It is now clear senior military and Bush administration officials failed to act on Major General Antonio M. Taguba's recommendations for immediate remedial steps to address abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison system filed in February 2004.
The failure to act decisively – before the explosive charges and images were publicly aired – has irreparably harmed America's image across the globe and placed American fighting men and women in direct danger. It represents a dereliction of duty of the highest order that requires immediate investigation and accountability.
The damage is done. But President Bush can take steps to prove America's credibility and show the world he takes the issue seriously.
First, President Bush should ask for the immediate resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Punishing rogue elements in the military is not enough. Senior officials violated the tenets of leadership and placed our soldiers on the ground in severe danger. Accountability for these failures must extend all the way to the top.
Second, President Bush should appoint a commission of retired U.S. military and civilian judges to investigate all aspects of the allegations. The commission should have access to all prisoners being held world wide and to all U.S. personnel possibly involved in or witness to abuses. So that the commission can begin work immediately the president might ask former U.S. Court of Appeals Judges Laurence Silberman and Patricia Wald, who hold security clearances as members of the Iraq Intelligence Panel, to serve on the panel with a recently retired military judge who still has clearances.
Third, in order to show real transparency, a Permanent Committee for Monitoring Prison Conditions should be immediately established to formally oversee the prison system in Iraq and the new Iraqi Ministry of Interior should establish a citizen's liaison to compile and keep a centralized database of all detainees in Iraqi prisons. At a time when rumors are flying, every day that passes marks more damage in our reputation. The United States should work with Iraqi and international partners to demonstrate our adherence to international standards. America's long-term credibility is on the line.
The Bush administration failed to take decisive action when the Abu Ghraib charges first surfaced. Now it must do everything in its power to restore America's honor and dignity in the world.
Read the full report and recommendations on winning the peace in Iraq from the Center for American Progress entitled, Iraq: A Strategy for Progress. To see the entire Taguba report on Iraqi prison abuses, click here.