Rumsfeld Goes into Lion’s Den
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew into the eye of the Iraqi storm on Thursday and denied his surprise visit was a publicity stunt to repair the damage from a scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Hours after U.S. lawmakers viewed “sadistic” new photographs, Rumsfeld arrived by helicopter at Abu Ghraib jail, Saddam Hussein’s most notorious prison, where seven U.S. military police reservists are accused of sexually and physically tormenting detainees.
During his half-hour tour of the site in an armored bus, most of the 3,000 prisoners kept in razor-wire compounds looked on impassively, but some shook fists or gave thumbs-down signs.
“We told ourselves that the right thing to do was to come out here and look you folks in the eye,” Rumsfeld told U.S. guards in the prison mess hall after meeting Major General Geoffrey Miller, the new commander in charge of jails in Iraq.
“In recent months the things that happened at this base happened under our responsibility and it has been a body blow for all of us…Don’t let anyone tell you that America is what’s wrong with the world because it’s not.
“We will get through this tough period, no doubt about it.”
The trip looked like a robust answer to critics who say Rumsfeld, one of the architects of the Iraq war, should resign, six months before President Bush seeks re-election.
As international anger at U.S. conduct in Iraq — and at its Guantanamo Bay prison on Cuba — mounts, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the soldiers: “Those who committed crimes will be dealt with and the American people will be proud of it and the Iraqi people will be proud.”
A bold move indeed. It’s entirely symbolic, of course, but symbolism is quite often incredibly important, especially for senior leaders. Not only does it send the strongest possible message that Rumsfeld is fully engaged in getting to the bottom of the problem but it also shows support for these soldiers, the vast majority of whom were almost certainly not involved in these shameful abuses. While it’s ultimately incidental compared to the other impacts of this scandal, the innocent soldiers serving at Abu Ghraib have suffered enormous collateral damage.
Steven Taylor has a Rummy roundup.