In his historic testimony, Donald Rumsfeld addressed the question of whether he should step down: "The issue is can I be effective," Rumsfeld said. "If I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people tried to make a political issue out of it."
But Rumsfeld's responses to the questioning that followed should raise flags about just how "effective" he is. Asked when he saw the photos from Abu Ghraib that have so disgusted the world, he said -- deadpan -- "last night about 7:30." Huh? Well, Rumsfeld said he had seen "the ones that are doctored slightly to suit people's tastes," but just last night, he sat down to look at the originals. The Army report on the abuses and the Red Cross' report have been available for weeks. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Army, which was in "regular contact" with the Red Cross about its allegations of prisoner abuse, launched its probe into what was happening at Abu Ghraib on Jan. 14, "the day after photos of abused prisoners were passed up the chain of command." These are the photos that have been made public in the last week, causing an international firestorm. These are the photos that CBS producers and New Yorker staffers obtained and circulated worldwide. And Rumsfeld just saw them last night?
But as Sen. Hillary Clinton said in her questioning, "The focus on the pictures being released is missing the point." The Taguba report [by the U.S. Army] detailed in sufficient horror what was going on at Abu Ghraib, as did the Red Cross. "The underlying conduct and the failure of the command both at the site and further up the chain to act with appropriate quick response is really at the heart of the most serious problem we face here today," Clinton said.
Earlier, Sen. John McCain grew exasperated with Rumsfeld when he could not answer a basic question: Who was in charge of the Abu Ghraib interrogations? McCain was trying to understand what role private contractors played in the abuse. But Rumsfeld couldn't answer. "No, Secretary Rumsfeld, in all due respect, you've got to answer this question, and it could be satisfied with a phone call," McCain said. "This is a pretty simple, straightforward question. Who was in charge of the interrogations?" Rumsfeld could only say an investigation was underway.
And there was more inadequate testimony from Rumsfeld. Asked when he learned about the Abu Ghraib abuses, he said, "With everyone else, on Jan. 16," when Central Command issued a vague press release that an investigation into detainee abuse was underway. And when did he tell the president? A crucial question, one he should have been prepared to answer: "I don't know," he said. General Myers tried to help him -- maybe early February, he said. Bush was told about the abuse probe then, Myers and Rumsfeld said, although not about the extent of the horror in the images. "[Bush] was just as blindsided" as the Congress "and me," Rumsfeld said. But the problem is, Rumsfeld was not "blindsided" -- or at least, he shouldn't have been. He was warned.
Under Rumsfeld's leadership, the Geneva Conventions have been tossed out the window at U.S.-run military prisons, and troops weren't trained to deal with prisoners properly and legally. None of the continuing, disturbing revelations about prisoner abuse -- and Rumsfeld warned today that more harrowing photos and videos are forthcoming -- should be a surprise to the defense secretary. And that's why those calling for his resignation, from John Kerry to the New York Times, are right on.
For a guy who started out his testimony by "taking responsibility," Rumsfeld sure appears to be passing the buck.