The Best Defense

How about a presidential medal of freedom for General Antonio Taguba?

One thing the Army does not do so well is reward its people who do some of its toughest jobs -- investigating the lapses of the institution.

Yesterday I watched this interview General Taguba gave to West Point's oral history project. It has some interesting tidbits. When he tried to catch up with Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski to interview her for his investigation of detainee abuse and torture (that was his conclusion, he says) at Abu Ghraib, he said, "She was trying to leave the country." (I think the country in question was Kuwait.)

His overall conclusion was that Abu Ghraib "was a systemic failure of leadership at the tactical level," with major lapses committed by the staff of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. "You had a very ambigious chain of command . . . I said, 'Jeez, doesn't anyone ever follow doctrine around here?" (This had to do with who should be overseeing detainee operations -- intelligence, MPs, or operations.)

When he briefed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on the report in May 2004, he said, "he wasn't even remotely interested" in the findings of the report, and seemed to focus more on who had leaked it. He says he doesn't know for sure, but suspects that Douglas Feith, the under secretary of Defense for policy, suggested to the Army that Taguba be retired.

Taguba's bottom line: "The only institution that actually paid the price was the U.S. Army, and the rest of the military." The Bush administration officials who promulgated "a horrific set of policies" got off scot-free.

I think a presidential medal of freedom for Taguba, who did the hard right thing to do instead of the easy wrong thing to do, is the right thing to do. I also think it might balance the ones wrongly given to Tommy R. Franks and George Tenet.


The Best Defense

Quote of the day: General Allen on the success of night ops in Afghanistan

Here is an excerpt from the testimony yesterday of Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

This last year we had about 2,200 night operations. Of those 2,200 or so night operations, in 90 percent of them we didn't fire a shot. On more than 50 percent of them, we got the targeted individual, and in 30 percent more we got the next associate of that individual as well. So 83 percent, roughly, of the night operations we got either the primary target or an associate.

In all of those night operations, even with 10 percent where we fired a shot, there was less than 1.5 percent civilian casualties. Now, I don't diminish any civilian casualties by reducing it to a percentage point. Every one of those is tragic. But after 9,200 night operations, 27 -- 27 -- people were killed or wounded in night operations. That would argue for the power of night operations preserving life and reducing civilian casualties in all other kinds of operation than necessarily being a risk of creating additional civilian casualties. That's in my mind, sir, as we go through the process of negotiating an outcome for the Afghanization, if you will, of night operations.