The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, May 09, 2004

Another Hersh piece: Rumsfeld as Mr Micawber

A 4,400 word follow-up piece to his April 30 effort (mine of May 7) has just appeared on the New Yorker site.

An infestation of anonymice as usual in a Hersh piece - he and Uncle Bob Woodward seem to be accepted by their peers as being in a class of their own, sourcing-wise. Caveat maxime lector.

Corroboration, of sorts, comes in the fact that the handling of Abu Ghraib looks like a shambles from the outside; and Hersh's tale confirms that impression, with circumstantial details.

The first amazing thing is the lack of intelligence passing up the chain, and of evidence of political nous amongst senior officers in the field and back in the Pentagon.

No wonder Chalabi had a field-day with his fake intel! The idea that the brass at Centcom, having got hold of the CD with the photos on January 13, did not immediately sense impending crisis and sound the klaxon to get Rumsfeld's attention-level to Defcon 1 is completely incomprehensible.

In many ways, concentration on the photos is a red-herring: no photo, no story seems to be the excuse of choice by actors in all branches of government for their inaction on the issue of prisoner abuse in general and Abu Ghraib in particular (my piece yesterday).

But, if not to have seen the photos is no excuse for inertia, the brass who had seen the photos and did nothing to alert their bosses were surely certifiable!

The idea - Hersh quotes Peter Pace at a presser [1] - that Rumsfeld and top Pentagon brass could not be shown the photos (or, at least, briefed on their content) for fear of jeopardising due process is flat-out ridiculous.

One of Hersh's anonymice
told me that many senior generals believe that, along with the civilians in Rumsfeld's office, General Sanchez and General John Abizaid, who is in charge of the Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, had done their best to keep the issue quiet in the first months of the year..."You've got to match action, or nonaction, with interests," the Pentagon official said. "What is the motive for not being forthcoming? They foresaw major diplomatic problems."

So, news that the enemy is mobilising is a good reason to send your troops on home leave?

Secrecy and wishful thinking, the Pentagon official said, are defining characteristics of Rumsfeld's Pentagon...A year ago, the Pentagon official told me, when it became clear that the Army would have to call up more reserve units to deal with the insurgency, "we had call-up orders that languished for thirty or forty days in the office of the Secretary of Defense." Rumsfeld's staff always seemed to be waiting for something to turn up-for the problem to take care of itself, without any additional troops. The official explained, "They were hoping that they wouldn't have to make a decision." The delay meant that soldiers in some units about to be deployed had only a few days to prepare wills and deal with other family and financial issues.

There's a lot more of such cringemaking stuff. In looking at a platoon of infantry, one may distinguish with relative ease between a rabble and a disciplined force. Here, we have a rabble of generals, whose indiscipline takes the forms of memos not sent and meetings not held.

In such circumstances, arrangements for the treatment of prisoners is scarcely likely to have been a priority. The use of the softening-up techniques, as with much else, was, it seems, casual and disorganised. Many of those in Abu Ghraib were there for ordinary criminal activity.

Hersh quotes an MP captain as saying
...when you ask an eighteen-year-old kid to keep someone awake, and he doesn't know how to do it, he's going to get creative.

One may dispute the morality of the use of torture; but the sort of senseless, capricious mayhem that seems to have gone on in Abu Ghraib scarcely warrants a term so purposive in meaning.

The fact that the offending photos
were being swapped from computer to computer throughout the 320th Battalion
seems of a piece with the rest of the indiscipline evident in the case - from Rumsfeld down.

It truly puzzles me how, with so little effective management and information flows evident at all levels, US forces managed to invade Iraq in the first place!

And MG Taguba? Hersh quotes a retired Army major general:
He's not regarded as a hero in some circles in the Pentagon. He's the guy who blew the whistle, and the Army will pay the price for his integrity. The leadership does not like to have people make bad news public.

Leadership? What leadership?

  1. Which doesn't seem to be in the list on the DOD site:
    It's important to know that as investigations are completed they come up the chain of command in a very systematic way. So that the individual who reports in writing [sends it] up to the next level commander. But he or she takes time, a week or two weeks, three weeks, whatever it takes, to read all of the documentation, get legal advice [and] make the decisions that are appropriate at his or her level. . . . That way everyone's rights are protected and we have the opportunity systematically to take a look at the entire process.

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