Who will the president hold to account for Abu Ghraib?
In May, President Bush gave two interviews to Arab language television stations to address the breaking story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
The unusual broadcast was designed to control damage to U.S. efforts in Iraq following the publication of photographs of naked Iraqis being humiliated by American soldiers in a prison where Saddam Hussein's victims were once tortured.
At the time, the president obviously wanted to sound shocked by the abuse -- he called it "abhorrent" -- and committed to seeing justice done. & quot;We will fully investigate; we will let everybody see the results of the investigation; and then people will be held to account, & quot; Bush told one of the stations, Al-Hurra.
In less than four months, half of that pledge has been met. The findings of a top-level independent investigating panel chaired by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger have been released.
Now comes the difficult part for President Bush -- making good on his statement that people will be held to account.
The Schlesinger committee stopped short of calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying that to do so would be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. But, clearly, the panel did not exonerate Rumsfeld.
While it found no evidence of a policy calling for the abuse of prisoners, it said the administration's casual dismissal of the Geneva Conventions and its willingness, as documented in internal memos, to at least entertain the use of torture had established a culture that migrated from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to Iraq.
There is little doubt that Rumsfeld played a role in that culture. Accusations regarding the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were circulating at the Pentagon for months before the story broke with the release of gruesome pictures on CBS-TV. Even then, Rumsfeld demonstrate a casual, perhaps even callous, disregard for the story that was about to break. The day before CBS aired its report, Rumsfeld met with Congressional leaders for a briefing on Iraq, and didn't bother to mention the impending firestorm. The White House acknowledged that President Bush was unhappy that Rumsfeld had not given him an advanced report on the accusations of abuse.
Beyond whatever benign neglect Rumsfeld may have exhibited regarding how prisoners were being treated, there is the other issue raised by a separate investigation by three Army generals.
That report found that the abuse was an outgrowth of inadequate planning for postwar Iraq. Abu Ghraib was staffed by inexperienced, undertrained reservists, who were swamped by an influx of prisoners from nightly roundups. From a handful of prisoners, Abu Ghraib grew to more than 7,000 in seven months, guarded by 90 personnel from an MP brigade.
It is worth remembering that military professionals in the Pentagon warned their civilian superiors that more troops were needed on the ground to maintain order in Iraq once Baghdad fell. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki was forced out of his post by Rumsfeld and his aides after the general refused to back away from his contention that occupation forces would be needed in higher numbers than Rumsfeld wanted to commit.
Thus far, seven guards have been charged in the prison abuse cases and a few officers have been relieved of their command. There has been no public action taken against military or private contractor intelligence agents who may have at least encouraged some of the abuse.
President Bush now faces a self-imposed challenge. Having told the world that what sets the United States apart from totalitarian regimes is its willingness to investigate wrongdoing no matter were it occurs and hold to account those who are responsible, he must do exactly that.