Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

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. ...

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Wikimedia

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.)

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.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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