Sunday, May 16, 2004

Sy Hersh Spills More Beans

Woke up this Sunday morning to the sound of New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh being interviewed on NPR about his newest article on Rumsfeld in the edition of the magazine to be published tomorrow. Turned on the TV to find Hersh on Face the Nation and CNN Late Edition, and where he wasn't on camera, he was being talked about. Russert read a portion of his article, "The Gray Zone," to Colin Powell on Meet the Press.

(BTW, we see all sorts of things on live TV, but this morning's Meet the Press gave new meaning to "press manipulation," when Powell's press aide Emily Miller shoved the camera off her boss during Russert's last question to the general. "I don't think that's appropriate," Russert said. Although the segment was taped, NBC ran it unedited, and it was a spooky little lesson in what the world will be like when the Rovians finally do control all media.)

Hersh lays the blame for the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal not on the seven soldiers so far being court martialed but on a general atmosphere of anything goes traced back to Donald Rumsfeld's frustration with the CIA and his desire to get control of clandestine information-gathering himself. Rumsfeld and his chief Pentagon aide for "intelligence" Stephen Cambone set up their own super-secret black ops group expressly tasked with getting information out of suspected Al Qaeda types, which in this crazy world might be any odd Arab on any odd street corner in the world. This group, known by various code names including "Copper Green," has license to go anywhere, snatch anyone, and do "whatever's necessary" to extract information.

This super-secret group got involved in the Abu Ghraib prison situation on Rumsfeld's direct orders, according to Hersh. Rumsfeld was increasingly angry about the "insurgency" (which is a Latin word meaning approximately "war still being waged even after the president declared it was over") and in particular the success of "insurgent" Iraqis in blowing up all sorts of people including many American soldiers.

Some of Rumsfeld's black op guys were certainly hanging out in Abu Ghraib. "The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation." Some of the Army reservists detailed at Abu Ghraib as prison guards came under the leadership of these special ops guys. Hersh's main source for all of this, "a former intelligence officer," told him, "So here are fundamentally good soldiers -- military-intelligence guys -- being told that no rules apply, and, as far as they're concerned, this is a covert operation, and it's to be kept within Defense Department channels." The military-police prison guards, the former official said, included "recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland. How are these guys from Cumberland going to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn't know what it's doing."

They're the soldiers, naturally, whose butts are now in the crack over all of this, being eagerly fingered by Rush Limbaugh and other Republican gasbags as the small band of aberrant soldiers who dreamed up all this stuff on their own. Including sad, sad little Lyndie England.

Rumsfeld's special ops guys, many of whom appeared and disappeared mysteriously in civilian clothes with fictitious names, were alarming enough to the CIA operatives also present at Abu Ghraib that the CIA pulled its people out of the prison rather than be associated with them. (And how bad must you be when the CIA doesn't want to keep company?)

Hersh's informant believes that much of the sexual humiliation in the prison was "posed" in order to extort cooperation from prisoners once they were released from jail.

Another key point in Hersh's long article: Rumsfeld's contempt for the Geneva Conventions "led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association's Committee on International Human Rights. 'They wanted us to challenge the Bush Administration about its standards for detentions and interrogation,' Horton told me. 'They were urging us to get involved and speak in a very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue. The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and it's going to occur.' "

Hersh's source for all this, his anonymous former intelligence officer, wants to make a keen distinction: the Rumsfeld/Cambone special interrogation force was a noted success in Afghanistan and in the world-wide war on Al Qaeda. But in a conventional war zone, like Iraq, they were out of place and dangerous to the over-all goals of the war on terror, partly because their techniques got picked up, emulated and amplified by a bunch of "hillbilly" soldiers ("kids") who did stupid things and had no supervision.

And if these stupid kids get railroaded to cover Rumsfeld & Cambone's secrets ... then this truly has been a lesson in democracy for the whole world. That is, the powerful can get away with it; the foot soldiers can't.

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