. . . Tuesday May 11, 2004

Up the Command Chain Without a Paddle

Should the higher-ups in the Pentagon be held responsible for what went on at Abu Graib, even if they didn’t give the orders?

There is no doubt that folks as far up the chain of command as Richard Myers were well aware – for months at least – of the abuses that were going on in Iraqi prisons.

Take a look at this exchange between Myers and Senator Dayton during last week’s Sentate hearings. Dayon was somewhat fixated on Myers request that CBS wait a couple of weeks before airing the pictures that broke this story wide open. While Dayton was trying to find a smoking gun on the freedom of the press issue (really a non-issue here), he may not have even noticed that Myers clearly indicates that he had been aware of abuses for months. Yet nothing had been done to rectify the situation until after the CBS story.

Myers: This was not to suppress anything. What I asked CBS News to do was to delay the release of the pictures, given the current situation in Iraq, which was as bad as it had been since major combat ended, because I thought it bring direct harm to our troops; it would kill our troops. We talked about it, and I said, “I know this report will eventually come out. But this — if you can delay it for some period of time — it would be helpful.”

Dayton: What period of time is that?

Myers: I did it based on talking to General Abizaid and his worry was like mine, and he convinced me that this was the right thing to do. There was no — this report has been around since January. What was new were the pictures. I asked for the pictures to be delayed.

Dayton: Did you discuss delaying — calling CBS to ask them to delay their report, with the secretary of defense, or the vice president or the president?

Myers: Of course not.

Dayton: None of those.

Myers: Of course not.

Now, remember that even several days after the CBS story broke, Myers still insisted that he had not read the Taguba report. He and Rumsfeld also suggested that they hadn’t seen the photos until the night before the Senate hearings.

But if the report had been around for months, shouldn’t someone have done something about it? Amid the apologies and the shock being expressed by the Pentagon, it’s probably worth asking that question.

Concentration is important!