Well, they finally got to the bottom of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal last week. An Army court martial convicted Pfc. Lynndie England and sentenced her to three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for holding that leash, pointing with scorn and other offenses.
They've gotten to the bottom, all right. With England's conviction, that wraps up the cases against nine enlisted soldiers who starred in those terrible digital photos in 2003.
So that's it, huh?
Not exactly. We still haven't gotten to the top of this scandal, the Guantánamo problems and questions raised last week by an Army captain from the 82nd Airborne Division troubled by, of all things, a conscience.
Capt. Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate, was a lieutenant in both Afghanistan and Iraq when he became troubled by what he was seeing: American soldiers beating Iraqi detainees until their arms and legs were broken. Death threats. Extreme forced physical exertion. Sleep deprivation. Exposure to the elements.
He began a 17-month journey, or attempted journey, up the chain of command, asking, then pleading for simple guidance on whether American troops in Iraq were bound by terms of the Geneva Conventions. He wrote a letter to the two top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, R-Va., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
''This is a tragedy,'' he wrote. ``I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden.''
What did this honorable American officer ask that was so hard? ``Give (our soldiers) a clear standard that is in accordance with the bedrock principles of our nation.''
Capt. Fishback added: ``Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as al Qaeda's we should not be concerned. When did al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States?''
Nobody in his chain of command showed the slightest concern about what the captain reported and what he sought. Nobody showed any interest until Human Rights Watch revealed details of his case last week.
Then the Army got very interested. Orders went down to interrogate the captain and demand that he identify two sergeants who also witnessed some of the abuse. Once again, the powers-that-be were eager to get to the bottom of the issue. Find some enlisted men or non-coms and hang them out to dry. Shame on them.
And unless the good senators are ready at last to step up to the plate and hold independent hearings on the question of how the United States treats prisoners or detainees who end up in U.S. custody anywhere in the world, shame on them, too.
We've been treated to the spectacle of a Republican-controlled House and Senate abdicating their constitutional responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of actions and failings of the executive branch of government. This has gone on for the four-plus years that President Bush has occupied the White House, and it looks as if we'll get more of the same for three more years and a bit.
There have been 17 separate investigations of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and other prisoner-abuse scandals. All have gone straight to the bottom of every case. All have consistently claimed that no one higher up the chain of command, including the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, bears any responsibility for any of this.
Hogwash. BS. Nonsense.
If the lowest private fails, then others have failed in training, leading and directing that private. The chain runs from sergeant to lieutenant to captain to lieutenant colonel to colonel to one, two, three and four stars, on to the longest serving, most arrogant secretary of defense in our history, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and beyond him to President Bush.
It's past time for responsibility to begin flowing uphill in this administration. It's time for leaders to take responsibility for what's being done in our names and under our proud flag. It's time for Congress to do its job if the administration won't do its job.
Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers.
© 2005 Miami Herald