One wonders how long it will really take to get to the truth about Abu Ghraib.

If a story in today’s Washington Post offers any indication, it will be about 40 years before we find out why and who authorized the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the early days of the Iraq War. And then maybe the Washington jackals will cease taking pot-shots at retired Col. Janis Karpinski, who took the biggest hit for the scandal. Then maybe she’ll finally get her long-awaited vindication, and her star and rank back, too

For now she’ll have to wait because it’s Air Force Gen. John D. Lavelle’s turn. He is about to get his stars back after he was demoted and his name and reputation were  “dragged through the mud” during summer of 1972.  He had been accused of illegally ordering the secret bombing of North Vietnam radar sites during the war and then covering it up. He maintained until his death 31 years ago that he was just following orders. Turns out he was right. The government cannot take credit for his posthumous redemption, though, it was the work of two biographers who stumbled on audio tapes with the evidence.

Great for the Lavelle family, which includes a widow and seven children who have had to live with this blemish all their lives. Bad for Richard Nixon’s family, which has to face yet another embarrassing revelation about the late president. Turns out he gave the bombing orders himself, and purposefully let Lavalle take the blame. Nixon comes off as pretty toady in the tapes. In fact, it’s pretty pathetic and frankly puts a lot about his authority throughout the war into question:

Not only did Nixon give the secret orders, but transcripts of his recorded Oval Office conversations show that he stood by, albeit uncomfortably, as Lavelle suffered a scapegoat’s fate.

“I just don’t want him to be made a goat, goddamnit,” Nixon told his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, on June 14, 1972, a few days after it was disclosed that Lavelle had been demoted for the allegedly unauthorized attacks. “You, you destroy a man’s career. . . . Can we do anything now to stop this damn thing?”

On June 26, Nixon’s conscience intervened in another conversation with Kissinger. “Frankly, Henry, I don’t feel right about our pushing him into this thing and then, and then giving him a bad rap,” the president said. “I don’t want to hurt an innocent man.”

But Nixon was unwilling to stand up publicly for the general. With many lawmakers and voters already uneasy about the war, he wasn’t about to admit that he had secretly given permission to escalate bombing in North Vietnam. At a June 29 news conference, he was asked about Lavelle’s case and the airstrikes.

“It wasn’t authorized,” Nixon told the reporters. “It was proper for him to be relieved and retired.”

After an “exhaustive examination” of the evidence, the current president was able to relieve Nixon’s nagging conscience and ask congress to restore Lavalle’s missing stars. Not so long ago we had a President and Vice President who treated subordinates just as appallingly (Karpinski’s just one of them). Bet their scapegoats hope to see similar justice before say, 2045.