The Church Report executive summary (now available in the Torture Inc. archives) doesn't really break new ground on the issue of detainee treatment. And I mean it really doesn't break new ground - no senior officials are held responsible or accountable for the abuse. No policies are identified as directing, condoning, or contributing to detainee abuse. And remember, we aren't just talking about abu Ghraib here. Detainee mistreatment, abuse, and possibly torture have taken place in the battlefields and war theater temporary prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the actual prisons in those countries and in Guantanamo. Undoubtedly, it's also taken place in the secret CIA prisons that are allegedly sprinkled throughout the world.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings yesterday on the report, hearings which only 10 of the 24 committee members managed to attend. (No transcript available yet.) The issue of senior level accountability was hit hard by Senators on both sides of the aisle.
Senators expressed dismay yesterday that no senior military or civilian Pentagon officials have been held accountable for the policy and command failures that led to detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Navy admiral who wrote the most recent review of U.S. detention policies was largely unable to say where that accountability should lie. (WaPo)
There was the usual cheer leading, however, from Sen. James Talent (R-MO) who earns the rank of bishop in the faith-based community with this comment.
"[I don't ] need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn't do it." (WaPo)
Nice. No need to investigate you see because he just knows. I don't know how he just knows, but he does. What a loser. Is this guy really a Senator? How about we don't investigate criminal charges against people we think are nice, the ones whose neighbors say "but he seemed like such a nice guy". Because, you know, it's not the truth that matters. It's our belief in what the truth is that really counts. Ugh, this kind of stupidity, this abandonment of process and thought, drives me crazy.
It's interesting to note that Adm. Church didn't interview Def. Sec. Rumsfeld. He stopped once he got to Undersecretary Wolfowitz. Why? In a press briefing after the hearing, he said that he didn't have any more questions, had resolved everything that needed resolving (except that pesky accountability issue, but hey I don't want to get petty here). Church implied pretty clearly that there was no value in talking to Rumsfeld. (NYT) Huh. How surprised are you?
On the issue of senior level accountability, the New York Times reported that:
But under repeated questioning, Admiral Church acknowledged that "with hindsight I think guidance should have been issued to Afghanistan and Iraq either by the Central Command or higher authority." He said that was consistent with the Schlesinger panel's findings, which he endorsed.
Despite the recognition that there was a "missed opportunity" or rather a f**k up at high levels, Adm. Church deflected assigning responsibility and its partner, accountability, this way:
"I don't think you can hold anybody accountable for a situation that maybe if you had done something different, maybe something would have occurred differently," he said. "It's a lesson learned that we need to capture and think about for the future." (WaPo)
Interesting theory. You can't hold someone accountable just because if they'd done their job then detainees might not have been abused. But isn't that the idea behind criminal charges of negligent homicide or neglecting a child? Is it a defense to say that if you hadn't been negligent the person still might have died? The child still might have gotten hurt? I don't think so. It might mitigate penalties, but it doesn't eliminate your responsibility. Except in Bush's military, apparently. But only for senior level officials. It's outrageous, really, that there have been no real repercussions at high levels for detainee abuse while six Ohio reservists were court-martialed for taking Army vehicles abandoned in Kuwait so they could complete their mission of delivering fuel to troops in Iraq. Rank matters, doesn't it?
There is still the possibility that those high up in the chain of command might be held accountable. "The Army is reviewing the cases of at least five senior officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former ground commander in Iraq. The reviews could lead to disciplinary action but are unlikely to lead to criminal charges, Army officials said." (NYT)
And on a final note, I'd like to highlight the Pentagon's continued whine that paying attention to the abuse of detainees - violations of the Geneva Conventions, administration efforts to make torture legal, actions that stain our national character and invite torturers elsewhere to use our behavior to justify their own - paying attention to this is unfair to our troops.
One thing to note, I think, is that the focus on the abuse really does overshadow the efforts that these service men and women are performing on a daily basis. Obviously, in the global war on terrorism they continue to serve with honor and distinction. And the service men and women who committed some of these abuses are certainly not characteristic of the great majority of whom that serve with distinction and honor every day in the cause of freedom.(DOD press briefing)
The Church report ultimately clarifies to some degree how things got out of control and in my read it's a command problem. It uncovers no new ground in terms of actual detainee treatment but does make it clear that those in command didn't train or inform the servicemen and women under their command effectively. That's being addressed now but I'm still clearly upset that instead of stepping up and taking responsibility the military prefers to think of what could be construed as dereliction of duty as "missed opportunities". There are folks on the right side of the political aisle who disagree and see the Church report as the final word on the issue. (See this Slate post, which kindly includes an excerpt from this blog.) I think that's wishful thinking. At least I hope it is. One bright spot is that the Senate Armed Services Committee intends to have at least one more hearing on the issue. Let's hope that Senators think it's important enough to attend.