The Buck Stops Nowhere

We still don’t know what role three-star general Ricardo Sanchez, of Rio Grande City, and his superiors played in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. And we may never.

LAST DECEMBER LIEUTENANT GENERAL Ricardo Sanchez paid a visit to Rio Grande City and performed all the duties of a hometown hero. He served as grand marshal of the Christmas parade, ate lunch with the Rotary Club, and attended the official dedication of an elementary school named after him. At a ceremony in the school’s cafeteria, the school paid tribute with songs, pledges, speeches, and a video that set photographs of U.S. soldiers to audio of Michael Jackson singing “Heal the World.” Then Sanchez, the former commander of ground forces in Iraq, took the stage and confessed to having cried during the presentation. Afterward, he made a point of walking through the building to shake hands with every child.

Just a few days before his visit to Rio Grande City, a criminal complaint had been filed in Germany alleging that while in Iraq, “ LTG Sanchez … personally authorized illegal interrogation procedures that constitute war crimes.” Prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit group in New York that has litigated a number of prominent human-rights cases, the complaint also named Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet, and eight other civilian and military officials. In addition to authorizing illegal procedures, it continued, “ LTG Sanchez, having knowledge that war crimes were to be committed by his subordinates, failed to prevent the crimes.”

So here is one image of the 53-year-old general: stiff-shouldered but grinning broadly as he walks through the doors of General Ricardo Sanchez Elementary, flanked by news cameras and gawked at by the Girl Scouts waiting to greet him. And here is another: signing off on harsh interrogation tactics that allegedly violated international law. In the vast gap between these two images lies the real and enduring scandal of


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