Thursday, May 13, 2004

The nature of responsibility

These events occurred on my watch. As Secretary of Defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility.

-- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

That's what Rumsfeld said last Friday, May 7, when he testified in front of the Senate Arms Services Committee about the recent Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. But Dubya has pledged to stand by Rusfeld, said he's doing a great job, and that he won't fire him.

Today Rumsfeld visted Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison where the abuse happened on his watch. Similarly, Congress got to see many of the rest of the photos which apparently contain the really bad stuff. That's right, the photos that have been shocked every civilized person across the globe weren't even the worst of the lot. Strangely enough, the administration isn't releasing these photos, apparently because it would violate the prisoners' rights to privacy and protection from humiliation. Right. I'm sure that's what they're really concerned about.

I wonder what's in these photos that's even worse that what we've seen. A Reuters article says that Congressmen that saw the photos saw no sign of "rape, murder or abuses of children." It's not clear if that means "rape of children, murder of children, or abuses of children," of if it means, "rape OR murder OR (abuses of children)." Pardon me for getting a bit geeky. The abuse that took place, however, did include forcible sodomy, so I'm wondering how that could be anything but rape, unless they mean it was with some sort of inanimate object.

(On a side note, I can't believe I'm sitting here calmly contemplating exactly how an American solider forcibly sodomized a person under his care. "Precisely what did you shove up the victim's ass, Private Smith?")

In a remarkable degree of foulness that astonishes even me, the Right is attempting to soft sell the abuse. Rush Limbaugh says, "You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don't know if it's just me but it looks like anything you'd see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage." I must have missed the concert where Madonna forcibly sodomized one of her backup singers. Also, I thank God that I don't get FOX News, because I might have come across (former Army interrogation instructor Tony Robinson saying, "...frat hazing is worse than this." Makes me glad I was never in a fraternity.

But to get back to the point of this post, Rumsfeld has accepted responsibility for all this. He admits should have known about it and done something about it, or done something to prevent it from happening in the first place. He's said that the buck stops with him. And nothing has happened. He hasn't resigned. He hasn't been fired. He hasn't been publicly disciplined by his superior (the President). He hasn't even been docked a freaking day's pay. So what does it mean to accept responsibilty for something like this? The obligation was his, and he failed in it. Responsibilities must come with consequences, otherwise they are meaningless.

I'm not saying that Rumsfeld -- if he truly is the one that is ultimately responsible -- must be punished just for the sake of punishing someone, anyone. But as I understand the Navy, the captain is responsible for the welfare of his ship, and the actions of his crew, even if he had no foreknowledge of them. It seems that the Iraq ship has run aground on someone's watch. Where's the captain now?

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