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DONALD RUMSFELD AND PRISONER ABUSE AT ABU GHRAIB
Facing the Senate Armed Services Committees on May 7, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded to the question of whether he would resign over the recently exposed prisoner abuse allegations in Iraq: “Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I’d resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people are trying to make a political issue out of it.”1 A political issue it would inevitably become, as a scant six months remained before the presidential election. The war in Iraq already proved to be a central theme, and a polarized electorate threatened to magnify the political implications. Haunting images of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, the prison once notorious for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s cruelty to his own people, were first released during the airing of CBS’s Sixty Minutes II, on April 28, 2004. Soldiers had gathered and shared these pictures on discs, via e- mail, and even used them as screen savers on computers within interrogation rooms. The images depicted naked prisoners forced into sexual positions, crawling on the floor, handcuffed to other naked prisoners, or standing with their arms secured above their heads for hours or days on end. The images further revealed soldiers threatening naked prisoners with military dogs and prisoners wearing hoods—their genitals attached to electric wires. Some were bruised, slashed, and even shot to death. The pictures—utterly graphic, shocking, and undeniable—evoked visceral reactions around the world. President Bush and members of Congress claimed they were not briefed about the problems or allegations before CBS released pictures to television audiences, news organizations, and internet viewers worldwide. As events continued to unfold in the news, questions about the training and supervision of the prison guards emerged. From Senate hearings and call- in radio shows, American allies and Arab populations, a volley of voices demanded answers. Who should be held accountable for the guards’ actions? Were they instructed to abide by the Geneva Conventions? Why were they taking pictures? What indication did they have from superiors that this was appropriate behavior? What implications would the revelations have for American support for the war in Iraq, for the presidential election campaign, and perhaps more importantly, for
Donald Rumsfeld video clip, CNN Larry King Live, Transcript #050700CN.V22, p. 5, May 7, 2004.
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Donald Rumsfeld and Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib
America’s image on a global scale? These questions prompted many commentators, such as CNN’s Larry King to ask, “Does someone big have to go?”2 The Taguba Report While top officials and politicians apparently remained unaware of events that would soon unfold in a political crisis, military officials had...