Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gen. Taguba knew scandal went to the top

Gen. Taguba knew scandal went to the top

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Tony Taguba knew something about prisoners in wartime long before the Pentagon ordered him to investigate the torture and shameful mistreatment of Iraqi detainees revealed by those soldier photographs taken inside Abu Ghraib prison.

You see, his father, Sgt. Tomas Taguba, was a soldier in the famed Philippine Scouts and was, briefly, a prisoner of the Japanese after Bataan fell in the opening days of our war in the Pacific. Sgt. Taguba escaped during the Death March and spent the next three years spying on the Japanese and relaying the information to U.S. forces.

After the war, the senior Taguba was allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army and served honorably and unsung until his retirement. His son was born in Manila in 1950 but grew up as American as apple pie, earned an ROTC commission at Idaho State University and was only the second Filipino-American to attain the rank of general in our Army.

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Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba would undergo his own trial by fire when, in 2004, he was named by the Pentagon to conduct a carefully walled-in investigation of the abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

By regulation — and no doubt by the design of those who appointed him — Taguba could not investigate any uniformed or civilian official whose rank was higher than his own two stars.

Taguba and his investigators sifted and probed and assessed the blame as high as they were permitted to go. Taguba believed — no, he KNEW — that the responsibility for this outrage went much higher. He knew it reached to the office of then Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and likely beyond to the lawyers who served President George W. Bush and perhaps even to the president himself.

But the brass, military and civilian, wanted Taguba and those who ran 16 other Army investigations of the Abu Ghraib scandal only to get to the bottom of the situation, not to the top.

A female Army Reserve military police brigadier general was reprimanded but criminal charges and courts martial were limited to five enlisted men and women, none ranking any higher than staff sergeant.

For his honesty in both the investigation and in sworn testimony before congressional committees Tony Taguba became persona non grata in the halls of the Pentagon. The career of one of the Army's more talented and honorable officers ended with an untimely retirement.

But Taguba wasn't done. The full truth had not been told.

In a week when McClatchy published a five-part series by my colleague Tom Lasseter on the extra-legal American military detention center at Guantanamo and who's responsible for giving Americans a green light to mistreat, torture and detain both the guilty and the innocent prisoners in our custody, Maj. Gen. Taguba spoke out as well.

In the preface to a damning report on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees by a group called Physicians for Human Rights — which had examined and interviewed 11 former Guantanamo detainees freed without charges — Taguba declared that there was no longer any doubt whatsoever that President George W. Bush and others in the White House had committed war crimes.

"The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account," Taguba wrote. "The commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture."

Following the boss' orders, lawyers in the White House Counsel's office and in the badly named Department of Justice twisted and turned the words and the very meaning of those words in international treaties, in the Constitution, in the federal statutes and the military regulations so that interrogators in brightly lit prison rooms in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo as well as those secret CIA prisons hidden all around would be free to use the waterboard, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation, and all the other dirty little ways you can make a man scream and talk.

To date, seven long years after we scooped up our first detainees in Afghanistan, not a single one of them has faced evidence, his accusers, or anything remotely resembling a legal court hearing on his guilt or innocence.

Even a conservatively-tilted U.S. Supreme Court recently gagged on what the Bush Administration and its lawyers did their best to get them to swallow — the idea that some people in American custody are not entitled to the most basic of all protections, the writ of habeas corpus. The basic right to stand before a properly constituted court of law and make the government prove by the evidence that they have got the right man.

I know. I know. A snowball has a better chance in Hell than we do at ever seeing the President and his cronies actually brought to justice for their high crimes and misdemeanors. We are going to see these walking examples of the lowest common denominator become the happy recipients of a blizzard of presidential pardons on Jan. 19, 2009, before the few who haven't already fled slip out of town ahead of the subpoenas.

My thoughts keep returning to a little speech Gen. Taguba made to his team of investigators as they first began their work in 2004: "Bottom line: We will follow our conscience and do what is morally right."

Would that our President and his unindicted co-conspirators had done the same.

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