Who Is Responsible?

It is becoming increasingly clear that the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an isolated incident or merely the work of poorly trained and undisciplined Army reservists. Similar outrages, including the murder of prisoners, are emerging concerning other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Responsibility for setting the conditions that permitted these crimes to be committed lies higher up the chain of command. Despite claims by the Bush administration and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the Geneva Conventions were applied to prisoners in Iraq, there is now evidence that efforts were made to circumvent the legal protections accorded prisoners. This should not be surprising. After all, the administration explicitly rejected the Geneva Conventions with regard to the interrogation of prisoners in Afghanistan, arguing that the treaties did not apply to nonuniformed terrorists. Was it likely that interrogation techniques would change once the “war on terrorism” got to Iraq?

Who is responsible for the egregious failures at Abu Ghraib? Certainly those directly involved must be punished. But the misguided effort to find excuses for evading the Geneva Conventions began at high levels of the administration almost immediately after 9/11. Newsweek has reported that Justice Department lawyers drew up a memo in early 2002 arguing that the U.S. military “did not have to comply with any international...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.