The latest revelations about the Iraqi prison abuses have torn the fabric of lies sewn together by the Bush administration and the opening is shining light on the fact that the scandal's threads may go all the way up the chain of command to the Pentagon and the White House.
There is no longer any question that this is a crisis for the administration and the country.
There is, however, still a serious question about whether the Congress will properly examine - and address - the root causes of the crisis.
Two pieces of journalism, both published over the weekend, have provided a great deal of additional insight regarding the scandal.
Writing in the New Yorker this week, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh makes a convincing case that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized expansion of a secret interrogation program that encouraged sexual humiliation and physical coercion - along the lines seen in photographs from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison - as part of a scheme to gather intelligence about the Iraqi revolt against the occupation.
The scheme, known as a "special access program" (SAP), gave advance approval to kill, capture and torture so-called "high-value targets," according to Hersh. In addition to Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly approved the program.
There is no guarantee that Rumsfeld knew of the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib. But there is mounting evidence that he should have known, and that he deliberately deceived key committees of the House and Senate when he testified before Congress about the Abu Ghraib pictures.
The desire to blame Rumsfeld and get things over with is intense on the part of many Americans. However, there is now good reason to believe that the rot does not begin or end with the secretary of defense.
A Newsweek article reveals that the full chain of command was engaged with the question of how best to avoid living within the limits of the Geneva Conventions.
"Bush, along with Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods," the magazine reports. Reportedly overriding the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and top military lawyers, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote a memo that declared, "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." Gonzales' memo reportedly met with the approval of President Bush and his minions and became official policy.
Certainly, this is all good news for the soldiers accused of wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib. That "just taking orders" line suddenly starts to sound a lot more legitimate when it is revealed that the president and the secretary of defense were giving the go-ahead.
But this is not about courts-martial and petty punishments.
This is about high crimes and misdemeanors. And it is the job of Congress to get to the bottom - or, should we say, the top - of the matter. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says, "We need to take this (investigation) as far up as it goes."
That's the spirit. Gonzales, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and, yes, Bush should all have to testify on the record and in public at congressional hearings on this matter. And if their answers are not satisfactory, Congress should follow the dictates of the Constitution and take the proper steps to remove every wrongdoer from government.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times