I oppose the House resolution that claims to condemn prisoner abuse in Iraq. Like so many resolutions we have seen here on the Iraq war, this one is not at all what it purports to be. Were this really a resolution condemning abuse of prisoners and other detainees, I doubt anyone here would oppose it. Clearly the abuse and humiliation of those in custody is deplorable, and the pictures we have all seen over the past week are truly horrific.
But why are we condemning a small group of low-level servicemembers when we do not yet know the full story? Why are we rushing to insert ourselves into an ongoing investigation, pretending that we already know the conclusions when we have yet to even ask all the questions? As revolting as the pictures we have seen are, they are all we have to go by, and we are reacting to these pictures alone. We do not and cannot know the full story at this point, yet we jump to condemn those who have not even yet had the benefit of a trial. We appear to be operating on the principle of guilty until proven innocent. It seems convenient and perhaps politically expedient to blame a small group of "bad apples" for what may well turn out to be something completely different as the continuously widening investigation increasingly suggests.
Some of the soldiers in the photographs claim that their superior officers and the civilian contractors in charge of the interrogations forced them to pose this way. We cannot say with certainty what took place in Iraq’s prisons based on a few photographs. We have heard that some of those soldiers put in charge of prisons in Iraq were woefully unprepared for the task at hand. We have heard that they were thrown into a terribly confusing, stressful, and dangerous situation with little training and little understanding of the rules and responsibilities. What additional stresses and psychological pressures were applied by those in charge of interrogations? We don’t know. Does this excuse what appears to be reprehensible behavior? Not in the slightest, but it does suggest that we need to get all the facts before we draw conclusions. It is more than a little disturbing that this resolution does not even mention the scores of civilian contractors operating in these prisons at whom numerous fingers are being pointed as instigators of these activities. While these individuals seem to operate with impunity, this legislation before us all but convicts without trial those lowest in the chain of command.
But this resolution is only partly about the alleged abuses of detainees in Iraq. Though this is the pretext for the legislation, this resolution is really just an enthusiastic endorsement of our nation-building activities in Iraq. This resolution "expresses the continuing solidarity and support of the House of Representatives with the Iraqi people in building a viable Iraqi government and a secure nation." Also this resolution praises the "mission to rebuild and rehabilitate a proud nation after liberating it " At least the resolution is honest in admitting that our current presence in Iraq is nothing more than a nation-building exercise.
Further, this resolution explicitly endorses what is clearly a failed policy in Iraq. I wonder whether anyone remembers that we did not go to war against Iraq to build a better nation there, or to bring about "improvements in water, sewage, power, infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, and food security " as this resolution touts. Nor did those who urged this war claim at the time that the goals were to "significantly improv[e] food availability, health service, and educational opportunities" in Iraq, as this legislation also references. No, the war was essential, they claimed, to stop a nation poised to use weapons of mass destruction to inflict unspeakable harm against the United States. Now historical revisionists are pointing out how wonderful our nation-building is going in Iraq, as if that justifies the loss of countless American and Iraqi civilian lives.
This resolution decries the fact that the administration had not informed Congress of these abuses and that the administration has not kept Congress in the information loop. Yet, Congress made it clear to the administration from the very beginning that Congress wanted no responsibility for the war in Iraq. If Congress wanted to be kept in the loop it should have vigorously exercised its responsibilities from the very beginning. This means, first and foremost, that Congress should have voted on a declaration of war as required in the Constitution. Congress, after abrogating this responsibility in October 2002, now is complaining that it is in the dark. Indeed, who is to say that the legal ambiguity created by the Congressional refusal to declare war may not have contributed to the notion that detainees need not be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, that governs the treatment of prisoners during a time of war? Until Congress takes up its constitutional responsibilities, complaints that the administration is not sufficiently forthcoming with information ring hollow.
This resolution calls on the administration to keep Congress better informed. But Congress has the power and the obligation to keep itself better informed! If Congress is truly interested in being informed, it should hold hearings exercising its subpoena power if necessary. Depending on the administration to fulfill what is our own constitutional responsibility is once again passing the buck. Isn’t this what has gotten us into this trouble in the first place?