Quick action needed in prisoner abuse case
As daily revelations about the abuse of prisoners of war in Iraq continue to unfold, the United States government and President Bush must take quick action not only to stop the systemic flaws that we know exist, but also to stop the continual damage to the reputation of the U.S. the world over. Our future dealings in the global community may depend on it.
In an era when the 24-hour news cycle reigns supreme – yes, Middle Eastern countries have satellite access to instant news – being cognizant of Muslim sensibilities is fundamental to our success in Iraq. Ultimately, the prisoner abuse scandal may be what defeats us there. Sure a military victory is guaranteed in the short run, but we are talking about hearts and minds, things that cannot be molded with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-16 machine guns. If it is possible to beat back the tide, and prevent this from becoming an effective recruitment tool for Al Qaeda, it will be done through openness in our system.
This is where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president come in.
In congressional hearings this week, Rumsfeld fielded questions about the military’s handling of the abuse case, oversight of military prisons and his leadership as the top-ranking civilian in the military.
Although his apologies echoed the eventual position of President Bush (who apologized on Arab TV), his lack of understanding about the potential repercussions of the abuse scandal, and lack of knowledge about where the system broke down, cast him as unsympathetic, unaware and potentially ineffective.
Although it is early to ask for Rumsfeld’s resignation (a political misstep by some congressional Democrats who turned the hearings into a showcase of political ambition), Rumsfeld certainly must require the military to openly admit what happened in those prisons, even if an institutional military flaw is revealed. The world knows better not to believe the actions of our military guards were isolated. A planned effort to break the prisoners was evident; it’s just a matter of how far up the ranks it goes. Simply sending a handful of prisoners to court martial will not solve the problem.
The part about a democratic system of government that should appeal to those who have lived under a dictatorship is openness; the openness of America to admit what went wrong and release photos that show how bad it got. Maybe, in terms of restoring our lost credibility in the world community, pursuing an open, critical examination of our own shortcomings will show the strength of our system. When Iraqis and the Muslim world learn the United States is willing to put itself in that potentially negative light, they’ll see what democracy and freedom are all about, something they did not experience under the thumb of Saddam Hussein.
Now is not the time for cover-ups and double talk. Release the photos, reveal our weaknesses and start the long process of restoring our credibility. Show the world the United States believes in liberty guided by conscience.