Donald Rumsfeld and Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib

Abstract

During the U.S. led war in Iraq, allegations of prisoner abuse within the Abu Ghraib prison evoked angry reactions worldwide. The ensuing events presented in this case provide students a chance to use their analytic skills in what is likely to become a classic example of leadership responsibility in a moment of crisis. Although the stakes in this case are extraordinarily high, it provides valuable lessons applicable to public management challenges at nearly any level. The materials presented in the case are compiled from carefully selected published excerpts, collected in the months just prior to the U.S. handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. The decision point in the case is amid accusations of leadership failure at the department level, as well as on the world stage. Because the issues presented in the case are emotionally and politically charged, it challenges students to sort through their own beliefs and values, and focus on the responsibilities of a leader in a highly charged situation. Students also encounter data and opinion presented from different perspectives, much as they will encounter in their career as a public or nonprofit manager. Hence, the case offers a rich opportunity to move past the initial temptation to make partisan or "off the cuff" responses, and develop an objective and strategic frame of mind for determining how Secretary Rumsfeld can fulfill an array of responsibilities within the Department of Defense, the nation, international communities, and the administration in which he serves - mindful of an upcoming re-election in the fall.

As presented in the case, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld is operating in a complex authorizing and stakeholder environment. From political actors within the Bush Administration and Capitol Hill, to the citizens of the United States and foreign nations, opinion and sentiment affect his legitimacy and ability to prosecute the war in Iraq. The allegations of abuse have created a firestorm of controversy over who should be held accountable for the conditions at Abu Ghraib, and has implications for the morale and safety of troops in Iraq. The press has played a significant role in bringing this issue into the public consciousness, resulting in heated partisan rhetoric, internal military and Congressional investigations, and perceptions of compromised values and international laws. Internationally, the incidence has eroded U.S. standing in public opinion among citizens of foreign nations that are allies in the war, and among Arab populations. These problems necessitate a cool and sensible analysis, divorced from the emotions elicited by the political and public pressures swirling around the edges.

Students can place themselves in this complex set of problems, and acting as a close advisor to Rumsfeld, consider the objectives for addressing these issues, analyze the risks, and formulate a strategy for action. In so doing, students will discover and wrestle with the implications of operational functions and capacity upon the authorizing environment, the need for building coalitions of support and legitimacy in decision making, addressing the diplomatic concerns of foreign nations, and the need for a public relations strategy to reach national and international audiences.

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