Tuesday, April 26, 2005

We Take Care of Our Own

Taking care of our own is a military tradition, the backbone of trust and the promise made before battle. You get wounded, we’ll get you out, no matter the cost. Taken prisoner?  We won’t forget.
All of which has been turned on its ear in Iraq, where troops are sent into battle under-strength, without sufficient armor, their terms of duty arbitrarily extended beyond the enlistment contract and where they are made scapegoat in order to provide deniability up the chain-of-command.


That chain in this case extends to the Secretary of Defense and, above him, the president.  Iraq has become the deniable war.  Military honor and command structure is, day after day after day, taking a back seat to expedience and deniability.
It’s a hell of a way to run an army and morale across the services is at bedrock bottom.
So, the headline Top Army Officers Are Cleared in Abuse Cases shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise.


The Army Inspector General’s Report essentially says “We have stuck our fingers up our ass, taken our temperature and find we are not now and have not been sick.”


Terrific.
You may as well ask Enron to examine its internal financial manipulations and then rig a report that, if accepted by its board, closes all further litigation against its fraud.  Suggested title: Top Enron Officers are Cleared in Fraud Cases.


According to the IG, a colonel and a light-colonel may face criminal or disciplinary measures.  The most expendable general, Brigadier Janis Karpinski will probably draw a reprimand which will end her career.  Thus three officers who were without a doubt operating under acquiescence (if not direct orders) from above will take the heat.  Mid-level Pentagon brass (in this case the Inspector General) protects Lt. Gen. Sanchez, the Army's commander in Iraq, thereby covering the Pentagon brass above him, thereby cocooning Donald Rumsfeld and giving deniability to the military’s top man, President Bush.  Neatly accomplished if it were believable.


The IG report stipulates that the dereliction happened at brigade level and below.
And that, my friends, is the biggest load of horse-manure ever foisted off on the American public and made to smell like rose petals.
Given the extent of the conduct it is just not credible. 


Rogue officers exist in the military without doubt, as do rogue enlisted men and women. Things go wrong right and left under battle conditions, but we’re not talking about battle conditions. What went wrong as chronicled at Abu Ghraib, went wrong institutionally and worldwide when prisoners were held and abused in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and no one doubts for a moment many other undisclosed locations. To suggest that this organized contempt for international law regarding prisoners was not sanctioned is beyond comprehension.


John Ashcroft, the Attorney General, was busily defining torture and what he thought could be gotten away with.  Alberto Gonzales, counsel to the president, weighed in with his opinions in memo form. Why would the counsel to the president become involved in defining what was and was not criminal by a few rogue officers at or below brigade level? Legal counsel to the president smells like and looks like and feels like something afoot considerably above brigade level. Why is it that no top government or Pentagon official expressed shock and outrage when the cat got out of the bag?  Their reactions were uniformly to run for deniability and if you're not part of the crime you don't need deniability.


Colin Powell looked stricken, but Powell was always pretty much out of the loop and he was watching his beloved Army get its reputation shellacked.


I’ve been in the army, at precisely the grunt level where most of the heat is being taken and I declare with absolute certainty that this kind of substantive abuse, particularly across a worldwide penal complex, is impossible without complicity all or most of the way up the chain of command.
The Army has not yet officially announced the results of their investigation, but they briefed senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  That’s what’s called a will this thing fly? briefing before going on record.  If not too much shit hits the fan in committee, we'll go with it. You can bet there’s huge pressure on the committee to accept this ludicrous piece of investigative smoke so Rummy, Alberto Gonzales, the discredited Ashcroft and Paul Wolfowitz can get on with the business of deniability, for themselves as well as their president.


The military has been enormously damaged by this steam-rollering on the part of Donald Rumsfeld. It will not recover itself by issuing a report no one believes to be anything but a palliative, rather than a self-examination of how one misunderstanding led to so many others.  The military misunderstood the limits of constitutional civilian control, allowing Rumsfeld an unprecedented degree of civilian contempt for the senior officers across all services. It allowed itself to be bamboozled into a war for which it was ill prepared, allowing Rumsfeld and Cheney to literally waltz it off its feet.


Now those chickens have come home to roost and the stakes are such that yet another stumbling performance is being staged by the Inspector General. 
All we can hope is that John Warner, chairman of the armed Services Committee, isn’t going to buy it.