel said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels." Actually, at the highest level.
Bush set the stage for abuse in February 2002 when he declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaida prisoners and the Taliban were unlawful combatants unqualified for prisoner of war status. When the man at the top says the rules don't apply, abusive excesses are a predictable result.
Rumsfeld approved stronger interrogation techniques in December 2002 that migrated to Abu Ghraib, which was by then "seriously overcrowded and under-resourced."
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