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The Buck Stops Where?

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Message Jayne Lyn Stahl
A few weeks back, before the midterm elections, you may recall watching the president during one of his press conferences coming as close to a bona fide mea culpa, with respect to Iraq and the backlash by members of his own party, pointing to his chest while saying "the buck stops here."

Well, one can only hope that Mr. Bush feels this way after hearing today's report that former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, says that ousted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved, at Abu Ghraib, the use of techniques, on detainees, that are in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The general, who ran the Abu Ghraib operation until early 2004, said that she personally saw a memo hand-signed by Rumsfeld containing the words, "Make sure this is accomplished." Ostensibly, "this" refers to authorizing civilian contractors to employ such techniques as "sleep deprivation, standing for long periods of time, playing music at full volume" all in defiance of what Geneva proscribes as physical and mental forms of coercion. She added, further, that Rumsfeld violated international covenants on fair and humane treatment of prisoners by not requiring that all prisoners register: "We received a message from the Pentagon, from the Defense Secretary, ordering us to hold the prisoner without registering him. I now know this happened on various occasions." (Reuters)

Now why, do you suppose, would it be advantageous for so-called "enemy combatants" not to be registered? In some countries, the prisoner would then be considered "disappeared" as happened to many in Pinochet's day, and happens throughout Central America today. Also, the detainee can't challenge his detention if there is no record that he's being detained; his family, and loved ones, can't seek remedy in the court, by way of due process and habeas corpus, if there is no record that he's even being held. Moreover, should the unthinkable happen, and the inmate die in American military custody, no one can be held criminally liable for the murder of someone who was never acknowledged to be in custody.

General Karpinski has also announced, last week, that she is prepared to testify against the outgoing secretary of defense in the event that the Center for Constitutional Rights war crimes suit against him, as well as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales proceeds. She will also participate in a full-fledged investigation, by Congress, into these allegations, should we be fortunate enough, in this country, to see such an event occur in our lifetimes.

While we have seen high profile dog and pony select criminal prosecutions of members of our armed forces for travesties at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere in Iraq, this is the first time a major figure in the armed forces has come forward to suggest that it's time to hold those higher, and highest, in command accountable. If the Karpinski allegations turn out to be accurate, we must insist that the president honor the statement he made at that pre-election press conference. If the buck stops with him, as commander-in-chief of the military, he must step down.

 

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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