Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We Need a Full Congressional Investigation into Prisoner Abuse

We may never know the full truth behind the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses or the alleged abuses that have happened elsewhere. In today’s political environment, any topic, no matter how serious, is subject to spin.

Witness the dueling opinions released today, one from The Wall Street Journal and one from the nonprofit Human Rights Watch.

The WSJ’s opinion scolds the media and Democrats for hyping the Abu Ghraib abuses. The WSJ believes the military’s investigation has been honest, thorough and conclusive and questions why, if the abuse was so widespread as some have alleged, have there been no whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has looked into allegations and concludes:

The crimes at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger pattern of abuses against Muslim detainees around the world. The coercive methods approved by senior U.S. officials and widely employed over the last three years include tactics that the United States has repeatedly condemned as barbarity and torture when practiced by others.

Should we believe the conservative Wall Street Journal or the liberal Human Rights Watch? Both are basing their opinions on the same information and neither has done any on-site investigations (the prisons are off-limits to them both). Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that no amount of evidence would change the opinion of either group.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t know what to do. In the case of Abu Ghraib, the abuses were so ugly and the wrongfulness so clear that we simply cannot err on the side of blind trust. And in regards to the allegations of widespread abuse, the consequences of not doing a thorough investigation far outweigh the consequences of conducting one.

Congress has looked into the matter on several occasions but needs to conduct a much more substantial investigation, potentially impaneling a bi-partisan commission. According to a Washington Post, report, “Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has vowed to hold more hearings until he is satisfied that the proper people are held accountable.”

Warner should do so. If the Wall Street Journal is right and this is all a bunch of noise about a little matter, then both the Bush Administration and the military should have no problem accepting full scrutiny by Congress. If, however, Human Rights Watch is correct and there is a widespread pattern of prisoner abuse, then the need for an investigation becomes critical and to obstruct one would be criminal.

We may not know whom to believe, but we certainly know what to do.


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