- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

Yesterday’s congressional hearings on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners had two basic purposes: identifying misconduct and coming up with procedures to prevent it from occurring in the future. Based on roughly five hours of testimony, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his subordinates have been doing precisely that. In fact, they have been doing so almost constantly ever since the evidence of mistreatment came to their attention in January.

Although Mr. Rumsfeld and the other officials who testified have not acted in ways that would grab headlines (and thereby compromise the integrity of their investigations and allow guilty parties to escape punishment), the American people appear to recognize how foolish the media frenzy demanding his resignation is. According to an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll released yesterday, more than six in 10 Americans view the incidents of misconduct as isolated, and by a 69 percent to 20 percent margin, Americans believe that Mr. Rumsfeld should keep his job. Democrats support Mr. Rumsfeld remaining in office by a margin of almost 2-1.

Mr. Rumsfeld still faces the twin challenges of dealing with the strategic consequences and the public-relations disaster resulting from the misbehavior of rogue troops — conduct that has played into the propaganda campaigns of America’s enemies. As he demonstrated in his testimony yesterday, the charges that the military has sought to cover up the scandal are slanderous. The Army launched a criminal probe, which has resulted in charges being brought against six soldiers. In addition, it moved to initiate a separate investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba — the one that produced the appalling testimony and photos that have been shown around the world.

In a healthier political environment, every member of Congress would be working cooperatively with Mr. Rumsfeld to minimize the damage that this situation can do to the war effort. To be sure, there were many useful questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. In addition, a number of Democratic senators, including Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, were eloquent in articulating the rightness of our cause in Iraq.

Unfortunately, some Democratic senators decided to air their partisanship. The worst was Sen. Edward Kennedy, who delivered a propaganda line sure to be repeatedly broadcast by Al Jazeera: “In the Middle East and too often today, the symbol of America is not the Statue of Liberty; it’s the prisoner standing on a box wearing a dark cape and dark hood on his head, wires attached to his body, afraid that he’s going to be electrocuted.”

Such rhetoric aside, the hearings served an important purpose, giving Mr. Rumsfeld an opportunity to set the record straight. As always, the secretary was blunt-spoken and forthright in explaining what he has done to deal with this despicable behavior by a small band of troops. A lesser man would have sought to hide behind evasions or parse words. Fortunately, that’s not the way Mr. Rumsfeld operates.

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