Wednesday, March 8


We're all familiar with many examples of the harm the Bush administration has done to the nation and to our people by abdicating responsibility and avoiding accountability for its faulty, or absent, leadership. Their philosophy seems to be "government works best when it doesn't try governing."

This report from Human Rights First on the military's descent into the practice of torture, abuse, and even murder of detainees, is a fresh reminder of how low we can fall when our so-called leaders ignore, stonewall or deliberately cover up wrongdoing so we can play a hypocritical game of "believe what we say, not what you see us do."

Command's Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is difficult to assess the systemic adequacy of punishment when so few have been punished, and when the deliberations of juries and commanders are largely unknown. Nonetheless, two patterns clearly emerge and are documented in Command’s Responsibility: (1) because of investigative and evidentiary failures, accountability for wrongdoing has been limited at best, and almost non-existent for command; and (2) commanders have played a key role in undermining chances for full accountability. In dozens of cases documented in the report, grossly inadequate reporting, investigation, and follow-through have left no one at all responsible for homicides and other unexplained deaths. Commanders have failed both to provide troops clear guidance, and to take crimes seriously by insisting on vigorous investigations. And command responsibility itself – the law that requires commanders to be held liable for the unlawful acts of their subordinates about which they knew or should have known – has been all but forgotten.

The failure to deal adequately with these cases has opened a serious accountability gap for the U.S. military and intelligence community, and has produced a credibility gap for the United States – between policies the leadership says it respects on paper, and behavior it actually allows in practice. As long as the accountability gap exists, there will be little incentive for military command to correct bad behavior, or for civilian leadership to adopt policies that follow the law. As long as that gap exists, the problem of torture and abuse will remain.

Command’s Responsibility examines how cases of deaths in custody have been handled. It is about how and why this “accountability gap” between U.S. policy and practice has come to exist. And it is about why ensuring that officials up and down the chain of command bear responsibility for detainee mistreatment should be a top priority for the United States.

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