Despite being asked by President George W. Bush to stay in his post, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld appears to be in growing political trouble, and not just because of his cavalier reply last week to a question posed by a member of the Tennessee National Guard in Kuwait about the lack of armored vehicles to protect U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Senior Republican lawmakers, including two of the most highly decorated Vietnam veterans in the U.S. Senate, have hardened their criticism of Rumsfeld’s performance, with one of them, Senator John McCain, telling Associated Press this week he has "no confidence" in the defense secretary.
Calling some of Rumsfeld’s actions in the Iraq war "irresponsible," the second senator, Chuck Hagel, stressed that his critique "goes beyond" the question of armor for the troops or the failure to anticipate an escalating and increasingly deadly insurgency.
Asked if he was disappointed Bush had asked Rumsfeld to stay on, Hagel replied, "The president’s decision is his decision. He will live with that decision. He’ll have to defend that decision. And that’s all I want to say about it."
Those attacks followed the defense chief’s brusque reply in a question and answer session to the soldier, Specialist Thomas Wilson, who asked why troops in Iraq had to armor vehicles themselves with scrap materials they found in garbage dumps. "You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld responded, "not the Army you might want or wish to have."
Discontent is also growing over the ballooning price tag for the war: latest reports indicate the Pentagon will ask for as much as $90 billion more to finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, bringing the total in over three years to close to $250 billion.
Yet another major factor that is churning the waters of discontent against Rumsfeld is the still growing and strategically costly scandal over the abuse by U.S. soldiers of detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in Iraq and Afghanistan, new details of which appear to drip out virtually daily.
On Tuesday, to take the latest example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that documents obtained from the U.S. Navy revealed that the abuse and even torture of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq has been widespread.
Among the worst mistreatment reported in the documents were mock executions of juvenile detainees, electric shock, beatings, and forcing hooded and shackled prisoners to kneel for up to 24 hours while awaiting interrogation.
"Day after day, new stories of torture are coming to light, and we need to know how these abuses were allowed to happen," said ACLU Director Anthony Romero in a statement. "This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order."
That failure, according to rapidly accumulating evidence, can be located behind Rumsfeld’s office door, according to Scott Horton, the head of a task force of the New York City Bar Association that has been investigating U.S. detention and interrogation practices in the "war on terrorism" for almost three years.
"His strategy of blaming it all on a handful of grunts has collapsed," said Horton, who says he has interviewed many senior career military and government lawyers who have been outraged by Rumsfeld’s disregard for the Geneva Conventions and other protections that have traditionally been accorded prisoners of war.
Horton pointed in particular to a series of recent disclosures some of them leaked to the press, others turned over to the ACLU as part of a lawsuit that pointed to Rumsfeld and two top aides, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, and Cambone’s deputy, Gen. William Boykin, as apparently having authorized the worst practices by military Special Operations Forces (SOF).
The latest disclosures come from records and documents of three agencies the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that have worked with the military at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The first, a classified June 25 memo from DIA Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby to Cambone, complained that a clandestine military task force in Iraq had beaten detainees, expelled DIA officials from interrogation rooms, confiscated any evidence they collected of abuse, and threatened them with retaliation if they reported what they had seen to their superiors.
Another set of documents obtained by the ACLU described heated objections by FBI and DIA officers to the violence of interrogation methods used by the military task force apparently SOF personnel in which they argued the techniques were both potentially illegal and counterproductive in terms of producing reliable intelligence.
When a senior FBI official took his agency’s complaints to a meeting last May with the two top officers at the Guantanamo detention facility one of whom, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, was sent to oversee detention operations in Iraq a few weeks later the two generals concluded by saying, "The [FBI] has their way of [doing] business and the DoD [Department of Defense] has their marching orders from the Sec Def," a reference to Rumsfeld himself.
A July 14 letter from a senior FBI counter-terrorism official to a military counterpart, obtained by the Associated Press last week, described a case at Guantanamo where an FBI agent observed a female interrogator squeezing a male detainee’s genitals and bending back his thumbs, as well as other "highly aggressive" interrogation techniques, including the use of a dog to intimidate another detainee.
Finally, the New York Times reported Tuesday that the CIA had issued a secret directive in August 2003 to all its personnel in Iraq to avoid any military interrogations in Iraq that involved techniques "beyond questions and answers."
"The new disclosure," the Times wrote, "is the latest sign of long-standing unease in intelligence circles about the military’s interrogation techniques in Iraq." The CIA, it reported, also barred its personnel from even entering a secret SOF interrogation facility in Iraq.
"The CIA has a reputation for dealing with detainees in a very rough and aggressive way, and for it to say that what’s going on with the SOF is way over the top and we can’t allow our people to be involved with it really turns on alarm signals," Horton told IPS.
"So we’ve got all three agencies concluding that detainees are being abused; we don’t want our employees involved; and, by the way, Donald Rumsfeld seems to be personally approving this," he continued, adding that several dozen SOF task forces appear "to have been given clearance to do whatever they want against ‘high-value’ suspects" in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.
Moreover, he added, internal investigations of SOF teams in which torture and even murder have been alleged have either been dealt with administratively or stalled. Ordinarily, he said, the military is very efficient in dealing with cases very quickly, as it did with the half dozen low-ranking Army personnel responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuses that were disclosed earlier this year.
Horton said that at a meeting he attended last May between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and representatives of various human rights groups, a deputy White House counsel had himself complained that his office could not get answers to key questions about interrogation policy and practices from the Pentagon. "You’re having problems," Horton quoted the official as saying. "We’re also having problems getting information, and we’re the White House."
According to Horton, "We’re in the final scenes of the Wizard of Oz, and the curtain has just been pulled back to show who has been pulling the levers."
(Inter Press Service)