Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ABU GHRAIB?....Seymour Hersh's New Yorker story yesterday made the following case: when the insurgency heated up in Iraq last year, Donald Rumsfeld decided the only way to beat it back was to get better intel about the insurgents. As a result, he approved a plan from his deputy, Stephen Cambone, to greatly expand the use of interrogation techniques previously restricted to a small number of "high-value" al-Qaeda prisoners. The result was Abu Ghraib.

Today brings a few more details and some different takes on the story. In Hersh's telling, military intelligence ran the program and the CIA backed off when it saw what was going on. His CIA source put it this way: "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 streets.'"

Newsweek has a different version. They say that the Pentagon actually resisted tough interrogation techniques when the CIA first recommended them at Guantanamo, but eventually gave in. By the time Gitmo techniques were transferred to Abu Ghraib, the CIA was fully on board. The real opposition had come much earlier from Colin Powell, who "hit the roof" when he first saw a post-9/11 White House memo suggesting that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Newsweek and several other news outlets also report that the JAG corps has been complaining about abusive interrogation techniques for two years but was systematically ignored. Who ignored them? The Pentagon's Doug Feith.

Meanwhile, Time says that congressmen are upset too. House Democrats "asked the Pentagon last January about an internal Army report on dangerous conditions and poor management at the Abu Ghraib prison. The sources said Pentagon aides told the panel that no such report existedthough it had been finished for months."

So here's the summary:

  • The Pentagon, of course, says it was just a few bad apples. They are the only ones who seem to believe this.

  • Hersh says abusive interrogation was the Pentagon's idea and CIA resisted.

  • Newsweek says the Pentagon and the CIA were on board, but the State Department resisted.

  • A variety of sources say it was the Pentagon's idea and the JAG corps resisted.

  • Time says the Pentagon ran the program and Congress was kept out of the loop even when they asked about it.

The bottom line seems to be that everyone is claiming they either didn't know what was going on or else did their best to fight the harsh interrogation program at Abu Ghraib, but lost out in the end to Pentagon zealots and the White House. Either this is true or else the entire city of Washington DC is in full-blown CYA mode. At this point it's hard to tell which.

Still, one thing at least seems to be clear: this was clearly the Pentagon's baby. How far other agencies either resisted or cooperated with them remains to be seen.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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