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He Must Go ... Immediately

The disclosure of the sickening photos of American soldiers subjecting Iraqi prisoners to sexual abuse is a seminal event in the U.S. war on terror and our efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East. It is very likely that these photographs will define the American role in Iraq just as the photographs of My Lai and the little girl running from the napalm attack defined our role in Vietnam.

The acts of a relative handful of American soldiers have demolished virtually the last shred of goodwill the United States enjoyed in the region and perhaps the world. Those photos feed the hatred of the U.S. among Muslims and fuel the suspicion that we are hypocrites about human rights and are there as occupiers.

There is, however, some hope of recovering our credibility and regaining some goodwill. But it will require the immediate resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

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So far, President Bush has rejected this option; he said again Thursday that he was standing behind his longtime advisor.

But Bush and his administration are responsible for the actions of American forces in Iraq, the good, the bad and the ugly. They must now accept accountability for those actions.

By law, the chain of command runs from the president through the secretary of Defense to the combatant commanders in the field, in this case Gen. John Abazaid. A series of investigations is underway to determine what happened and who should be charged with crimes or be given administrative punishments, such as being relieved from command.

Regardless of the results of those investigations, this is a colossal command failure for which the secretary of Defense has particular responsibility.

That alone should be sufficient reason for Rumsfeld to resign. But there are also ample substantive reasons. For example, he bears a heavy responsibility for the now well-known intelligence failures that preceded the war.

He also bears a heavy burden for the woefully inadequate planning for the immediate postwar activity and the occupation.

On the positive side, Rumsfeld has done many good things during his tenure, including pressing the military to move rapidly to transform itself into a modern force to meet contemporary threats. But that’s not the point. The real question is whether he is prepared to accept responsibility and step aside so there can be some hope of developing and implementing a successful strategy to stabilize the situation in Iraq, build a decent Iraqi government and get U.S. forces home.

Rumsfeld has lost the confidence of his country. In World War II, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower knew what to do when Gen. George Patton slapped a soldier suffering from combat fatigue. He ordered Patton to publicly apologize to the soldier.

In parliamentary systems, when policies fail as badly as our Iraq policy has failed, ministers resign. That has not been American practice, but there is much to commend it.

Because Rumsfeld is so intimately associated with our most aggressive, and failed, policies toward Iraq, his departure would open up opportunities to rebuild our credibility, as well as to secure the help of the United Nations, a more enthusiastic response by our allies and a more rational response by the Iraqis.

Finally, as a moral matter, Rumsfeld should recognize that he bears a heavy burden of responsibility for the loss of so many precious American lives.

He should do the decent and honorable thing. He should apologize to the Iraqi people for the conduct of those soldiers and he should resign. Immediately.

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Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA, is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He also was general counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1984 to 1988.


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