WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Well, it's official. America's fascination with bizarre legal investigations is now affecting our national security. For two weeks, the media has given more attention to lawyers, inquisitions, second-guessing and grandstanding politicians than to the War on Terror. Like the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which the cameras turned into a circus maximus before the bumbling Judge Lance Ito, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the so-called "9-11 Commission" are now competing with each other for the most outrageous barrage of bombast on the nightly news.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee, enamored with grand conspiracy theories worthy of Seymour Hersh and Oliver Stone, continued its public flagellation of the U.S. military. This week, the committee dragged Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, leader of coalition forces in Iraq, from the war zone to the bloodbath on Capitol Hill.
And in New York City, the highly politicized "9-11 Commission" set up shop at the New School University in Greenwich Village -- the institution lead by commission member and former Sen. Bob Kerrey -- and proceeded to pillory Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration, and New York City firefighters and police officers for not doing a better job in responding to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the "9-11 Commission" have mandates to serve the public good. Both have responsibilities to help ensure that the war -- and it is a war -- against Jihadist terrorists is prosecuted properly. Unfortunately, neither body seems capable of rising above petty personal self-service in fulfilling their responsibilities. Instead, members of both bodies have seized the moment to grandstand before the cameras.
On Capitol Hill, where grandstanding is an art form, senior politicians in both parties have engaged in appalling accusations against career military officers whose dedication and service are now forever tainted by the misconduct of a handful in Abu Ghraib prison. Rather than "getting to the bottom of this scandal" as the committee chairman claims, this week's hearings turned into a forum for wacko speculation in which protestors shouted down speakers, waved signs and emboldened our enemies. They are providing great ammunition for those who would have us withdraw from the War on Terror.
Abu Ghraib has now become a double scandal. The first was six months ago, when a handful of citizen-soldiers committed crimes against a few dozen Iraqi detainees. The second is the committee hearings in which members have engaged in wild-eyed speculation, given credence to unfounded conspiracy allegations and ignored that the prison wrong-doing was reported and investigated, and the perpetrator properly prosecuted and punished. The military's judicial process is playing out as it should. Those who perpetrated the Abu Ghraib offenses are being held accountable. There was no "cover up." There is no "plot" by high-level officials to break U.S. laws or military regulations, or violate international treaties.
Rep. Duncan Hunter has it exactly right. Referring to the prolonged Senate hearings, Hunter said, "We've got 135,000 kids over there that need leadership, and their leadership can't be dragged back to Washington every couple of days to focus on seven people. And that's what happened," said Hunter.
"Those people are now being pulled out of those battlefield positions," Hunter explained, "and brought over to continue to hammer on an investigation, which already encompasses six full investigations in which the seven bad apples who have been focused on so far will end up writing books, being well-publicized." Reporters have "given more attention to these seven people and what they did than to the invasion of Normandy," Hunter said.
Instead of requiring generals to fly halfway around the world to grill them about Abu Ghraib, the Armed Services Committee might want to concentrate on finding the murderers of American Nick Berg, who was brutally murdered by decapitation two weeks ago. Or perhaps committee members could devote their energies to closed hearings aimed at providing more "Warlocks" for our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Warlock is a suitcase-sized device that creates an "electronic bubble," effectively jamming radio signals which terrorists use to remotely detonate improvised explosive devices -- IEDs. From June 15, 2003, to Jan. 7, 2004, 1,138 improvised explosives have been used to attack coalition soldiers -- an average of more than five per day. More Warlocks could help reduce this toll. A Senate Armed Services Committee sincerely interested in winning the war in Iraq with the least possible loss of life would fund more of what the troops need to accomplish this mission.
The same can be said of the politicians on the 9-11 Commission. The commission was supposed to find ways in which we could better defend ourselves against terrorism. Instead, the panel's members, aided and abetted by a press corps salivating for salacious sound bites, have created a forum for partisan political protesters to shout down speakers, wave signs and play the blame game.
After enduring such an outburst this week, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was moved to say, "The blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone: the terrorists who killed our loved ones."
And then the man who was nearly killed himself on 9-11 offered some advice that it would be wise for both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the commission to heed: "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us."