Leading Neocon: Trying to assign responsibility for Abu Ghraib is 'an abomination'
Chris Matthews reported on MSNBC's Hardball Wednesday that "the only Army officer to face a court-martial for the Abu Ghraib case was cleared of the charges against him by a military jury the other day."
"So the question remains," continued Matthews, "who's to blame? ... And was the scandal at Abu Ghraib a result of the Bush administration's policy?" He then invited Frank Gaffney, head of a leading Neoconservative think-tank, the Center for Security Policy, and Jon Soltz of the anti-war VoteVets.org to debate the question.
"There's a couple of issues," answered Soltz to the question of whose fault it was. He acknowledged that the low-level military policemen who carried out the abuses had not been properly trained but also insisted that "this is about a much larger issue of this administration. George Bush in 2002 ... decided that he wasn't going to support the Geneva Conventions. ... Then you have Alberto Gonzales, who gives us a very limited idea in his memorandum of what torture really is. Then Donald Rumsfeld exploits that memorandum and comes up with these ... enhanced interrogation techniques."
Gaffney, in contrast, tried to cast the very idea of holding anyone in the administration responsible for Abu Ghraib as more of an "abomination" than the original offenses, stating "I believe that the persistence of the attention given to what clearly was a low-level gang of very perverted people behaving in a despicable fashion ... and the fact that, frankly, we're having this discussion now, is revolting to me."
"We've got people who are determined to destroy this country," Gaffney went on, "and this notion that only by giving them all of the protections of the Geneva Conventions will we be conducting ourselves in a moral fashion, I think is ridiculous. The truth of the matter is, Don Rumsfeld didn't have anything to do with Abu Ghraib. I don't think the president, Dick Cheney ... had any knowledge of it. ... And the fact that we persist in trying to find somebody like that to blame for this is an abomination."
Soltz replied, "When your president of the United States stands up and says we have moral authority but then revokes the use of the Geneva Convention in combat, he's undermined the morality of every soldier who's volunteered to served our country. Our officers in the military are against this administration on the issue. ... Our soldiers need that moral authority in combat to defeat the enemy. Anything less is undermining their mission."
Gaffney argued in response that law-breakers do not actually deserve the protection of the law. "We are a country of laws, but when you start applying the laws to people who do not earn their application you debase the law," he said, concluding that it would therefore be improper to offer Constitutional or Geneva Convention protections of any kind to non-military insurgents.
Matthews then attempted to refocus the debate on his original question, asking Soltz, "Do you believe that this came from civilians at the top, involved in Gitmo and brought this over, to use over there, and this was a policy? Or was it a corrupting result of just people with too much time on their hands and not enough direction?"
"It's both," replied Soltz. "Because you have an administration that loosened the concept of us supporting the Geneva Convention."
"Do you have evidence that this came from civilians in the Pentagon?" asked Matthews.
"Absolutely," responded Soltz, referring again to public statements by Bush and Rumsfeld.
"No, he doesn't have evidence," said Gaffney. "He's imputing to what he claims to be the source of all evil something that did not actually have an impact in Abu Ghraib. And more to the point, it would be actually corrosive to our position vis-a-vis these terrorists to give them the treatment that he apparently thinks they ought to have."
Soltz and Gaffney then spoke over one another, with Soltz emphasizing, "I care about our American men and women in combat. ... I've been in combat, you haven't. ... In the first Gulf War ... the enemy surrendered to us in combat because they know we treat them humanely. It's a force multiplier for our troops."
"If we let this go, the world will see us saluting it," concluded Matthews. "If somebody's not punished with authority here, the world will say we hid this problem. ... I have never heard of enlisted men being so original in policy-making."
The following video is from MSNBC's Hardball, broadcast on August 29.