Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"You don't need a weatherman/to know which way the wind blows"

Reviewing just some of the stories on torture still making the rounds in the two years since I started posting on the subject, I see nothing has really changed. Here, for example, is the latest:

Buried within three of the Pentagon's official investigations into torture, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the answer is a separate, harsher set of rules for detainee and interrogation operations led by Special Operations Forces -- the elite units specializing in unconventional warfare -- than those that apply for the rest of the U.S. military. Yet none of the inquiries follows through on how highly trained SOF units, increasingly important in the war on terrorism, could have created detention facilities so brutal as to give them the motto "No Blood, No Foul" absent official guidance.
But it's not just buried in the Pentagon's official investigations. It's buried in the news; it's hiding in plain sight, just waiting for someone to finally connect the dots.

A few passes through Google, I was able to come up with eight posts in my blog alone. We know, already, that the Administration wanted special privilege to torture for "enemy combatants," who, not coincidentally, are all the inmates of Gitmo. Why? Because the torture as revealed in 2005 was the result of "ambiguous instructions." And where did those instructions come from? Don't ask; don't tell.

We have known since December of 2005 that, courtesy of James Carroll:

Everytime the Bush administration is caught in one of its repugnant purposes (Thank God, again this year, for Seymour Hersh), the White House declares its intention to stay the course. Torture? Wiretapping? Kidnapping? Deceit? The president's eyes widen: Trust me, he says with a twisted smile. Then he leans closer to display a snarling defiance. The combination reduces his critics to sputters.
"Trust me" and "Screw you!" There's not even a hint of denial there. Carroll is merely being descriptive. Why can't our reporters, or our Senators and Representatives, do the same? Why can't they see that is right in front of them?

We have known, since June 2005, that Gitmo was being called a US "gulag:"

Now, at Guantanamo Bay itself, you don't to rely upon Amnesty International for reports of abuses that have taken place there and of the violation of the Geneva Conventions. In terms of abuses, a Kentucky guardsman, for example, reported detainees whose heads had been slammed into walls.

The FBI agents there at Guantanamo Bay reported their concerns about people held in stress positions for eighteen to twenty-four hours. The Red Cross itself reported on sleep deprivation there.

And we've heard reports of female interrogators smearing what they represented as menstrual blood upon the faces of those prisoners, some of the prisoners there, which certainly is inhumane and degrading treatment, even if it doesn't rise to the level of torture.
Again, you can set aside the reports from third parties like Amnesty International and go straight to the horse's mouth. But again, after two years, we still can't. What's the excuse for the abuses this time? Ambiguous instructions, again? The defense two years ago was a line that would turn out to make Michael Moore happy:

"Let me tell you about Guantanamo. For a lot of these people, they're having better treatment and care than they had when they were in the field in Afghanistan. They're getting healthcare for the first time."
No, it didn't really make Moore happy; he used that line as an excuse to go to Guantanamo for his new film. Turns out the inmates of Gitmo are getting better healthcare than most Americans; but that's another story.

We know they know. The only question is: why don't we know we know? We know Alberto Gonzales was at great pains to redefine "torture". Why, unless it was to permit something the White House knew was going on? And worst of all, we've known since last June that doctors, psychiatrists but later psychologists when the program was revealed, were involved in crafting tortures designed, they hoped, to elicit information, without regard to whether or not such people had any information or, more importantly, to medical and professional ethics. And we know that this was done largely as an experiment in human behavior and behavior modification. We know it was equivalent to the kind of things the Nazis did.

We know all of this, and yet Sy Hersh is on NPR and Wolf Blitzer talking about Taguba and Abu Ghraib, and nobody dares say: "Why, the responsibility is obvious to a child!" There isn't even a mention in these interviews of SERE, or Biscuit teams, not even an acknowledgement that in the wider world the US ran "black prisons" or that the Council of Europe issued a report on the subject. It is all of a piece, yet we don't dare whisper that the pieces fit together into a picture! Listen to the NPR story; nobody wants to say Rumsfeld knew what was going on, not on radio/TV. It's like the movies: what we can say in print, and what we can do in movies, are two different things. Speech is still priviliged over print, and while Hersh can connect the dots in The New Yorker, Michele Norris won't dare do it without a videotaped confession from Donald Rumsfeld himself, accompanied by a sworn affidavit.

Michele Norris and Wolf Blitzer have to wonder: did Rumsfeld know? And have to ask Sy Hersh: do you know that he knew? Do you have the smoking gun? Do you have the sworn affidavit, the videotaped confession? I've never heard Michele Norris be as carefully, professionally skeptical as she was in interviewing another reporter. It is obvious to anyone paying attention that if Donald Rumsfeld didn't know what was going on, he was the most incompetent Secretary in the last 100 years.

No rewards to me for my perspicacity, just an honorable mention: what we are looking for is hiding in plain sight. We have known all of this for over two years. The "smoking gun" is often a nice thing to find in a murder investigation, but it isn't essential for charging an individual with a crime. Anyone even marginally keeping up with the news can see that the torture we keep hearing about is not the result of accident, happenstance, poor oversight, or a breakdown in the chain of command. If the chain were this badly broken, we wouldn't have anyone still fighting in Iraq in an American uniform; they'd have all simply walked away.

How long, O Lord, how long?

UPDATE: Reviewing the Blitzer interview, this is the problem I was referring to:

BLITZER: Well, we’re going to get to that in a minute, but here is what Taguba is quote by you in the article as saying. “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff — the explicit images, the photographs — was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The president had to be aware of this.”

That’s his assumption. He doesn’t know it, for sure. The president says he didn’t know about it; he didn’t see these pictures until he saw them on television.

HERSH: It’s not a question of seeing the pictures. Once they
had the back channel e-mails describing everything, from the field,
guys were saying, hey, boss, let me tell you what’s going on.

It was very serious stuff. The messages were all high priority.
And they go to Rumsfeld’s military aide, who is now a four-star
general running NATO, General Craddock.

And the question is, Rumsfeld acknowledged, sort of, in and out
– it was unclear in his testimony exactly when he told the president, but certainly, by March, he’s talking to the president quite a bit about this.

BLITZER: This was before your article?

HERSH: Oh, my God, two months. Is it possible — you know, the
question you have to ask about the president is this. No matter when he learned, and certainly he learned before it became public, and no matter how detailed it was, is there any evidence that the president of the United States said to Rumsfeld, what’s going on there, Don?

Let’s get an investigation going. Did he do anything? Did he ask for a — did he want to have the generals come in and talk to him about it? Did he want to change the rules? Did he want to improve the conditions?

BLITZER: And what’s the answer?

HERSH: Nada. He did nothing. And you know what it meant?

Inside the chain of command, the military, you get a bad case
like this; it’s all known inside; nobody at the top says another word to you. Everybody understands one thing: this is not a way to get ahead in a career, to start being very tough…

BLITZER: Here’s the White House response. We asked the White
House for a response to your article. “The president addressed this fully. He first saw the pictures on TV and he was upset by them. He called for the investigation to go forward. He found the actions abhorrent and urged the Defense Department to get to the bottom of the matter.

HERSH: It’s not when they saw the photographs. It’s when they
learned how serious it was. They were told in memos what the
photographs showed. They showed this. They showed that.
Blitzer is like a dog with a bone, but the bone is the defense of the President, and Blitzer sounds more like the White House Press Secretary than an even marginally curious journalist. Hersh lays out the problem and calls for the investigation, and Blitzer insists that, since Bush denies having seen the photographs, there's no controversy here. Compare that to the interview with Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Rumsfeld’s defense is that he first learned of the extent of the abuse after the photographs were made public. This is what he told Congress after the scandal broke in May of 2004.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It breaks our hearts that, in fact, someone didn’t say, “Wait! Look! This is terrible!” We need to do something to manage the -- 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Rumsfeld, May 7, 2004. Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New Yorker magazine, what did Rumsfeld know? When did he know it? What does General Taguba say?

SEYMOUR HERSH: I’m always amazed hearing that bit that one of his big complaints is that the report that Taguba wrote was leaked. But, anyway, look, actually what you said in the introduction was slightly wrong about -- just in terms of who was responsible for what. Taguba did not begin his job as investigator until the end of January. On January the 13th, I think, or perhaps a day or so -- give me a break on that, I’m not sure -- January the 13th, one of the guys in the military police unit at Abu Ghraib prison, one of the guys whose partners, whose pals, were in the photographs, the infamous photographs -- you know, the pyramids, etc. -- and everybody in the unit was circulating CDs and photographs -- all soldiers have these cell phones with cameras in them -- and he just had it, and he walked in with a CD to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Army cops. There was a unit there at Abu Ghraib at the prison.

And within two days after that, the back channel, which is, as you know, not surprisingly, generals talk to each other. They talk to each other in ways that they don’t want anybody to see. Sometimes it’s Monday and, I’m sure, about golf games, but a lot of times, it’s very important. These aren’t classified, per se, because they’re very private. You rarely get a chance to see the back channel.

What happened in Taguba’s case is, by the time he got on the job in late January and was given the assignment, the back channel had -- there had been five, six, seven messages already, very explicit messages. He was given copies of those messages. By the 15th, the military assistant to Rumsfeld, the three-star general, the military assistant to Wolfowitz, the director of the joint staff or the joint chiefs of staff, probably the most important position in the joint chiefs, various sorted other generals with direct ties to the leadership, -- and, of course, when you’re talking to Rumsfeld’s military assistant, a general then named Craddock -- I mentioned him earlier -- you’re talking to Rumsfeld; that’s how you communicate with him in this system -- they were given explicit memoranda and details, particularly very vivid, graphic descriptions of what the photographs show. As Taguba said, you didn’t need to “see” the photographs -- that is, quote/unquote “see” -- to know what was on them. So Rumsfeld’s defense that he didn’t see them ’til right before, therefore he didn’t realize how serious this was, is sort of shredded by these back-channel messages.

There were exchange after exchange. I quote some of them to some degree. It was in one of these messages there was something rather explicit about the actions against women, more than has been made public, that you mentioned earlier, too. So what you have is a body of evidence that shows that the senior leadership was extremely aware of how serious this was. By the 20th -- one of the memos on the 20th was simply saying -- one of the memos said, “Is this as real as it seems? YES” -- Y-E-S, in capital letters, you know -- “Are there photographs? YES. Is it pretty devastating? YES” And there was a lot of -- actually, I should say, honorable and direct chit-chat in the back channel about “Let’s deal with this correctly. This is huge. We’ve got to make sure we don’t mess this one up. Maybe we should make it public ourselves.” All of this was being done. General Myers, actually, in one of his appearances before Congress mentioned the back channel, but not quite by saying it. He said, “Well, we received a series of messages very earlier on with a lot of details, including accounts of the photographs.” He did say that at one point. So even he is contradicting Rumsfeld.

But it’s a position that I think if you’re Rumsfeld -- well, I’ll just tell you what happened to Taguba. Taguba finishes his report in late February, early March. Nobody wants to read it. He can’t get people to read his report. He’s trying to get the upper echelon. That’s part of his job, is to go to the command structure and inform them of what he’s found. His investigation is not criminal. At the same time, the Army investigators and the cops are doing a criminal investigation into the kids in the photographs. His investigation is really more about the politics of the event and the overall level of responsibility, not about, you know, what you’re going to do to each kid in the photographs. One three-star general refused to see the photographs and explicitly said to him, “Look, if I look at these, then I have knowledge of them, then I have to act. I don’t want knowledge.” Basically, that was the position. Only one general, the head of the Army, Pete Schoomaker, actually read it and later sent Taguba a very kind note and a gracious note about how competent it was. But the rest of them simply didn’t want to know.

And again, by March, you’ve got a chain of command, you’ve got a lot of generals working for a very tough guy, Rumsfeld. They know this incident went down. They know everybody knows a lot about it. Rumsfeld has testified differently about when he talked to the President on various occasions, either late January, early February, but certainly he and Myers both testified they spent time with Bush on this. And I have two things to say about that. One, of course, is, if nobody knew anything and we had no idea how serious it is and, as Rumsfeld has said repeatedly in testimony, 18,000 court-martials a year, why are they talking to the President about it? What do they have to tell the President for about it if it’s not -- if nothing anybody had any idea how serious it was?

And given the fact that they did talk to the President -- and what the President did is really the crux of what I see. That’s how I ended my story writing about this. Bush, at some point, whether it was in January, February or March, was made aware of the details, maybe not all the salient details, but many of them. And what did he do? Did he say, “Rummy, I want some generals heads”? Did he say, “I want an investigation”? Did he say, “We’ve got to stop this practice”? What he did was, Amy, was nada. So inside the chain, this very sensitive, you know, hummahumma instrument of the military, everybody knew by the spring of ’04 investigating detainee abuse is not a way to get a third star if you’re two-star and not a way to get ahead.

And certainly Taguba, by then, knew it. Among the things he told me was, from the moment he got the assignment, he isolated -- there were twenty-three people on his staff, including many career officers, colonels, etc. -- he isolated everybody. He was going to be the point man on this so nobody’s career could get hurt except his. He was the front guy, and he was aware, very aware, of the dangers.

And there’s an amazing, I think, and astonishing moment in the article -- and to give you some idea of his integrity, the New Yorker has this very complicated and detailed fact-checking process, in which no matter how many times they sing and dance, somebody from the New Yorker fact-checking staff sits down with Taguba for a day and goes over everything very carefully. And this is his chance to opt out, say “I don’t remember it that way. That’s not right.” There’s a scene where in April General Abizaid, John Abizaid, not a bad guy, the commander who retired early this year, allegedly because he wanted to retire, but actually I think he was fired. But that’s another story. Abizaid is in Kuwait. He’s in the back seat. He’s driving with Tony Taguba. The report’s not published yet, but it’s done. It’s sitting there. And he says to Tony, as Taguba remembers it -- and we certainly gave Abizaid and everybody a chance with email messages and telephone calls and long summaries of what we’re doing, including to Rumsfeld; everybody got a chance to comment on this weeks before the story was published -- we are not trying to sandbag anybody -- Abizaid said to Taguba, “You know, Tony,” -- and the message was -- “the only victim of this, the only person that’s going to get hurt in this, is you, if you don’t watch it.” And Taguba said he remembered thinking then -- he said to me that “I had been in the Army then for thirty-two years, and it was the first time I thought I was in the Mafia.”
And what about connecting the dots?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what happened is -- now you’re getting to the part of the story that really is the most fascinating for me, that’s very -- the press hasn’t looked at this yet, and I hope they do. What happened to Taguba is -- very quickly, first of all, the first thing that happened is he right away instinctively knew that what these kids were doing, the major thing they were doing, the major abuse was this: the MP’s defense was, under the Army regulations, military policemen who run a prison -- and this was a reserve unit from West Virginia. These kids basically were trained to be traffic cops. They were given just a little bit of training about running a prison.

The way it works is -- the regulations are very clear. The people running the prison run the prison. They feed them, house them, take care of them. They don’t do anything else. They don’t get involved in interrogations, because otherwise you break up the trust, which you can only -- you know, you have to have a prison run -- it has to run orderly. The people have to assume that the MPs are not there to do anything but take care of them.

In this case, what happened is, the MPs were under instructions from the fall of ’03, when the games began, to soften up the prisoners for the military intelligence people, for the interrogators, because the insurgency was on -- it became very heavily the previous late summer -- and there was a lot of panic in the White House about not knowing much about the insurgency, hence the decision to increase the pressure and get more intelligence from the prison population, particularly the young males who were assumed to be, many of them, knowledgeable of the insurgency.

So the MP’s job was to do whatever they could -- keep them awake at night, the prisoners. They kept them unclothed. They kept them unfed. They mistreated them. All designed to soften them up for the intelligence process. Taguba understood that had to be a high order, but he was boxed in. The order which he was given was to investigate the MP brigade or battalion -- it’s a brigade -- and nothing more. He couldn’t go beyond that.

But inevitably, he ran into a Lieutenant Colonel Jordan, and he saw signs of very sophisticated intelligence activity inside the prison, certainly among some of the more valuable -- they call high-value targets. Jordan was listed as the executive officer of the military intelligence unit that was at Abu Ghraib, the interrogation unit, but he denied being that. They couldn’t find him for weeks. When they did find him, he showed up in civilian clothes, wanted to know if he had to shave off his beard. He apparently had grown a beard. He had to. And in general, his story was so riddled with untruths and mistruths. In any case, Taguba had his rights read to him. Jordan’s now the only officer facing charges out of this affair. Seven enlisted men had been charged and sentenced and convicted, but no officer. He’s the first officer facing charges. And so, Taguba began to realize there was something going on outside there.

He also knew, as he did his investigation and was given more access, and particularly as his investigation came to an end, he began to understand that there was a huge secret codicil going on, and about which I probably -- one of the things that interested him the most about me was I had written back in 2004, did three articles for the New Yorker, and the third one talked about the secret world, the world of JSOC, Joint Special Operation Command operations, military task force, high-level units that had no -- that reported to nobody but God, basically to the Secretary of Defense through a back channel.

And so, what he stumbled into, what he was really dealing with, was, as I wrote in the article, is the decision of the Secretary of Defense -- and I’m told with the concurrence of Cheney, one never knows where the President is on this, but I assume he had to be aware of what was going on, Cheney certainly was -- they decided in the fall of ’03 we were doing what they call “strategic interrogation” -- I’m not quite sure what that means -- strategic interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo. And it was decided to send a commander of Guantanamo, a major general named Geoff Miller, to Iraq to train the kids there, instruct them and set up rules and procedures for doing strategic interrogation. And so, you were bringing in some of the Special Forces, and some of the more high-level intelligence activity techniques into Abu Ghraib.

And it’s my belief -- so I’ve been told by my sources, not Taguba; the story is partly about Taguba and partly about this -- that what happened was, the White House, and basically Rumsfeld, was in a real problem when Abu Ghraib broke. If you have a full investigation into Abu Ghraib, you’re going to stumble into the very, very highly classified -- in fact, the most classified there -- most of the missions, the task forces, were put into what they called the SAP, the Special Access Program, the highest level of secrecy in the government -- the U-2 spy plane was built in a SAP, for example -- mostly used for technical stuff. But under Rumsfeld, after 9/11, it began being used for field operations.

These guys -- we now probably in as many as thirteen countries, the President of the United States has delegated a hundred killer teams, they call them, from the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC -- they have been given pre-delegation. When they find a high-value target, they can act against them, capture, or in most cases, kill. So you’re given a group of guys that are given the authority to kill in North Africa, the Middle East, obviously, also in other parts of Africa. They have been given the authority to kill or make contact on site. They go into a country without clearing it with the ambassador or the CIA station chief. This is going on now. And this technique -- some of their techniques were brought into Abu Ghraib. And so, if you do a full investigation into Abu Ghraib, you could unravel a lot of stuff nobody wanted to unravel then.
All of this, of course, is in the New Yorker article. But as I said above: so long as we only say it in print, not out loud, it isn't "real." We can, for example, kill children in novels (The Lovely Bones is told from the point of view of a dead child. It's been a very popular novel.) But we can't do that on film. As Eliot's bird said, "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." And the reality Blitzer and Norris are evading? Well, remember the Taguba story is about Abu Ghraib. For me, this is the "money quote" in the Democracy Now! interview:

And Schmidt, in his investigation, in his testimony, said the most amazing thing. He repeated it to me when I talked to him by phone a couple months ago. He said -- basically what he said, “You know, if you really think about Guantanamo, but for a camera,” he said, “it was Abu Ghraib.” There were times then with some of the prisoners, with the dogs, and the women sexually abusing them in certain ways, you know, flaunting themselves, menstrual blood being poured on them, these Muslim men, nakedness, twenty hours of music a day. As he said, “but for a camera, it would be Abu Graib.” So, look, the Senate right now has got a group of guys, Carl Levin, looking into this, and let’s just wish them well.
Guantanamo: Abu Ghraib without the cameras.

Which means, of course, the President can remain ignorant; because there will never be any photographs for him to see.

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