Seymour Hersh dropped another bomb, so to speak, on the Pentagon this weekend in The New Yorker. He has plenty of (unnamed) sources who claim the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq was given before-the-fact authorization by Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers among others.
This sucker was all over the blogosphere even over the weekend. Reactions are predictable. Those on the left want Rumsfeld’s head. Those on the right doubt Hersh’s report is even accurate.
The fact is that none of us know what’s true and what isn’t. Rumsfeld has no shortage of enemies in the military and intelligence services who’ve been embattled against him for years. It’s possible this is a politically-motivated cooked-up smear scandal by disgruntled adversaries of the Defense Secretary. It might be slightly harder to believe that if you actually read the whole piece. I read it. Did you? While I’m aware it could be absolute nonsense, not a single word seems implausible.
The gist is that a black-ops program sometimes known as Operation Copper Green was created where targets on the ground don’t need bureaucratic pre-approval and detainees can be subjected to unconventional methods of interrogation.
The first part makes sense. Mullah Omar was spotted by a predator drone in Afghanistan, but he got away because no one had any authorization to take him out.
We’ve all seen what happened because of the latter part of the program.
Here are some key grafs for those short on time.
Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were “completely read into the program,” the former intelligence official said. The goal was to keep the operation protected. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” he said. “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’”
In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. “The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone,” he said. “This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program.” When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, “but he’s responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we’ve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.”
The abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed on January 13th, when Joseph Darby, a young military policeman assigned to Abu Ghraib, reported the wrongdoing to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division. He also turned over a CD full of photographs. Within three days, a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush.
The inquiry presented a dilemma for the Pentagon. The C.I.D. had to be allowed to continue, the former intelligence official said. “You can’t cover it up. You have to prosecute these guys for being off the reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they were covered by the special-access program? So you hope that maybe it’ll go away.”
The former intelligence official made it clear that he was not alleging that Rumsfeld or General Myers knew that atrocities were committed. But, he said, “it was their permission granted to do the sap, generically, and there was enough ambiguity, which permitted the abuses.”
I’m still on the fence about the calls for Rumsfeld’s head. I really don’t know what he did and didn’t do, what he knew and didn’t know. Neither do most of the rest of us. But if Hersh’s story turns out to be true (and I have little doubt Congress will try to get to the bottom of this) both Rumsfeld and Myers need to be fired.