Defending Donald Rumsfeld

When two of Donald Rumsfeld’s harshest Senate critics put out a report blaming him for a culture that allowed detainee abuse, there was one glaring omission: 12 previous official assessments — some by outsiders — found no such link, and some exonerated the former defense secretary.

Friends and aides to former defense secretary Rumsfeld, who has set up his own research and charity organization and is writing an autobiography, are fighting back this week.

One told HUMAN EVENTS that Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, perhaps the most partisan Democrat to lead the committee, put out the report last week simply because he could not get another other government investigation to peg Rumsfeld as the detainee boogeyman.

Levin co-authored the report along with Sen. John McCain, the committee’s ranking Republican who has held up Rumsfeld for public ridicule over the drawn-out Iraq war.

"Senator Levin has been unpersuaded by a dozen other investigations that concluded there was no official policy of detainee abuse, so he wrote one himself to validate his own point of view," said the Rumsfeld friend. "It does a disservice to the American public for the world to wrongly believe we condone torture, but unfortunately that’s exactly what some people seem to want the world to think of us."

Rumsfeld’s official response came from spokesman Keith Urbahn.

"None of the previous reports has concluded that senior officials created an environment in which abuse occurred," Urbahn told HUMAN EVENTS. "Nobody has found that, nobody outside a few international lawyers. It really has been a fringe theory. It’s breathtaking to see that this came out from a United States senator."

At issue is a classified December 2002 memo signed by Rumsfeld that authorized 16 tough interrogation techniques for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Rather than keep al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists captives in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld decided to build a special prison for them at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba’s southern flank.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. suddenly found itself holding a whole new cast of detainees — Iraqi and foreign insurgents at Abu Ghraib prison.

Rumsfeld quickly rescinded his memo, after the Navy general counsel objected. In other words, the memo was written for prisoners at GTMO — not Iraq, where the war had not begun. Rumsfeld reserved the right to personally approve a few techniques if it was determined they were needed to elicit information from top al Qaeda figures who knew the details of the September 11, 2001 attacks. That scenario never occurred.

Yet, the Levin-McCain report states:

" Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them stress positions and using military dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely."

In other words, according to Levin-McCain, a Rumsfeld memo with a shelf life of one month caused Army guards at Abu Ghraib to abuse and humiliate prisoners a year later.

Other more detached investigators drew completely difference conclusions.

Most significant is the 2004 Independent Panel to Review DoD Detention Operations. The four-member body was headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, a Republican, and included former Pentagon chief Harold Brown, a Democrat.

Of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the panel concluded, "The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets."

And it said, "No approved procedures called for or allowed the kind of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities."

Of the Cuba facility, the Schlesinger group wrote, "At Guantanamo, the interrogators used those [Rumsfeld-approved] techniques with only two detainees, gaining important and time-urgent information in the process."

Finally, it made this general statement: "The vast majority of detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq were treated appropriately, and the great bulk of detention operations were conducted in compliance with U.S. policy and directives. They yielded significant amounts of actionable intelligence for dealing with the insurgency in Iraq and strategic intelligence of value in the global war on terror."

Likewise, an extensive probe of operations at Guantanamo led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt concluded it "found no evidence of torture or inhumane treatment at JTF-GTMO."

Said the Rumsfeld spokesman Urbahn, "There have been 12 official investigations to date. No one has reached the partisan conclusions in Sen. Levin’s report. False allegations by a few have made the task of hundreds of thousands of men and women serving in the military all the more difficult because millions of people around the world will read in newspapers, in the Levin report, that the Department of Defense condoned torture and abuse and it did not."