January 17, 2005

January 17, 2005 | Commentary on Legal Issues

Let the Evidence Speak

Torture is wrong. Violating the Geneva Conventions is unacceptable. Follow the evidence. Punish the guilty.

This remains the mantra of critics who decry military detention and interrogation policies. What they never tell you is that the generals in the Pentagon, as well as officials in the White House and the departments of Defense and Justice, share their sentiments.

Otherwise, the soldiers alleged to have abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib wouldn't be standing courts-martial. But rather than let the rule of law, well, rule, some critics act as though they would prefer to hang the whole chain of command.

Unfortunately for them, the case against the higher-ups right now is based on dumping everything in a blender, hitting whip, and adding a dose of conspiracy theory.

Case in point: the memo penned in 2002 by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee defining the limits of torture. The memo, according to Seymour Hersh, the journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib story, is the "most suggestive document ... of what was really going on inside military prison and detention centers." Sounds ominous, but it wouldn't stand up for two seconds under cross-examination: The memo didn't apply to the detainees in Abu Ghraib. It's unlikely any field commander knew it existed.

Those concerned about seeing the guilty punished should wait until the plethora of Defense Department and congressional inquiries actually produces some conclusive evidence that the actions of senior leaders intentionally led to wrongdoing in Iraq.

That's not to say there aren't leaders who might be culpable for the problems in the prison.

In my 25 years in the military, each time I saw a case of systematic disciplinary problems and wrongdoing, it was because there were leaders who had failed to lead. If the evidence finds there were leaders at fault, they should be the next ones standing before the tribunal.

Nothing is more chilling than the claim, "I was just following orders." That's unacceptable. But let's allow the investigations to play out, wherever they lead.

James Jay Carafano is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a senior research fellow in defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

Related Issues: Legal Issues

First Appeared on USAToday.com