“I take full responsibility,” said Donald Rumsfeld in his congressional testimony last week. But what does this mean? Secretary Rumsfeld hastened to add that he did not plan to resign and was not going to ask anyone else who might have been “responsible” to resign. As far as I can tell, taking responsibility these days means nothing more than saying the magic words “I take responsibility.”
After the greatest terrorist attack against America, no one was asked to resign, and the White House didn’t even want to launch a serious investigation into it. The 9/11 Commission was created after months of refusals because some of the victims’ families pursued it aggressively and simply didn’t give up. After the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, not one person was even reassigned. The only people who have been fired or cashiered in this administration are men like Gen. Eric Shinseki, Paul O’Neill and Larry Lindsey, who spoke inconvenient truths.
Rumsfeld went on in his testimony to explain that “these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number.” That’s correct, except the small number who are truly responsible are not the handful of uniformed personnel currently being charged for the prison abuse scandal. The events at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger breakdown in American policy over the past two years. And it has been perpetrated by a small number of people at the highest levels of government.