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Cover-Up and Self-Investigation

When the photos from Abu Ghraib became public, the Bush administration reacted like many abusive governments that are caught red-handed: it went into damage-control mode.  It agreed that the torture and abuse featured in the photographs were wrong, but sought to minimize the problem.  The abusers, it claimed, were a handful of errant soldiers, a few “bad apples” at the bottom of the barrel.  The problem, it argued, was contained, both geographically (one section of Abu Ghraib prison) and structurally (only low-level soldiers, not more senior commanders).  The abuse photographed at Abu Ghraib and broadcast around the world, it maintained, had nothing to do with the decisions and policies of more senior officials.  President Bush vowed that “wrongdoers will be brought to justice,” but as of early December 2004, no one above the rank of sergeant is facing prosecution. 

Key to this damage control was a series of carefully limited investigations—ten so far.  Most of the investigations, such as those conducted by Maj. Gen. George Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony Jones, involved uniformed military officials examining the conduct of their subordinates; these officers lacked the authority to scrutinize senior Pentagon officials.  The one investigation with the theoretical capacity to examine the conduct of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides—the inquiry led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger—was appointed by Rumsfeld himself and seemed to go out of its way to distance him from the problem.  (At the press conference releasing the investigative report, Schlesinger said that Rumsfeld’s resignation “would be a boon to all America’s enemies.”)  The Schlesinger investigation lacked the independence of, for example, the September 11 Commission, which was established with the active involvement of the U.S. Congress.  As for the Central Intelligence Agency—the branch of the U.S. government believed to hold the most important terrorist suspects—it has apparently escaped scrutiny by anyone other than its own inspector general.  Meanwhile, no one seems to be looking at the role of President Bush and other senior administration officials. 

When an unidentified government official retaliated against a critic of the Bush administration by revealing his wife to be a CIA agent—a serious crime because it could endanger her—the administration agreed, under pressure, to appoint a special prosecutor who has been promised independence from administration direction.  Yet the administration has refused to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether senior officials authorized torture and other forms of coercive interrogation – a far more serious and systematic offense.  As a result, no criminal inquiry that the administration itself does not control is being conducted into the U.S. government’s abusive interrogation methods. The flurry of self-investigations cannot obscure the lack of any genuinely independent one. 

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2005