Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GITMO-IZING....It's Saturday, which means we get our weekly Seymour Hersh article about Abu Ghraib today. His latest installment is about the war between the CIA and the Pentagon, with Hersh claiming that the stuff going on at Abu Ghraib was an extension of a "Special Access Program" the blackest of black ops that was approved at the highest levels of the Pentagon:

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagons operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfelds long-standing desire to wrest control of Americas clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

....They werent getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq, the former intelligence official told me. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. [Stephen] Cambone says, Ive got to crack this thing and Im tired of working through the normal chain of command. Ive got this apparatus set upthe black special-access programand Im going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And its working. Were getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. Were getting good stuff. But weve got more targetsprisoners in Iraqi jailsthan people who can handle them.

The result, Hersh says, was that the program spun out of control and the CIA backed away:

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. They said, No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistanpre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targetsand now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streetsthe sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. The C.I.A.s legal people objected, and the agency ended its SAP involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

....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 Cambones 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 hes responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, weve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.

Hersh's CIA sources obviously have a huge axe to grind, so take all this with at least a grain of bureaucratic turf protection salt.

That said, the basic contention here is that the stuff going on Abu Ghraib had been previously used on "high value" al-Qaeda detainees under expert supervision, and that Cambone and Rumsfeld should have known it would get out of control when the program was expanded. As one of Hersh's sources put it, When you go after Mullah Omar, thats one thing. But when you give the authority to kids who dont know the rules, thats another.

And when it did go bad, Hersh says, nobody really cared:

The Pentagons attitude last January, he said, was Somebody got caught with some photos. Whats the big deal? Take care of it. Rumsfelds explanation to the White House, the official added, was reassuring: Weve got a glitch in the program. Well prosecute it. The cover story was that some kids got out of control.

As usual, there's a lot more here, including some interesting stuff about the difficulty of prosecuting the abuse at Abu Ghraib without losing the original Special Access Program that spawned it, a program that everyone apparently thinks is highly worthwhile. Read it all.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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