Rule 13: When in Charge, Take Charge

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", May 4, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a major setback for U.S. efforts in Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's had such a profound affect around the world, particularly the Arab world. Shouldn't you have known about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldn't you have done a better job keeping Congress informed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this kept secret because it would be embarrassing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this report undercut your notion that the U.S. doesn't torture? Is this one of those rare exceptions here that torture took place?


BRIT HUME, HOST: And so it went at the Pentagon briefing this afternoon. War, as the secretary of defense found out today, can be hell in more than one way. But is this ugly episode being blown out of proportion?

For answers we turn to Fox News military analyst retired General of the Army Robert Scales, who happens also to be a military historian.

Welcome to you, sir. Talk to me a little bit first about this chain of command question. The person in charge of that prison, Abu Ghraib (search), was General Karpinski...


HUME: ... who has been on all over the place since the thing was over. She is back in this country relieved of that command. She and her military lawyer have been around saying that this -- that this -- there was responsibility elsewhere. There was a split command. That the intelligence forces had some say in all this. What about that?

SCALES: You know, there's an old saying in the Army, when in charge, take charge; called Rule 13. She was a brigadier general. She was in charge of the prison. There were lesser ranks who were subordinate to her. Some were in the military intelligence. Some were in logistics. Some were even civilian contractors.

But the bottom line, she wore the star. She was in charge. She was in command. And in a military unit, a commander takes responsibility for everything that happens in his unit, good or bad. She was in charge. It was her responsibility, and she is the one who ultimately bears the burden of what happened in that prison.

HUME: Is what she's doing now somewhat against the tradition of the way officers behave?

SCALES: Well, that's a bit of an understatement. The idea that she would show up with her military lawyer to try to pass the buck to others in the chain of command; or to at least to appear at least to lessen her responsibility, I think, is certainly outside the conduct that one expects as an officer and a gentleman.

HUME: Now, let's turn to the question of this episode. Obviously you know, anybody looking at these pictures would be shocked and dismayed.

SCALES: Right.

HUME: We're now getting into Day 5 or 6 of this now. Is this going beyond the uproar that...

SCALES: A couple -- a couple of quick points. This is not the gulag. This is not a ... from World War II. Were these abuses? Yes. Was it torture? No. Did it go over the top? Yes. But ultimately in this region, you have to always think of what I have said on this show many times before. What's the center of gravity? The center of gravity in this campaign is not the enemy's army. It's the will of the Iraqi people. And ultimately that has to be kept in mind when you do these types of interrogations.

The military has done similar types of sleep deprivation and that sort of thing before as a technique to get information. But we need to be sensitive to the region. And the next time we go into this, and the next time we get into subsequent types of interrogations, you've got to remember that ultimately in a democracy, particularly when you are fighting a war in the Middle East, the word is going to come out.

HUME: A lot of people are saying -- and you see it -- I have seen it in email. I have seen it even in some comments, radio comments. People are saying look, this is nothing to the way they treat our prisoners. They've shot them down in cold blood. Shot them in the head. They've mutilated their bodies. They've dragged them through the streets. They've hung them up to be -- to be seen. And we have to play by different rules. I guess we do, though, don't we?

SCALES: We do. Remember, America must maintain the moral high ground in this war. And in wars like this, particularly urban types of battles, there's always a tendency, as the enemy becomes increasingly dehumanized, to...

HUME: You say dehumanized. That happens because your own...

SCALES: Because of just combat. You see your buddies die left and right. You see the enemy fleeting in and out of a village; he's very difficult to pin down. He uses civilians to hide behind. He's -- and he is very difficult to take out. This creates a sense of frustration among the soldiers.

When you get into situations like that, that's when discipline and command authority and training take over, so that you have to counter the impulses to -- to excesses.

HUME: The beast within.

SCALES: Exactly! You have to manage it with what America is known for, and that is a disciplined, well-trained force that knows how to fight. And we've seen all through here, we need to be enormously proud that the restraint our soldiers have shown, of their ability to take on the enemy and spare civilians.

I think that's something that we need to be enormously proud of. But any incident that allows us to lose the moral high ground in this war is going to come back and hurt us, as long as we understand that the will of this campaign ultimately will be determined by what the Iraqi people think.

HUME: There was considerable surprise, which came out in the questions today at the Pentagon at the fact that over the weekend General Myers, who appeared in this very studio on "FOX NEWS SUNDAY," had not read the classified -- still classified report then about this episode.

Secretary Rumsfeld indicated today that while he read the executive summary, hadn't read the whole thing. Well, I gather it's voluminous. But you kept hearing the phrase, "Working its way up the chain of command." Is it unusual that such an incident would work its way up the chain of command so slowly?

SCALES: No. No. No, it's not unusual because you mentioned the term executive summary. When you are a general officer and above, when you get voluminous reports like that, you get about a 15 or 20 page executive summary that you read. What you read is not as important as the action that you take. And what the seniors in the Pentagon were trying to do is figure out, OK, we understand this went down. What are we going to do about it? What action are we going to take? And it takes time to formulate that policy.

So I can't -- I can't really -- I can't really criticize the senior administration for being deliberate in this thing. I can criticize them, however, for not managing the information once it became public and once it showed up on television in the Arab world.

HUME: Well, the evidence of failure there was that it was all around, isn't?

SCALES: Absolutely.

HUME: Thank you sir. Nice to have you, as always.

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