From Abu Ghraib to Fire Rumsfeld — the Timeline of Petitions

Politics | Building/Consensus
When does a petitions become actionable, that is, when people decide that it should be the popular petition of the sort that they ask others to to attach their name to? Here’s a timeline of a number of directed petitions regarding prisoner treatment by U.S. forces; only recently, after the publication of the photos did they become popular petitions.

Human Rights Watch, June 24th 2003
Executive directors of human rights groups write to Rice asking that human rights monitors have access to prisoners and detention facilities under operation by U.S. forces to verify conditions of detention. (from the HRW’s Timeline of Detainee Abuse Allegations and Responses)

Human Rights Watch, January 12th, 2004
Human Rights Watch writes to Rumsfeld to express concern about incidents in which U.S. forces stationed in Iraq detained innocent, close relatives of wanted suspects in order to compel the suspects to surrender, which amounts to hostage-taking, classified as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

Human Rights Watch, March 8th, Press Release on report for “Enduring Freedom”: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan”
“The report includes the following recommendations to the United States:

  • Investigate and publicly report on allegations of mistreatment at detention facilities in Afghanistan;
  • Instruct military and intelligence personnel to take all appropriate steps to prevent or stop abuses by Afghan forces deployed with or under the command of U.S. forces”

    Robert Kagan and William Kristol, April 26th, column in the Weekly Standard
    “The question is whether Rumsfeld and his generals have learned from past mistakes. Or rather, perhaps, the question is whether George W. Bush has learned from Rumsfeld’s past mistakes. … If his current secretary of defense cannot make the adjustments that are necessary, the president should find one who will.”
    Note: Timothy Noah of unearthed this in his Slate column of May 11th. Note that the column was before the scandal broke; afterwards the magazine was oddly silent. Noah observed: “If this dump-Rummy analysis was correct on April 26, why isn’t it now? Because Abu Ghraib has made it more scathing than Kagan and Kristol ever intended.”

    Human Rights Watch, May 3rd, Letter to Condoleeza Rice:
    “Launch an investigation into interrogation practices wherever detainees are held around the world, whether the facilities are run by the U.S. military or the Central Intelligence Agency — and make the results public.” [There are 9 steps in total]

    MoveOn, May 4th email:
    “To restore our good name, America must support an immediate, independent, impartial and public investigation into all allegations of torture in Iraq. The investigation must include representatives from Arab nations.”

    John Kerry, May 5th, at Colton High School in Los Angeles:
    “The president of the United States needs to offer the world an explanation and needs to take appropriate responsibility. And if that includes apologizing for the behavior of those soldiers and what happened, we ought to do that.”

    Human Rights Watch, May 6th, Letter to Donald Rumsfeld:
    “Human Rights Watch calls, first, for the U.S. government to reveal all places of detention where security or terrorist suspects are being held on whatever grounds, and second, for it to permit independent, impartial and public investigations of all facilities where the U.S. armed forces and the U.S. intelligence community are holding persons in detention. As an independent organization with expertise in human rights monitoring, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly sought to visit U.S. military detention facilities — including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay — without success.”

    Washington Post-ABC News Poll, May 5th-6th
    Do you think the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, should resign because of the prisoner abuse issue, or should he keep his job?
    20% Should resign
    69% Keep his job
    11% No opinion

    Tom Friedman, May 6th, New York Times column:
    “This administration needs to undertake a total overhaul of its Iraq policy; otherwise, it is courting a total disaster for us all. That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — today, not tomorrow or next month, today. What happened in Abu Ghraib prison was, at best, a fundamental breakdown in the chain of command under Mr. Rumsfeld’s authority, or, at worst, part of a deliberate policy somewhere in the military-intelligence command of sexually humiliating prisoners to soften them up for interrogation, a policy that ran amok.”

    President Bush, May 6th to reporters:
    “Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars and he is an important part of my cabinet, and he will stay in my cabinet.”

    Kerry campaign, May 7th 2pm email:
    “Over the past week we have all been shocked by the pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But we have also been appalled at the slow and inept response by President Bush, which has further undermined America’s credibility in the world and created new dangers for Americans in Iraq. George Bush must fire Donald Rumsfeld.

    Kerry campaign, May 7th 8pm email
    “We reached our goal of 50,000 signers in a matter of hours and then blew past it to more than 64,000. So now we’re setting a new goal: 100,000.”

    MoveOn, May 8th email:
    “In the wake of revelations of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners, John Kerry has launched an important petition calling for President Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld. Getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld would be a huge step forward for all of us who oppose the Bush war policy, and Kerry needs to hear our support. To sign on to the petition, go to: [link to the website]”

    Vice President Cheney, May 8th, prepared statement:
    “People ought to get off his case and let him do his job.”

    New York Times, May 10th:
    “A 24-year-old military policeman from Pennsylvania will be court-martialed here on May 19, the first American soldier to face trial in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, military officials said Sunday. In an extraordinary gesture to address outrage over the abuse scandal, the military is permitting broad public access to the trial and will invite the Arab news media.”

    Kerry campaign, May 11th, 3pm:
    “Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. Your response was overwhelming: more than 275,000 supporters signed our petition, including 150,000 of you who are new to our campaign.”

    Bloomberg News, May 11th, article by Jeff Bliss
    Republican Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Wayne Allard of Colorado said Kerry was politicizing the probe into the abuses by sending out e-mails last week that combined a request for signatures on the petition with fundraising appeals.
    “I just find that appalling,” Allard said.
    House Majority Leader Tom DeLay echoed the criticism, also blaming the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a branch of the Democratic National Committee.
    “It is unconscionable that the DCCC, the DNC and the Kerry campaign are using this tragedy as a creepy fundraising gimmick,” the Texas Republican said.

    A few things observations on the timing of events here:
    1. MoveOn eventually picked up on the Kerry petition– and sent out an email to the 3 or so people who are on their mailing list but not the Kerry list. Originally, though, they might as well have promoted the Human Rights Watch demands instead of coming up with their own.
    2. The Kerry campaign was late themselves in picking up on the petition. (I sent my own summary to the Kerry website on the morning of May 6th, at the same time Tom Friedman’s column was published.) President Bush, in defending Rumsfeld, was really reacting to the call by Friedman and other editorialists.
    3. The GOP party line, weirdly enough, is now “move on”.
    4. The GOP did have a point with the appropriateness of the Kerry campaign’s petition. But MoveOn started with the wrong petition. My guess is that the Kerry campaign decided to upstage MoveOn, who ordinarly does these mass outreach efforts. The Kerry campaign’s response through David Wade was kind of weak, though, which was essentially: “we’re not playing politics; they’re playing politics.”

    One suggestion is for advocacy organizations to avoid the “crying wolf” trap of running popular petition campaigns. Instead, using a system like Viewpoints, they can make each document petitionable. Thus they would leave it to the readers to endorse each as they see fit. The interaction would be ongoing and not wait until major flare-ups. As it happens, now that the “Fire Rumsfeld” petition has failed, the original petition for human rights monitors has retreated to its relative obscurity again. That’s not to say that it won’t be lobbied for, and possibly acheived. Just don’t count on a public petition.

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  • Response summary: 1 comments, 0 Viewpoints
    Timeline of Petitions Apian Feb 20 ’05 6:09PM
    . I’ll consider it Jon Garfunkel Feb 21 ’05 2:04AM