Maybe Some Accountability for Abu Ghraib?

Maybe Some Accountability for Abu Ghraib?

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tried to resign (twice) over the Abu Ghraib scandals last year, but President Bush refused both times to accept his resignation. As I explained here, I think someone, probably Rumsfeld, should take responsibility for Abu Ghraib and I almost thought his attempt to resign reflected a similar feeling. But then, he makes this boneheaded statement:

What was going on in the midnight shift in Abu Ghraib prison halfway across the world is something that clearly someone in Washington, D.C., can’t manage or deal with . . . I have no regrets.

Rumsfeld is not responsible for Abu Ghraib because he intended for it to happen. He is responsible (in my mind) because he failed to create policies and procedures that would have prevented the abuses from occurring. For all the yelling about Gonzales (update: see this NYT editorial today), if any cabinet officer is responsible for Abu Ghraib, it is undoubtedly Rumsfeld.

Update (2/4): I should also have noted this account suggests Rumsfeld will avoid going to Germany because of a lawsuit filed there by the Center for Constitutional Rights accusing him of responsibility for the Abu Ghraib abuses (note, unlike U.S. lawsuits, this is essentially an individual request for a criminal prosecution that German prosecutors have an obligation to investigate). I don’t approve of this sort of lawsuit in general, because I think Rumsfeld was guilty of negligence for which he should have resigned, but not “war crimes” and, in any case, a German court is unlikely to be a good forum to hash this stuff out. In fact, as Professor Bainbridge’s semi-facetious reaction here illustrates, it is likely to spur a rather unhelpful reaction from the U.S.

And I am a little bit shocked that CCR has added to their German filing an expert affidavit by Scott Horton, a partner at Patterson Belknap in New York and an adjunct prof at Columbia, who apparently concludes that no criminal investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses could occur here in the U.S. because the “criminal and investigative functions are controlled by the individuals who are involved in the conspiracy to commit war crimes.” This is strong stuff and I am curious how Horton backs up his Chomsky-like claim that the U.S. government, and its Justice Department, have become dominated by war criminals.

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Surely you can’t think that the Secretary of Defense can create air-tight policies to prevent everything that happens halfway around the world. Maybe “I have no regrets” wasn’t the best language, but I would be completely satisfied with something like “We do all we can, but sometimes the distance and the logistics make complete control of what’s happening impossible. We did the best we could.”