At some point in the last 15 years—this may be something we can blame on Clinton—a chunk of the chattering classes concluded that apologies are more important than justice. We may see some fallout from that when the Abu Ghraib torturers go on trial: As Gail Gibson points out in the Baltimore Sun, Bush and Rumsfeld's comments on the scandal "may have jeopardized a basic protection of military law—the idea that commanding officers should not prejudge cases where they ultimately could determine a soldier's fate."
Amid rising public outcry, Bush apologized yesterday for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, saying, "The wrongdoers will be brought to justice." Rumsfeld, who is expected to testify before Congress today, has called the soldiers' actions "un-American."
The comments were all but demanded to calm what has become a foreign policy nightmare for the Bush administration. But they present a potential problem in the military court system, where the president, as commander in chief, and the defense secretary could end up reviewing the charges against six reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company based in Cresaptown, Md., as well as any possible convictions in the case.
"Can they get a fair trial? Yes. Will they? Not unless there is some significant damage control," said Donald G. Rehkopf Jr., a civilian military lawyer from Rochester, N.Y. "If [U.S. leaders] are prejudging the case, that causes real problems."