May 20, 2004
The first scapegoat has been sentenced to the maximum: one year in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
Specialist Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty to four criminal charges for his part in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. Sivits was the one who took the pictures of the human pyramid, and he also forced a prisoner onto the pile.
But Sivits, who is cooperating with prosecutors, is the least of the guilty parties in this whole sordid affair.
It becomes clearer and clearer with every passing day that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq was not some isolated incident committed by low-ranking officers but a policy set at the highest levels to extract information from detainees.
Reports in The New Yorker and Newsweek indicate that the policy of prison abuse rises many links up the chain of command.
Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker reports that Rumsfeld himself expanded a secret unit that was empowered to engage in abusive tactics. "The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq."
This "special access program" had permissive rules for interrogating prisoners in Afghanistan. One former intelligence official told Hersh: "The rules are, 'Grab whom you must. Do what you want.' "
The same rules applied in Iraq once Rumsfeld and his deputy, Stephen Cambrone, got impatient in the hunt for those elusive weapons of mass destruction. They wanted "to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents," Hersh wrote.
Newsweek corroborates Hersh's account. "Some of the images from Abu Ghraib, like those of naked prisoners terrified by attack dogs or humiliated before grinning female guards, actually portray 'stress and duress' techniques officially approved at the highest levels of the government." Newsweek says Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft all "signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods."
So Specialist Sivits has been discharged for bad conduct and given a year behind bars.
Meanwhile, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cambrone, and Ashcroft are free men, still abusively wielding their arrogant power.