Secretary Urges Prompt Resolution of Misconduct Allegations
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
VILNIUS, Lithuania, Oct. 22, 2005 Allegations like those lodged this week against soldiers in Afghanistan accused of mistreating Taliban fighters' dead bodies - whether true or not - can cause tremendous harm to the United States and need to be resolved quickly, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him here today.
Allegations of wrongdoing by U.S. servicemembers "concern me deeply and concern the Department of Defense," the secretary said.
But more importantly, he said, such allegations harm the United States and its men and women in uniform, regardless of the validity of those claims. He noted the damage caused during rioting that followed allegations of mishandling of the Koran by U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
As investigators take pains to uncover the full details of an allegation of misconduct or wrongdoing, the incident gets repeated over and over in the news media, Rumsfeld said.
The best way to reduce the damage this causes is to accelerate the way incidents are investigated, and if validated, to try them quickly, he said.
"We have to find a way to have the military justice system operate at a pace that reflects the world of the 21st century, with 24-hour news and a desire to report things that are dramatic and negative and to repeat them over and over again until for some reason they are disproved or concluded," Rumsfeld said. "And the longer that period is, the more harmful it is for our country."
While pushing for faster resolutions, Rumsfeld emphasized that it's critical that the system continues to protect the rights of the servicemembers involved.
"There has to be a way for (investigators) not to abbreviate the process, but to put a sense of urgency on it that it merits, given the damage that's done during periods of uncertainty," he said.
Rumsfeld said he's hopeful the investigation of allegations in Afghanistan, are completed quickly.
The command involved will "energetically pursue an investigation and determine what the facts are," he said. "Clearly, if the facts indicate something happened that should not have happened, then the legal process proceeds, as it should," he said.
But regardless of the outcome, Rumsfeld said any allegation of wrongdoing gives a black eye to all members of the military. The charges "don't represent the overwhelmingly positive behavior of the men and women in uniform who do such a wonderful job," he said.