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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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Monday, May 17, 2004
 

Was the Pentagon denial of Hersh's claims a non-denial denial?


Yesterday, I updated my May 15 piece on Hersh for the strong Pentagon reaction to Hersh's latest offering on Abu Ghraib.

Josh Marshall says the statement by DOD spokesman Larry DiRita (officially, Lawrence DiRita) on May 15
...is not a denial of anything. It's a classic non-denial denial -- a bunch of aggressive phrases strung together to sound like a denial without actually denying anything.

The one thing Di Rita terms an error is, I believe, largely a matter of semantics rather than one of substance.


That, I think, is referring to this from DiRita:
To correct one of the many errors in fact, Undersecretary Cambone has no responsibility, nor has he had any responsibility in the past, for detainee or interrogation programs in Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else in the world.

In fact, Hersh quotes a Pentagon spokesman - DiRita himself, perhaps? - in pretty much identical wording on the matter [1].

Is the May 15 statement a NDD? True, there is one classic NDD graf:
This story seems to reflect the fevered insights of those with little, if any, connection to the activities in the Department of Defense.

But what about this:
The abuse evidenced in the videos and photos, and any similar abuse that may come to light in any of the ongoing half dozen investigations into this matter, has no basis in any sanctioned program, training manual, instruction, or order in the Department of Defense.

The crystal-ball-gazing may be a sort of wink, showing the initiated that this is not to be taken seriously. Alternatively, there may be a semantic evasion: the offending directive was of some type other than those specified; or was not in the Department of Defense.

Otherwise, that isn't much a NDD.

Next we have
No responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses as witnessed in the recent photos and videos.

Again, the NDD may inhere in the semantics: words there which might be negatived include responsible official - is that a term of art in USG-speak? - Department of Defense (might be some other agency) - program. Or the intention might have been for a disciplined use of third-degree methods by competent operatives with buttoned lips.

Again, apart from the semantics, not really a NDD.

There's no Pentagon briefing transcript from today on the DOD site's list. DiRita doesn't seem to give the sort of daily briefings that Richard Boucher at State gives.

However, I'd expect him to be pressed to name some of the others of these
many errors in fact
and to identify a few of the
dramatically false assertions
his statement talks about. And quizzed about the semantics of his statement.

The true NDD is a Bronx cheer, a flip-off: it's saying, I'm going to tell you squat, and I'm going to get away with. It alienates, raises the stakes, invites nemesis, but gives no openings.

The DiRita statement, in form, is a real denial (though, if what it denies is not what is being charged, that would make it an NDD), which might be responsive, but gives openings for wedges to be driven in.

  1. I don't know Cambone from a hole in the ground, beyond the Hersh stuff. I sense from the brevity of his job description on the page of Top Leaders on the DOD site that he may well be a different kind of rabbit. For another time.



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