Thursday, May 5, 2005

Taking a Pass With Young Lives

Donald Rumsfeld ought to have a hard time with whatever conscience he has left. 


Secretaries of Defense send people off to get killed in wars we agree with or don’t and that’s expected and the families involved work with their grief as best they can.  It's their job.  Lots of things go unexpectedly wrong in war and that’s part of the responsibility as well.  War is never a sure thing and the issue is even more clouded since we changed the title of the Secretary of War to the Secretary of Defense.  Semantics will carry you only so far.


But Don Rumsfeld is buying personal deniability at the cost of young soldiers spending years in prison for his sins and that’s unconscionable.  Every day that Rumsfeld has breakfast, enters the waiting limousine, swaggers into his Pentagon office and exercises his freedom to be in that office, it’s at the cost of dead-ended young lives behind bars.  Each night when he is chauffeured home to dress for this or that event at which he will be an honored guest, the party time is paid in hard time, one man’s freedom and honor tallied against many men’s (and women’s) jail time and dishonor.


One of the truly great things about America is that it’s almost impossible to sweep a dirty deal under the rug and expect it to stay there. When dealing dirty, the deal is never entirely done.  I hope that fact makes the guilty sweat, because there’s enough sweat to go around in this conspiracy of the powerful  breaking rules of war and letting those without power clean up the broken glass. What disclosure will tomorrow’s headline bring, what coverup will come uncovered, what truth will out while the powerful have their dinners?


When the arrogant are unhorsed, it’s usually at the hands of the honorable; those lesser ranking men who follow the natural paths of character.  Such a man is Colonel James L. Pohl, chief judge of the Army Court Martial trying Pfc. Lynndie England for her part in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He finds her guilty plea, a trumped-up deal to keep the quiet quiet and the guilty uncharged, not credible. Not capable of being believed is the exact definition. England is not yet off the hook, but the Army will have to decide what to do with her now that Pohl has chosen law over expedience. 


Col. Pohl could easily have let things run along their organized and well-greased course, the advancement of his career assured.  The court would no doubt have found Pcf. England guilty and like Pvt. Graner before her (serving 10 years behind military bars) she would have been quietly consigned to a system exchanging her young life for the acceptance of in-credibility.  Each day of whatever sentence she might have been given going to pay Rumsfeld’s bar bill and photo-op.  The officers senior to her as well, those who’s careers were at risk, although I give them less scorn than Don because they are commanded from above as much as Pfc. England. 


No one commands above Rumsfeld but the president and it’s hard to believe he dreamed up this nightmare, it has Donald’s braggadocio written all over it.


But someone always pays the price of honor and in this case it will be Colonel Pohl.  A man of sufficient morality and command presence to attain far higher rank, he will pay for this in his fitness report and probably retire, blocked from advancement and consigned to the lowliest desk a Colonel can sit.  Men of integrity and honor don’t do well at the lowliest of desks and so we can expect him to not complain, salute smartly and leave.


That’s why this story isn't about Pfc. England at all.  This whole matter comes down to comparisons between a man of extraordinary courage and a man of none at all.