Rumsfeld Should Go

By now, you’ve probably read or read about Seymour Hersh’s latest for the New Yorker, The Gray Zone, in which he writes that the events in Abu Ghraib were the result of a slippery slope that began with the creation of a hihgly targeted Special Access Program:

Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he authorized the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate “high value” targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. A special-access program, or SAP—subject to the Defense Department’s most stringent level of security—was set up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon. The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps. America’s most successful intelligence operations during the Cold War had been SAPs, including the Navy’s submarine penetration of underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and construction of the Air Force’s stealth bomber. All the so-called “black” programs had one element in common: the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to conclude that the normal military classification restraints did not provide enough security.

Over time, and spurred by the growing insurgency in Iraq, the program expanded:

Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the SAP, bringing its unconventional methods to 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.

“They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq,” the former intelligence official told me. “No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special-access program—and I’m going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets”—prisoners in Iraqi jails—“than people who can handle them.”

Cambone then made another crucial decision, the former intelligence official told me: not only would he bring the sap’s rules into the prisons; he would bring some of the Army military-intelligence officers working inside the Iraqi prisons under the sap’sauspices. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military-intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply,” the former official, who has extensive knowledge of the special-access programs, added. “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.” He was referring to members of the 372nd Military Police Company. Seven members of the company are now facing charges for their role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. “How are these guys from Cumberland going to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

There’s a lot more in Hersh’s piece, most of it casting substantial doubt on the current line that the problems were the results of a few low level MPs gone wild.

The Pentagon, of course, refutes Hersh’s account in its entirety and released a statement on Saturday saying in part that

“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.”

Now, Newsweek has a story out, The Roots of Turture, that is completely in accord with Hersh’s account. Apparently, Newsweek obtained a Jan. 25, 2002 memo from White House Council Gonzales to President Bush, that explains the origins of lax standards [emphasis mine]:

“As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war,” Gonzales wrote to Bush. “The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians.” Gonzales concluded in stark terms: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

Newsweek also goes into some detail on Powell’s immediate and continuing, but ultimately fruitless, opposition to the new Geneva-Free protocol.

How did the program devolve from a tight focus on top al Qaeda targets and implementation by seasoned intelligence experts to the generalized debasement in Abu Ghraib? Newsweek also pins the blame on Rumsfeld’s frustration with the worsening situation in Iraq:

Rumsfeld was getting impatient about the poor quality of the intelligence coming out of there. He wanted to know: Where was Saddam? Where were the WMD? Most immediately: Why weren’t U.S. troops catching or forestalling the gangs planting improvised explosive devices by the roads? Rumsfeld pointed out that Gitmo was producing good intel. So he directed Steve Cambone, his under secretary for intelligence, to send Gitmo commandant Miller to Iraq to improve what they were doing out there. Cambone in turn dispatched his deputy, Lt. Gen. William (Jerry) Boykin—later to gain notoriety for his harsh comments about Islam—down to Gitmo to talk with Miller and organize the trip. In Baghdad in September 2003, Miller delivered a blunt message to Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was then in charge of the 800th Military Police Brigade running Iraqi detentions. According to Karpinski, Miller told her that the prison would thenceforth be dedicated to gathering intel. (Miller says he simply recommended that detention and intelligence commands be integrated.) On Nov. 19, Abu Ghraib was formally handed over to tactical control of military-intelligence units.(*)

It is increasingly implausible that the torture in Abu Ghraib was just the work of low level MPs actiing without direction from above and, accordingly, it is increasingly unlikely that this will go away soon. Two independent sources — Hersh and Newsweek — cite the growing insurgency in Iraq as the impetus for the orders from above to expand and “Gitmo-ize” intelligence gathering in Iraq. The roots of the insurgency lie, in no small part, in Rumsfeld’s refusal to follow the advice of his senior advisors and send more troops to Iraq.

That Rumsfeld’s judgement is poor can no longer be questioned; the only question at issue is whether his culpability for Abu Ghraib is direct or indirect. I am un-moderating my views: Rumsfeld should go, forthwith.


(*) For some disturbing background on Boykin and Cambone, see this post from Dave Neiwert.

UPDATE: Kevin read the same two stories and notes that “Hersh says abusive interrogation was the Pentagon’s idea and CIA resisted,” while “Newsweek says the Pentagon and the CIA were on board, but the State Department resisted.” Both sources do agree, however, that orders and direction came from above.

UPDATE 2: Matt Yglesias adds this amusing caveat:

Now at this point there’s so much interagency ill-will that you could probably find “intelligence officials” willing to say they’ve witnessed Donald Rumsfeld communing with the devil while someone at State assures you that Colin Powell was against the whole Faustian bargain concept from the beginning.