Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHEN DID BUSH FIRST SEE THE ABU GHRAIB PICTURES?....CNN tells us that President Bush was not happy that he saw the Abu Ghraib pictures for the first time in the media:

At a private Oval Office meeting, Bush complained about learning of the existence of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and degraded from media accounts, the official said.

"He was not happy, and he let Secretary Rumsfeld know about it," the official said.

Now, this is hardly the most important aspect of this story, but there's an interesting question here: when was Bush first told about the existence of the Abu Ghraib pictures?

Here's why I ask. We know that the problems at Abu Ghraib were first discovered late last year and that the Army's internal investigation was completed in late February. Donald Rumsfeld and (presumably) Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been briefed on the investigation in January and apparently decided that the military justice system and the CENTCOM chief could handle it. In fairness to them, it probably wasn't unreasonable to believe that it didn't demand presidential level attention at that time.

But here's where that changes: CBS said in its original story that Myers had asked them "two weeks ago" to delay airing the story because the situation in Iraq at the time was so explosive. That means that by mid-April, when CBS was originally planning to run the story, Myers knew the photos had been leaked.

Now, Myers reports directly to both the president and the Secretary of Defense. And once CBS had gotten hold of the photos he had to know that (a) they were sure to become public fairly soon and (b) they were incredibly explosive. Unless Myers is a monumental political dullard unlikely in his position he had to to have known that.

So: did Myers keep this looming PR disaster to himself? Did he tell Rumsfeld that the pictures were about to become public? Did either of them tell Bush? Did he/they keep it to themselves because they thought it wasn't that important? Or because they were afraid to tell the president?

And whatever the case, what does all this say about the Bush management style?

Kevin Drum 12:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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