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Rumsfeld must go

PRESIDENT BUSH, who chastized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday for mishandling the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, said yesterday that Rumsfeld "is an important part of my Cabinet and he'll stay in my Cabinet." Failing to hold Rumsfeld accountable for actions under his command responsibility compounds the grave harm already done to America's reputation in the world. Rumsfeld should accept responsibility for gross mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation and resign.

His culpability in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal is twofold. By saying -- wrongly -- that the United States is not bound by the Geneva Conventions, he helped create a climate of lawlessness among the captors. And just last week his failure to warn the president that damning pictures from the prison were about to be aired was an embarrassing lapse that left Bush vulnerable -- embarrassing and inexcusable.

But Rumsfeld's incompetence goes beyond Abu Ghraib. By not having a workable plan to build a post-Saddam Iraq and by bungling several key decisions after Saddam had been driven from power, Rumsfeld turned what should have been a liberation into a very dicey occupation.

Arrogance is the common thread. Rumsfeld did not lose any sleep over the widespread looting and destruction that followed the capture of Baghdad. Persons detained in prison had few rights, if any. The Third Geneva Convention protects prisoners of war against inhumane treatment. If prisoners at Abu Ghraib were not considered prisoners of war, then as civilians in a time of war they they must have the protections from abuse required by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, as breaches of the Geneva Conventions, constitute war crimes.

Rumsfeld couldn't be bothered to read the blistering report by Major General Antonio Taguba even as the crisis it described was crashing on his shoulders. Last Sunday he even allowed General Richard Myers to go on television without having read the Taguba report. This is shocking incompetence -- shocking and inexcusable.

As late as Wednesday, administration officials were saying that the prisoner abuses were not "systemic," even though they would have found that exact word in the Taguba report if they had taken the trouble to read it.

These practices make the United States look hypocritical for preaching human rights and the rule of law. Moreover, they imperil Americans who may become prisoners or hostages anywhere in the world. Rumsfeld should resign, and if not he should be removed by the president. 

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