Rumsfeld: Just get over it

The secretary of defense blames the media for recycling "erroneous assertions" about abuse of detainees.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 1, 2005 4:43PM (EDT)

The Bush administration has finally gotten to the bottom of those allegations about the abuse of detainees from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay. It's apparently no longer the work of a few bad apples in the military. It's the media's fault.

A day after George W. Bush dismissed a new Amnesty International report on abuses at Guantanamo Bay as the work of "disassemblers" and "people who hate America," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld appeared at a Pentagon press conference this morning to say that it's time for the media to stop focusing so much attention on the abuse of detainees. As Think Progress notes, Rumsfeld complained that "two of the countrys largest newspapers" have devoted "more than 80 editorials combined since March of 2004 to Abu Ghraib and detainee issues, often repeating the same erroneous assertions and recycling the same stories."

Rumsfeld knows a thing or two about erroneous assertions. Before the Iraq war began, the secretary of defense repeatedly insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Once it started, he insisted that the United States knew where those weapons were. We'd submit that both of those statements fall pretty squarely -- you might even say "charitably" -- in the category of "erroneous assertions."

But that's dwelling in the past, isn't it, Mr. Secretary? It's time to move on, and Rumsfeld tells us just where we should be heading. He says newspaper editorial writers have written "precious little" about the "beheading of innocent civilians by terrorists, the thousands of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq, the allegations of rape of women and girls by U.N. workers in the Congo."

Rumsfeld may be right about that, but we wonder about his point. Does the secretary of defense mean to suggest that atrocities by, say, U.N. aid workers in the Congo justify U.S. troops' abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib? Or does he merely mean that the human rights record of the United States -- the country that "promotes freedom around the world" -- is no worse than that of a lot of terrorists and dictators?

Either way, it sounds like a story to us. An editorial even. But there we go again, living in the past. We're sorry, Mr. Secretary, and we won't let it happen again. America has had its "accountability moment," and it's time for us to move on. Or is it?

Tim Grieve

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

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