- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

What the Rumsfeld-must-go crowd doesn’t seem to understand is that it is not the Pentagon’s job to make it more difficult for the American-led coalition to win the war in Iraq. That’s why the majority of the American people don’t share the left’s outrage that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass didn’t broadcast photographs of American prison guards abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Some people in the United States understand America is at war and the defense secretary is unlikely to release information bound to incite violence against American troops. That’s probably why a new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed a large majority of Americans think Mr. Rumsfeld should not resign over abuses at the Abu Ghraib Prison.

Let me be clear. America cannot win in Iraq by mimicking the cruelty of Saddam Hussein. Mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners only turns more people against the U.S. effort. Worse, if allowed to continue, it threatens to transform young U.S. enlistees into brutes who enjoy inflicting pain. Thus, it is important for America to find out: How far up did the rot go?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Red Cross complained to U.S. officials about abuses of Iraqi prisoners as early as February. They reported detainees in custody of military intelligence were subjected to “ill treatments ranging from insults and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion that in some cases might amount to torture.”

While some complaints resulted in rapid improvements, the Journal said, “The U.S. military was sometimes slow to respond to Red Cross complaints and ignored them in a few cases.”

For the military’s part, one of the U.S. military chiefs in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, ordered the investigation of abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison the day after Army Spec. Joseph M. Darby informed his superiors of the problem. That’s no cover-up.

While some Democrats happily blame the abuse on Mr. Rumsfeld, there’s reason to believe Pentagon policies had nothing to do with it. Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum, who led the military police battalion assigned to Abu Ghraib, told the New York Times that camera time codes showed all the photos were taken between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. “If they thought these acts were condoned, then why were they only done a few nights between 0200 and 0400 instead of during any time between 0600 and 2400 when there were many others around?”

“We can’t tell the world that we’re going to be responsible 16 hours of the day,” said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, California Democrat. “There’s somebody in charge 24 hours a day.”

It may be higher-ups are to blame. But, if the abuses turn out to have been perpetrated by a few rogues, Mrs. Tauscher’s remarks represent another example of Congress beating up on those fighting the war, thus making an impossible and grueling job that much more thankless.

Mrs. Tauscher, of course, aims at the top, even if she hasn’t urged Rummy’s resignation. She faults the Bush administration for not sending enough troops, which led to overworking troops on the prison detail. On this point, I agree with her.

I wouldn’t be so high and mighty as Mrs. Tauscher in asserting things would be hunky-dory if the Pentagon ceded its authority in Iraq to State Department bureaucrats. When you have diplomats making decisions on military matters, problems are not eliminated. There are just different problems.

Mrs. Tauscher also cites the U.S.-led coalition’s lack of “international legitimacy.” It never matters, you see, that troops from the U.K., Australia, Italy and Poland fight and die with us. The critics only recognize the international coalition when Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic leave. Then, as Ms. Tauscher did, they use the defections as proof the coalition they never recognized is, egads, falling apart.

How is the United States to win a war if even congressional leaders who voted for it frame every setback as proof Mr. Bush cannot win the war?

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, understood this when last week he could not help but notice, “Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security never apologized.”

Mrs. Tauscher now wants the Pentagon to release the remaining prison-abuse photos. She is right; it’s better to get the photos out once and for all rather than to “die by a thousand cuts.”

But after the disclosure, it’s time for the left to start supporting the war instead of using every bit of bad news as another rope to wrap around Mr. Bush’s neck. Mrs. Tauscher is among the Democrats who voted for this war — they ought to want to win it.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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