Mr. President, yesterday I spoke on this floor about the despicable abuses perpetrated against Iraqi prisoners. The damage done to every American, and the reputation of our Nation as a whole, as a result of these barbaric acts, is incalculable.
It has severely tarnished our image as a nation of laws; as a nation that for more than two centuries has been a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world.
Every day, we pride ourselves in our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights which was the template for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We often criticize other nations for violating those rights, for engaging in torture and other crimes, and it is right that we do. We should speak out when human rights and liberties are violated, whenever and wherever it occurs.
But today, because of the failure of leadership that produced this crisis, we see our own faces in the mirror. Until recent days, and throughout my lifetime, it was beyond our ability to contemplate that we would become the subject of such universal ridicule and scorn for the actions of a handful of people.
The reputation of our Armed Forces, certainly since the First World War, has deservedly been the finest in the world. And as the father of a former Marine, I can attest that the training of our troops, and the outstanding performance of the vast majority of them, should make every American proud. Our troops are the finest in the world. They uphold and honor our finest traditions. They conduct themselves professionally, they treat others with respect, they perform bravely. One-hundred-thirty-eight-thousand men and women are courageously wearing American uniforms in Iraq today. Now they and our other service men and women are needlessly endangered around the world, and their missions have been greatly complicated. At the heart of this problem is a failure of leadership, not of followership.
We have heard from the Secretary of Defense. He was “appalled” by what happened. So appalled that he did not bother to read the report that described the horrific conditions at Abu Ghraib prison, even though he has been aware of the concerns for months.
So appalled that he forgot that it was he who decided, apparently on his own, that the United States military would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions. An astounding decision, when one considers its implications.
So appalled that his Department has treated those of us who have asked questions, and sought information about the interrogation practices at U.S. military detention facilities after reports of torture and even homicide, as a nuisance.
So appalled that for days he treated this whole episode as though he could not quite grasp what all the fuss was about. After all, these are terrorists and we are fighting a war.
Mr. President, I have known Secretary Rumsfeld for 30 years. I like him. He is highly intelligent. He has served his country with great devotion.
But I believe that he and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz bear ultimate responsibility for this catastrophe. The post-war chaos in Iraq that has resulted from such miserably poor planning and that so many people warned of; that has claimed the lives and limbs of hundreds of America’s troops and civilians working in Iraq, and of thousands of Iraqis including many civilians; that has caused deep divisions between ourselves and the Iraqi people and Muslims around the world; and that has so damaged our image as a Nation that stands for respect for human rights, represents a colossal failure of leadership.
This Administration’s arrogance and unilateralism have not helped but have hindered our abilities to pursue terrorists. For two years we have heard that if you aren’t with us, you are against us. Who is with us now? Who was ever with us? The “coalition” the President speaks of is a mirage. It is Americans who are dying. It is Americans who are paying the price – another $25 billion according to the President today, and that is only to get us through the next few months. Another $50 billion, at least, will be necessary next year. Just for Iraq. $75 billion we do not have to pay teachers and police and firemen and other needs here in America.
Mr. President, we have heard how the Secretary of Defense waited for months to tell the Congress about what was happening in that prison. When the photographs appeared in the press, he and the National Security Advisor and others said they were “stunned.” “Shocked.” And that these were “isolated” incidents.
The only thing they could have been shocked by was that the facts became public, because they have known about them for a long time. And not just about torture, cruel and degrading treatment in Iraq, but in U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan, and the denial of basic rights at Guantanamo.
The real question is not why the Secretary and General Myers waited so long to tell anyone, but why American soldiers and contractors would behave this way, and why they thought it was perfectly okay to behave this way.
That is the real question, and it should trouble each one of us. Why they thought it was okay to behave this way. It represents a serious flaw of leadership, of morality, of decency, of professionalism, of training. It does not reflect the great military of our country. It certainly does not reflect the values of America. And we have to ask the leaders, why did you allow this shame to happen? Why did you allow America – America – to be shamed this way, throughout the world.