Today General Stanley McChrystal appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss his appointment as the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The New York Times has published an editorial asking the essential questions that should be put to the general. His appearance will provide a good opportunity to gauge both the general and the ability of members of the Senate to do their duty of oversight. Here’s the Times:
Special Operations task forces operated in secret, outside the normal military chain of command and with minimal legal accountability, especially during the years Donald Rumsfeld ran the Pentagon. General McChrystal’s command substantially overlaps this troubled period. In 2004, for example, a Special Operations unit converted one of Saddam Hussein’s former torture centers near Baghdad into its own secret interrogation cell, where detainees were subjected to a range of physical and psychological abuses. This was not an isolated incident. In 2006, The Times reported on field outposts set up by Special Operations units in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk where detainees were stripped naked and subjected to simulated drowning.
As Andrew Sullivan reminds us, some soldiers claimed that McChrystal had promised that those engaged in the misconduct would be shielded from investigations and accountability. If true, this makes the results of the Defense Department’s internal probes more troubling. But these are all points which should be covered very carefully with the general during his appearance.
What the United States has undertaken in Afghanistan is a classic counter-insurgency operation where the image of the U.S. and its military project is essential to the ultimate success of the mission. Treatment of prisoners is a key element in the overall plan, and on this point the unanswered questions of the last six years continue to mount.