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Blame it on the guards

May 22, 2009 - Jim Anderson
In a speech Thursday, former Vice President Dick Cheney said it's unfair to link the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the Bush administration's endorsement of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Quoting Cheney: "In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations.

"At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America's cause, they deserved and received Army justice.

"And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men."

In a piece published today, Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers cite a number of omissions, exaggerations and misstatements in Cheney's speech concerning the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

About Abu Ghraib, they note that a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December drew a connection between abuses at the prison in Iraq and the approval of aggressive techniques by senior Bush administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," said the report issued by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees."

Rumsfeld has said that he twice offered to resign over Abu Ghraib, but was refused.

Cheney still wants to excuse Rumsfeld and other higher officials, including Dick Cheney. He acknowledges conduct at Abu Ghraib that was indefensible and hurt America’s cause, but wants no part of the accountability.

It’s unfair, yes, to suggest that Cheney endorsed the “disgraces of Abu Ghraib.”

The worst of the allegations include murder, sodomy and the torture of children. (To this day, some defenders of the prison characterize abuses merely as “humiliation.” Commanders now say that many of the prisoners were innocent, scooped up at the wrong place, the wrong time, speaking the wrong language.)

Under Cheney’s version, a handful of American guards strayed. He neglects the fact that actions to stop abuses were far from immediate.

Just as it’s unfair to suggest that Cheney somehow endorsed the conduct, it’s also a stretch to believe that Abu Ghraib was an aberration that stemmed solely from grunt-level mistakes.

We may never fully understand how far up the ladder it ran. But up the ladder it did run.


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