Donald Rumsfeld and the dogs of Abu Ghraib

By Tim Grieve

Published August 25, 2004 10:31PM (EDT)

In the weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted that Americans troops would be "greeted as liberators." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted that fighting in Iraq "could last, you know, six days, six weeks, I doubt six months." The sunny view from the top clearly carried the day at the Pentagon, where military planners prepared for a celebration but not an insurgency and ignored experts who offered a more cautious view.

Critics, including John Kerry, have long contended that the Pentagon's lack of foresight and planning for the Iraq invasion and its aftermath have made a hard job harder than it needed to be. Now a new report -- from the Pentagon itself -- contends that the faulty expectations and bad planning played a major contributing role in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. The report is the second in two days to lay blame for Abu Ghraib -- at least implicitly -- on Rumsfeld. On Tuesday, a report issued by an independent panel headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger also faulted Rumsfeld and other Pentagon brass, civilian and military, for fostering the conditions that led to detainee abuse.

Today's report, based on an investigation by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, documents abuses by more than two dozen military intelligence officers. So far, the press coverage of the report has focused on the blame leveled at specific officers and the atrocities they committed -- including allegations that military personnel threatened Iraqis boys with dogs in a contest to see who would be the first one to make a terrified boy urinate or defecate on himself out of fear.

But the report stresses that the abuses at Abu Ghraib "cannot be understood in a vacuum," explaining that "three interrelated aspects of the operational environment played important roles in the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib."

First, the report says, the military personnel at Abu Ghraib were "not adequately resourced" to do their jobs. Second, they were stretched thin because they were required to provide more support to the Coalition Provisional Authority than military planners had expected. Third, they were forced to "conduct tactical counter-insurgency operations, while also executing" their "planned missions." The reason for the double-duty: "Operational plans envisioned" that they would perform their duties in a "relatively non-hostile environment" when, "In fact, opposition was robust and hostilities continued through the period under investigation."

The investigators conclude: "These three circumstances delayed establishment of an intelligence architecture and degraded the ability" of the military to "execute its assigned tasks, including oversight of interrogation and detention operations at Abu Ghraib."

The report contends that, soon after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, "the Iraq conflict transitioned quickly and unexpectedly to an insurgency environment."

The "insurgency environment" might have been "unexpected" by the Pentagon's planners, but it shouldn't have been. As former Army Secretary Thomas E. White told the Washington Post last fall, Pentagon officials were warned that the post-war situation could be "contentious," that "you could expect a major influx of Islamic fighters," and that the United States would need to maintain a large number of troops in the country. White said that Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz simply rejected those warnings. "Their view of the intelligence was much different," White told the Post. "Their notion of it was resistance would run away as the few remaining Saddam loyalists were hunted down."

They were wrong, of course. And it now appears that the detainees at Abu Ghraib -- some of them kids, the vast majority of them apparently innocent -- have paid the price.

When will Donald Rumsfeld?

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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