Another chance for accountability

A few questions about Bush's choice for a new Pentagon watchdog.

Published June 1, 2006 10:21PM (EDT)

Late-breaking word from the White House: The president has decided, after months of delay, to nominate a new inspector general for the Department of Defense, a once formidable watchdog position that has been vacant since September. The new guy is David H. Laufman, who now works as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

On the surface, I know this sounds like so much bureaucratic baseball. But in the complex chess game that is Washington, it represents a golden opportunity for Congress to actually show some oversight of Donald Rumsfeld's big house across the Potomac.

Here are two questions for the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask Laufman:

1. In 2004, everyone from Rumsfeld to the U.S. Congress received Army briefings about the need for the DoD inspector general to investigate the military's role in handling "ghost detainees," the prisoners in Iraq who were hidden in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions. But the investigation never happened, and the Pentagon has never said why not. In May 2006, Gen. Paul Kern (ret.), who led the largest investigation into Abu Ghraib, told Salon that the investigation was still necessary. Do you intend to carry out the Army's recommendation?

2. For months, the office of the U.S. attorney from the Eastern District of Virginia, where you work, has been sitting on 17 detainee-abuse cases, including allegations against civilian contractors for contributing to abuse in Iraq. One case in particular involves Daniel Johnson, a contractor for CACI International, who was photographed at Abu Ghraib interrogating a detainee by using what Army investigators have called "an unauthorized stress position." Nearly two years after the Army investigation was completed, why has there been no resolution to these cases? When can the American people expect action?

One other question: Why would Bush nominate someone to this critical position from the same U.S. attorney's office where detainee-abuse cases go to disappear?

Those are the questions. Don't hold your breath for any answers.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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