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'I was limited to a box.'

by the stormy present Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 10:23:39 AM EST

Sy Hersh strikes again.

The General's Report
How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.

Hersh's story, while ostensibly about Gen. Taguba, is actually about the wider efforts to not just cover up the systematic abuse and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, but also the deliberate implementation of the system of abuse and torture.

In a series of interviews early this year, the first he has given, Taguba told me that he understood when he began the inquiry that it could damage his career; early on, a senior general in Iraq had pointed out to him that the abused detainees were "only Iraqis." Even so, he was not prepared for the greeting he received when he was finally ushered in.
Taguba, describing the moment nearly three years later, said, sadly, "I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting."

All emphasis in the excerpts is mine.

OK, before I get into the meat of the article, I want to note something that Hersh says almost in passing, toward the end:

I was told by the former senior intelligence official and a government consultant that after the existence of secret C.I.A. prisons in Europe was revealed, in the Washington Post, in late 2005, the Administration responded with a new detainee center in Mauritania. After a new government friendly to the U.S. took power, in a bloodless coup d'état in August, 2005, they said, it was much easier for the intelligence community to mask secret flights there.

We have talked before about where the black sites in North Africa might be.  Well, there's one (alleged) answer.

OK, on to the article.  I'm gonna say upfront that these excerpts will be no substitute for actually reading the article, so if you have the time, go do that now.  What follows are just a few highlights.

Hersh says Taguba's "the thoroughness and the passion" of Taguba's initial investigation was one of the few redeeming aspects of the whole Abu Ghraib scandal.  The general has since been forced out of the service, his career trajectory having ground to a halt because he had the gall to do his job with integrity.

Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, "it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge." As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, "I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them"; at the House hearing, he said, "I didn't see them until last night at 7:30." Asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs, Rumsfeld said:

There were rumors of photographs in a criminal prosecution chain back sometime after January 13th . . . I don't remember precisely when, but sometime in that period of January, February, March. . . . The legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn't proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn't know, and you didn't know, and I didn't know.

"And, as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are," Rumsfeld said.

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld's testimony was simply not true. "The photographs were available to him--if he wanted to see them," Taguba said. Rumsfeld's lack of knowledge was hard to credit.

Taguba makes it clear that he does not believe that the atrocities of Abu Ghraib are solely the fault of the handful of enlisted personnel who have thus far taken the fall for it.  He believes it was a system of abuse, instituted by the command structure at the US-military-run prison.

"From what I knew, troops just don't take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups," Taguba told me. His orders were clear, however: he was to investigate only the military police at Abu Ghraib, and not those above them in the chain of command. "These M.P. troops were not that creative," he said. "Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box."

This brings me back around to something I wrote this morning in talos's diary on Greek police abuse of prisoners:

I'd say that change will only come when the people higher up in the chain of command are held accountable for this as well.  Egyptian authorities routinely deny that torture and abuse are policy or even routine, and any time there has been an undeniable case of it, they claim it's an "isolated incident."  So you do occasionally see individual officers disciplined, but because the practice is systematic, and is tolerated or even encouraged by those in charge, it will not stop unless and until the people at the top really want it to, or are themselves held accountable for it.

I hadn't even read the New Yorker story when I wrote that, but I might as well have written it specifically for this diary.

Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003 -- when much of the abuse took place -- Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, "Sanchez knew exactly what was going on."

As he makes clear later in the article, both Taguba and Hersh believe the knowledge of the abuse went considerably higher than Gen. Sanchez.

Despite the subsequent public furor over Abu Ghraib, neither the House nor the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings led to a serious effort to determine whether the scandal was a result of a high-level interrogation policy that encouraged abuse. At the House Committee hearing on May 7, 2004, a freshman Democratic congressman, Kendrick Meek, of Florida, asked Rumsfeld if it was time for him to resign. Rumsfeld replied, "I would resign in a minute if I thought that I couldn't be effective. . . . I have to wrestle with that." But, he added, "I'm certainly not going to resign because some people are trying to make a political issue out of it." (Rumsfeld stayed in office for the next two and a half years, until the day after the 2006 congressional elections.) When I spoke to Meek recently, he said, "There was no way Rumsfeld didn't know what was going on. He's a guy who wants to know everything, and what he was giving us was hard to believe."

Later that month, Rumsfeld appeared before a closed hearing of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which votes on the funds for all secret operations in the military. Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat at the hearing, told me that he had been angry when a fellow subcommittee member "made the comment that `Abu Ghraib was the price of defending democracy.' I said that wasn't the way I saw it, and that I didn't want to see some corporal made into a scapegoat. This could not have happened without people in the upper echelon of the Administration giving signals. I just didn't see how this was not systemic."

But Taguba's investigation was limited, and he could not follow the evidence where it led.  He was "limited to a box."  And even taking it as far as he did put him decidedly on the outs with the powers-that-be.

Taguba, looking back on his testimony, said, "That's the reason I wasn't in their camp--because I kept on contradicting them. I wasn't about to lie to the committee. I knew I was already in a losing proposition. If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose."

Taguba recounts a chilling story of a ride with Gen. John Abizaid, then the head of CENTCOM, who grimly informs the two-star general that "you and your report will be investigated."

"I'd been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia," Taguba said.

The article names quite a few names.  Some are mid-level officers, such as a Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan, who is alleged to have taken part in interrogations and is "the only officer [as opposed to enlisted personnel] facing trial on criminal charges in connection with Abu Ghraib."  Some are more senior, including Gen. Sanchez.

The man who might come off looking the worst is Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander at Guantánamo who was transferred to Iraq in August 2003:

His mission was to survey the prison system there and to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence. The core of Miller's recommendations, as summarized in the Taguba report, was that the military police at Abu Ghraib should become part of the interrogation process: they should work closely with interrogators and intelligence officers in "setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."

Taguba concluded that Miller's approach was not consistent with Army doctrine, which gave military police the overriding mission of making sure that the prisons were secure and orderly. His report cited testimony that interrogators and other intelligence personnel were encouraging the abuse of detainees. "Loosen this guy up for us," one M.P. said he was told by a member of military intelligence. "Make sure he has a bad night."

Taguba and Miller used to be colleagues and friends.  Not anymore.  

The Army also protected General Miller. Since 2002, F.B.I. agents at Guantánamo had been telling their superiors that their military counterparts were abusing detainees. The F.B.I. complaints were ignored until after Abu Ghraib. When an investigation was opened, in December, 2004, General Craddock, Rumsfeld's former military aide, was in charge of the Army's Southern Command, with jurisdiction over Guantánamo -- he had been promoted a few months after Taguba's visit to Rumsfeld's office. Craddock appointed Air Force Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, a straight-talking fighter pilot, to investigate the charges, which included alleged abuses during Miller's tenure.

"I followed the bread-crumb trail," Schmidt, who retired last year, told me. "I found some things that didn't seem right. For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantánamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib."

There's more.  It goes higher, much higher.  This next part is a little mind-blowing:

Taguba eventually concluded that there was a reason for the evasions and stonewalling by Rumsfeld and his aides. At the time he filed his report, in March of 2004, Taguba said, "I knew there was C.I.A. involvement, but I was oblivious of what else was happening" in terms of covert military-intelligence operations. Later that summer, however, he learned that the C.I.A. had serious concerns about the abusive interrogation techniques that military-intelligence operatives were using on high-value detainees. In one secret memorandum, dated June 2, 2003, General George Casey, Jr., then the director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, issued a warning to General Michael DeLong, at the Central Command:

CIA has advised that the techniques the military forces are using to interrogate high value detainees (HVDs) . . . are more aggressive than the techniques used by CIA who is [sic] interviewing the same HVDs.

DeLong replied to Casey that the techniques in use were "doctrinally appropriate techniques," in accordance with Army regulations and Rumsfeld's direction.


Think about that for a second.  The CIA had reservations about the military's techniques.

For this next section, you need to know that the Joint Special Operations Command is the military special-ops section for counterterrorism.

The former senior intelligence official said that when the images of Abu Ghraib were published, there were some in the Pentagon and the White House who "didn't think the photographs were that bad"--in that they put the focus on enlisted soldiers, rather than on secret task-force operations. Referring to the task-force members, he said, "Guys on the inside ask me, `What's the difference between shooting a guy on the street, or in his bed, or in a prison?'" A Pentagon consultant on the war on terror also said that the "basic strategy was `prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture.'"

A recently retired C.I.A. officer, who served more than fifteen years in the clandestine service, told me that the task-force teams "had full authority to whack -- to go in and conduct `executive action,'" the phrase for political assassination. "It was surrealistic what these guys were doing," the retired operative added. "They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station."

Did the president know?  I, of course, suspect that he did, but I can't prove it.  We may never know for sure, but we do know that he didn't do anything about it, even after the fact:

Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President's failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.

See, this is what I was talking about [here ]:  if abuse and torture are tolerated (or encouraged) from the top, there is little reason to believe (or hope) that abuse and torture will end, unless the people at the top are held accountable themselves.

"From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service," Taguba said. "And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."

I believe that too, but unfortunately I don't believe they will.

I suspect, however, that the fear of being held accountable is what has prompted a number of high-ranking ex-Administration types to talk to Hersh on the record.  People like Richard Armitage want to distance themselves from this nightmare.  Same goes for the CIA types who cooperated with Hersh on this story -- maybe they see something on the horizon, and they want to try to put themselves and their agency on the leeward side of the coming storm.

At this writing, President Bush has another 583 days, 2 hours and 36 minutes in power.

Really, this summary is no substitute for reading the actual Hersh story.  I guess I could have saved myself some time and just made the diary a link to the article, khalas.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 10:26:15 AM EST
we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."

Isn't this the most important bit? as then if the the wars legal basis was to be challenged then under the principles established at the Nuremberg war crimes trials then Blair Bush et al are all guilty of war crimes.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 11:21:58 AM EST
Yes.  But they're firewalling -- making sure nobody in the chain of command is held accountable, because they believe every layer of obfuscation and artificial distance might insulate them from their own responsibility.

It's not a coincidence that these people have opposed the International Criminal Court.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 03:57:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah but this isn't covered by the ICC, Crimes of agression were specifically excluded.

According to the Nuremberg protocols, if you are the leader in an illegal war, then you are responsible for the actions of all  of your underlings, no matter the blocks you put in the way.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:02:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:32:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I'm going to have a Godwin moment and stress that Buah should be prosecuted under the Nuremberg Statute.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:42:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
some days I think that godwin was inserted into the internet as advanced planning so that we wouldn't be able to do proper comparrisons.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:46:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]

It should have been obvious from the start, but I didn't see it.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 03:52:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The European Parliament was also "limited to a box" in their investigation of the CIA prison scandal.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:40:35 PM EST
Yeah, the US is good with boxes, eh.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:46:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well putting people into them at least.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 04:48:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. In certain contexts this is known as torture.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 05:40:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In others it's known as genocide. (Only there the boxes seem to be more optional.)
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Jun 17th, 2007 at 08:24:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From reading ET on the eroding of the Geneva Conventions, I think I formulated the following thoughts:

  1. For political movements, one needs to work a movement from the bottom up (whereas government is best left without populists).

  2. In contrast, the enforcement of moral needs to work top-down.

Over and over and over again, news implicates that the endorsement of malpractice and torture at the top will trickle its way down the chain - but it's a one way street: exposure never runs up the chain.

And now for the foul question: What percentage of the Republicans would endorse a policy of torture from the very top?

by Nomad on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 02:49:44 AM EST
Great Diary SP.

Enjoy reading your work.

Reading Hersh is tedious.

Thanks for taking the effort to present this.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 05:25:16 AM EST

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