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Published: Saturday, 5/15/2004

Business as usual for Rumsfeld, but not for badly trained troops


SOMEBODY please tell me why Donald Rumsfeld is still the United States Defense Secretary.

Sure, President Bush completely supports him. But he does so at his own risk, too.

Donald Rumsfeld is a political burden for Mr. Bush right now, and if the President is serious about making a difference in the Muslim world, he must unload the defense secretary.

Calls for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation are not likely to cease, nor should they.

Congress should have known about the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It's an insult that U.S. senators and representatives learned about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American soldiers at the same time that the public did.

Photographs depicting how U.S. soldiers have treated the prisoners have appeared in newspapers nationwide. Judging from Mr. Rumsfeld's comments to Congress last week, more photographs of U.S. soldiers celebrating as they mistreated prisoners may wind up in the hands of the public.

Mr. Rumsfeld has apologized. And apologies are accepted.

But along with his apology should have come his resignation.

The defense secretary said he won't resign because he doesn't think it would be effective.

Bulletin to Donald Rumsfeld: It would be effective.

It would remove the first person in line in the nation's defense team, and considerable thought should be given to accepting resignations from other key defense personnel.

Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld frets that his resignation would feed the political debate.

However, here's another flash to Mr. Rumsfeld: The refusal to resign is definitely a political issue!

His failure to do so tells the Arab world that the U.S. supports the way our soldiers treated Iraqi prisoners. It's true there's no reasoning with the Iraqi militants.

Already they have killed a U.S. civilian who had nothing to do with the prison scandal.

Americans are upset about the murder of 26-year-old Nick Berg of West Chester, Pa.

He was decapitated last week by Islamist militants. Like Daniel Pearl - the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan two years ago - Mr. Berg was an innocent man. He believed he could help rebuild Iraq, so he went there.

Will Mr. Bush still say Mr. Rumsfeld is "doing a superb job" if there are more tragic deaths such as Mr. Berg's?

Further emphasizing how misguided this administration is on the Iraq issue, why is Mr. Rumsfeld still secretary as defense officials target the people lowest in the chain of command in the prison scandal?

Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21, and several other soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company are charged in the scandal. Spec. Jeremy Sivits, 24, maintains they were merely doing as instructed, to break the prisoners down in preparation for interrogations.

The way the soldiers went about accomplishing their order was wrong. But they did it, and now the Pentagon leadership is taking a hands-off response. Why?

What these young soldiers did was terrible, and although they might not be very familiar with the Geneva Conventions' guidelines for conduct during war, they had to know what they were doing was abuse.

Yet they were on the front lines in a war that many Americans label unjust and unprovoked. They joined the military to make a difference in their own lives, and for the country's. Now their futures are at risk.

They followed orders, rightly or wrongly. Yet nobody at the other end of the chain of command faces charges.

Meanwhile, the President gives Mr. Rumsfeld glowing support.

These badly trained and poorly supervised soldiers are taking the fall while the Secretary of Defense still has a job.

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