A Recipe For Disaster

A U.S. soldier guards cells inside the prison of Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, May 5, 2004.
Weekly commentary by Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

When I saw those pictures in the Iraq prison, I kept asking myself what could have been going through the guards' minds? But the more I think about it, the more I wonder, what was going through the minds of the people who sent them there?

The way these prisons were being run violated every tenet of military doctrine: no chain of command, no clear understanding of who was in charge, what the rules were or even what the mission was. That is a recipe for disaster. Is it one more bad result from sending a force to Iraq that was too small to maintain order once it got there?

Whatever it was, no professional military officer should have signed off on it. Did the military give bad advice on this or go along with a bad plan because officers feared retribution?

If Seymour Hersh's reporting is correct, it was the Pentagon's top civilian leaders who came up with the controversial and more aggressive interrogation procedures, a plan designed to camouflage just who was in charge. That could explain a lot. Not many of the Pentagon's military people even knew about this, but those who did should have known better. Did they question it? Did anyone threaten to quit?

We know that a group of ranking military officers were so concerned they went to a civilian bar association and the lawyers there and urged them to intervene. Why take that action? Were they afraid to speak out to their superiors in the civilian ranks? What kind of leadership creates that kind of atmosphere? That is the larger question and we are nowhere close to having an answer.

By Bob Schieffer