We were reminded again this week that in this administration, no good deed goes unpunished, and that no scandal is so great that it can’t be hidden until it’s forgotten.
The sad spectacle that transpired inside the crumbling walls of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came roaring back to life with Seymour Hersh’s on-target article in The New Yorker magazine telling the story of an honest general who investigated and reported on events that shocked the world.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba, U.S. Army retired, was an accidental choice to conduct one of 17 Pentagon investigations of the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. He was grabbed because he wore two stars, and they needed someone of that rank to probe a case that involved a one-star general.
The trouble was that Tony Taguba was honest and thorough and reported in detail, early and often, to his superiors on the evidence he was uncovering - film and photos of abuses far worse than those the public saw. There was sexual abuse of female prisoners by their American military guards and forced sex acts between a father and his young son.
He wasn't authorized to investigate any higher up the chain of command than the hapless Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and so he didn't.
But when his report was completed, Taguba had a hard time getting anyone in the Pentagon - where the powers that be were determined to push responsibility down to a staff sergeant and even lower ranking guards - to read it.
Both President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld went on record declaring that the first they knew of the Abu Ghraib scandal was when they saw the less-offensive photographs in the media.
If you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona that I'd like to sell you.
Within 48 hours of the photographs first coming to the notice of the high command in Baghdad, the back channel was rippling with e-mails detailing the terrible scandal that had befallen the American military and its civilian bosses.
As the investigations unfolded, it was clear that the primary motivation of most of them was to protect Rumsfeld and the president from any blame or responsibility for what had transpired at Abu Ghraib. Blame, unlike cream, settles as close to the bottom of any bureaucracy as can be arranged.
For his honesty in revealing what he uncovered in Iraq in his report and in testimony before Republican-controlled congressional committees, Tony Taguba found himself sidelined for a decent interval, then forced to retire.
The president and the secretary of defense expressed their shock and surprise that a few rogue reserve military police soldiers - a few "bad apples" - had treated prisoners in their charge so badly.
That when it was obvious that President Bush and his White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had done everything they could to unleash military and CIA interrogators from the constraints of the Geneva Convention and common human decency.
There are those who know that Rumsfeld himself ordered Maj. Gen. Geoff Miller, who ran things at the detention center at Guantanamo, Cuba, to take a "tiger team" of specialists in rough interrogation techniques to Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2003 and share their knowledge.
A dozen people in the chain of command were reprimanded or, in the case of Gen. Karpinski, reduced in rank. Half a dozen enlisted reserve MP’s were court-martialed and given prison sentences for their actions.
The president and his men, and Rumsfeld and his, happily put Abu Ghraib behind them and went merrily along knowing that the network of secret CIA prisons where high-value prisoners were subjected to extreme interrogation techniques was still secret.
The examples made of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Gen. Taguba weren't lost on military commanders in the field or at home: If you dare speak truth to power in this administration, your career is toast, and any hopes you have of landing a cushy job in one of the defense industry behemoths are finished.
It’s long past time for Congress to reopen the matter of who's really responsible for Abu Ghraib and let the chips fall where they may - even if that means they pile up around the retirement home of a former secretary of defense or the gates of the White House itself.
How many more high crimes and misdemeanors will be revealed in the months to come? How long is it going to take to clean, polish and restore the White House and the Pentagon and all the other agencies of our government when this bunch moves out?
Let’s begin right here by serving subpoenas on all the rats that are lining up to skitter down the hawsers of a sinking ship, and getting to the TOP of all the sorry scandals of this administration, one by one.
You can read Seymour Hersh's article at the New Yorker.