A running theme through the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday is the assurance, by Rumsfeld and his colleagues, that the military justice system is working on the torture issue. They use this assurance to give themselves political cover in two ways. First, they say that the wheels of justice have been grinding—slowly, but ever so fine—since January. Quoth Lt. Gen. Lance L. Smith, Deputy Commander of the United States Central Command:
Some have asked why it took so long for the allegations to make it up the chain of command. One needs to look at this as a legal proceeding. Once the allegations were made, the investigation was initiated immediately. Evidence was gathered, people were questioned, and a number were removed from their posts.
Second, they can excuse themselves from answering any hard questions about responsibility for the abuses by delegating that job to the court-martials that will be convened, umm, any month now. Quoth Gen. Richard B. Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
I took an oath to support the Constitution and with that comes the responsibility to ensure that all military members enjoy the full protections of our Constitution, to include the due process of a fair, judicial system. After all, it’s respect for the rule of law that we’re trying to teach and instill in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
So like the secretary said, we are now in the middle of a judicial process regarding detainee abuse. And because of my position, I have to be careful I don’t say anything that can be interpreted as direction or pressure for a certain outcome in any of these cases.
Moreover, we have to understand that a fair judicial system takes time to work. I know you all understand that. So no one is stalling or covering up information, but it’s absolutely essential to protect the integrity of our judicial system.
The best response to this theme came from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton:
How, indeed? Secretary Rumsfeld could not find time to answer this question.
[L]et me just quickly reference the case of Chaplain Yee, the Muslim Army chaplain from Guantanamo Bay who was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. Ultimately all of the charges were dropped after his reputation was sullied.
It’s obvious that the information about this particular case came from government sources. It was pushed out and it was widely disseminated.
So, Mr. Secretary, how is it that a case with no basis in fact gets such widespread publicity, based on information from government sources, while egregious conduct like that at the Abu Ghraib prison is cloaked in a classified report, and is only made available when the investigation is leaked to the press?