WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) made the following statement today on the House Floor regarding the Resolution condemning the treatment of Iraqi detainees:
“Mr. Speaker, the fact that we are on this floor today considering a Resolution condemning outrageous conduct by American soldiers against defenseless Iraqi detainees is an unmitigated and shameful embarrassment for this nation.
“This abuse – which is as criminal as it is un-American – demands full accountability!
“And full accountability must be demanded not just at the bottom of the military chain of command, but for the highest ranking military and civilian officials, who knew or should have known of this outrageous behavior and either turned a blind eye to it or failed to immediately address it.
“Let us be clear: The buck should not – and it must not – stop with a 20-year-old enlisted man or woman who may well have thought they were acting within the framework of a psychology that permitted them to demean and deny basic decency of treatment to detainees.
“Mr. Speaker, 43 years ago, I stood in front of this Capitol Building as President Kennedy told the American people – in one of the most famous inaugural addresses in our history – that Americans are ‘unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.’
“That is the America that every member of this body knows and loves; an America that stands for the rights and dignity of every human being; an America that fights oppression, inhumanity and intolerance wherever it rears its head.
“This Congress, the elected representatives of 290 million Americans, must fulfill its constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government and demand accountability for these criminal acts.
“And this means that we must hold hearings so that the American people – and all the world – know the truth about this episode, and that those who perpetrated these criminal acts and those who created the environment in which such acts were thought to be acceptable are held fully accountable.
“Today, we learn that the Secretary of Defense has known for months that prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and even murdered. Twenty-five prisoners have died in U.S. custody and, still, there is virtually no accountability for those deaths.
“No House Congressional inquiry. No Presidential or Secretarial condemnation.
“The buck must stop somewhere. Private admonishments are not sufficient. Full public accountability must be demanded. If the Secretary of Defense failed to perform his duty, he should be held accountable. And if those below him failed to perform their duty, they also should be held accountable.
“It is nothing short of tragic that this indefensible conduct threatens to overshadow the courage and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform, who liberated 25 million Iraqis from the clutches of a ruthless dictator.
“The only way we can remove that dark cloud that hangs over their noble efforts is to ensure that those who have acted outside the law are required to answer to it. And those who allowed it to go unchecked and unpunished are removed from positions of responsibility.
“Finally, let me say that the damage inflicted upon our image and standing in the world is incalculable. As Tom Friedman pointed out in the New York Times this morning: ‘We are in danger of losing something much more important that just the war in Iraq. We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world.’
“Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that we reclaim that authority and inspiration today by demanding that those who committed, countenanced and failed to address this outrageous misconduct are held accountable.”
Congressman Hoyer offered the Democratic Motion to Recommit that, among other provisions, calls for bipartisan Congressional investigations to be conducted immediately into these allegations of abuse, including allegations of abuse by civilian private contractors.