Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, June 16, 2007

  "I thought they wanted to know."

In the upcoming New Yorker, Seymour Hersh portrays the outright hostility with which Rumsfeld's Pentagon greeted the exacting and judicious report about Abu Ghraib written by Major General Antonio Taguba (h/t to Welcome to Pottersville). Even if you thought you knew how low down and rotten so much of the military leadership had become under that despicable man, you'll find elements in this story that will surprise you.

Hersh has been covering the Abu Ghraib scandal since the spring of 2004.

The forthcoming article is based on a series of interviews from earlier this year, after Taguba retired. It is a must read, so I will quote just a few selections.

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.

“Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!” Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials. 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.”

In the meeting, the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. “Could you tell us what happened?” Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, “Is it abuse or torture?” At that point, Taguba recalled, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.”

Rumsfeld was particularly concerned about how the classified report had become public. “General,” he asked, “who do you think leaked the report?” Taguba responded that perhaps a senior military leader who knew about the investigation had done so. “It was just my speculation,” he recalled. “Rumsfeld didn’t say anything.”

It seems pretty clear that Rumsfeld believed Taguba had leaked the report, and in any case, for Rumsfeld as for other members or the ruling triumvirate, the leaks are what matter—not the wrong-doing. In that kind of climate, it's perfectly understandable that Pentagon insiders more and more began to leak reports about criminal investigations, from Abu Ghraib to Haditha. The expectation of many must have been that, without public knowledge of the outrageous facts, the reports would likely get deep-sixed.

When Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he rebuffed him, saying, “I don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”

That almost speaks for itself about the corrupt climate in Rumsfeld's Pentagon.

We were told by Hersh after the story first broke that many of the abuses in Abu Ghraib were much worse than what the public knew.

I learned from Taguba that the first wave of materials included descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees. Several of these images, including one of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts, have since surfaced; others have not...Taguba said that he saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” The video was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it.

Hersh documents that the Pentagon was informed repeatedly over months (beginning on Jan. 15, 2004) about the evidence that had been uncovered and the confessions obtained from guards. Thus Rumsfeld lied to Congress about what he knew.

Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”

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...

It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

That's what Rumsfeld encouraged: Omertà.

A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. Abizaid’s driver and his interpreter, who also served as a bodyguard, were in front. Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I wasn’t angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me,” Taguba said. “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 shares his thoughts as well about who inside Abu Ghraib was aware of the torture even before MP Joseph Darby spilled the beans.

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.”

Taguba also faults M. Gen. Geoffrey Miller for bringing Guantanamo-style abuses to Abu Ghraib. Hersh adds that Miller's activities at Gitmo were investigated later by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, whose report recommended that Miller be admonished for abusive interrogation techniques. But higher-ups, including the Pentagon Inspector General, over-ruled Schmidt and all but ignored his factual findings.

Taguba had known Miller for years. “We served together in Korea and in the Pentagon, and his wife and mine used to go shopping together,” Taguba said. But, after his report became public, “Miller didn’t talk to me. He didn’t say a word when I passed him in the hallway.”

And that was the overall story of Taguba's career after he filed his report on Abu Ghraib. He became a ghost walking the halls of the Pentagon. In Jan. 2006, was told brusquely that he had to retire within the year; no reason was given.

And why was that? Because he refused to help the others to cover up the truth about the mission that Gen. Miller was given in Iraq, and about the Pentagon's awareness of wrongdoing there. Because he was shattering the glass wall of plausible deniability about all manner of illegal DoD and CIA operations authorized with a wink and a nod by Rumsfeld and Bush.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTaguba, 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 [Congressional] committee. I knew I was already in a losing proposition. If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose.”...

“They always shoot the messenger,” Taguba told me. “To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.”

Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff”—the explicit images—“was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.”

Right after he filed his report on Abu Ghraib, Taguba's expected promotion was blocked.

Later in 2004, Taguba encountered Rumsfeld and one of his senior press aides, Lawrence Di Rita, in the Pentagon Athletic Center. Taguba was getting dressed after a workout. “I was tying my shoes,” Taguba recalled. “I looked up, and there they were.” Rumsfeld, who was putting his clothes into a locker, recognized Taguba and said, “Hello, General.” Di Rita, who was standing beside Rumsfeld, said sarcastically, “See what you started, General? See what you started?”

What Gen. Tabuba started, in point of fact, became a lengthy cover-up in which no senior military officials have ever been penalized. Hersh's article documents this aspect of the scandal also, including several egregious examples of denying the facts. Brig. Gen. Richard Formica, head of Camp Nama (a detention camp at Baghdad Airport), comes in for particular discredit.

The official inquiries consistently provided the public with less information about abuses than outside studies conducted by human-rights groups.

Which is why it's critical to keep drawing public attention to these human-rights reports, as we've tried to do here.

crossposted from Unbossed

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