The war on terrorism has a number of silenced Cassandras -- figures whose careers suffered because of their candor or wisdom regarding the conduct of the war, and whose response has been to embrace silence and seclusion. General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff who warned that occupying Iraq would require hundreds of thousands more troops than the administration intended to provide, is perhaps the most famous. A close second is Major General Antonio Taguba, whose 2004 inquiry into the "systemic" abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison complex set off an international scandal. But now Taguba has come forward, telling Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker
that Donald Rumsfeld essentially ended his career
for violating a precious trust -- the ex-defense secretary's cherished plausible deniability about the consequences of his interrogation regime.
At best, Taguba said, âRumsfeld was in denial.â Taguba had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through several channels at the Pentagon and to the Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, which ran the war in Iraq. By the time he walked into Rumsfeldâs conference room, he had spent weeks briefing senior military leaders on the report, but he received no indication that any of them, with the exception of General Schoomaker, had actually read it. (Schoomaker later sent Taguba a note praising his honesty and leadership.) When Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he rebuffed him, saying, âI donât want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?â ...
Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeldâs testimony was simply not true. âThe photographs were available to himâif he wanted to see them,â Taguba said. Rumsfeldâs lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, âRumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. Thereâs no way heâs suffering from C.R.S.âCanât Remember Shit. Heâs trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves.â It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.
For putting Rumsfeld in this position, Taguba was assigned to a bureaucratic backwater overseeing reserve issues at the Pentagon, instead of his scheduled assignment to the Third Army headquarters in Georgia. "I didnât quibble," he tells Hersh. "If youâre going to do that to me, well, O.K. We all serve at the pleasure of the President." Within two years, however, Taguba was forced out of the military.
In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Armyâs Vice-Chief of Staff. âThis is your Vice,â he told Taguba. âI need you to retire by January of 2007.â No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, âHe offered no reason.â (A spokesperson for Cody said, âConversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.â)
By contrast, General Bantz Craddock, a senior military aide to Rumsfeld, became head of U.S. Southern Command, where he protected Major General Geoffrey Miller -- commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay who was sent in 2003 to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib -- from an official inquiry's 2005 recommendation that he be "held accountable" for abuses at Guantanamo. Less than a year later, Rumsfeld nominated Craddock to become Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, the job he currently holds.
Hersh's report is valuable enough for Taguba's recollections. But some of the most incendiary material in his piece has nothing to do with the general. He reports, for instance, that despite President Bush's 2006 movement of fourteen high-value al-Qaeda detainees to Guanatanamo from secret prisons in Europe -- a move that came at the behest of both the CIA and European governments fearful of being left holding the bag for abuse -- and its 2007 announcement that the CIA held no more detainees in its custody, the administration has opened another secret prison in Mauritania. That would help explain where the CIA held Abu Hadi al-Iraqi, an aide to Osama bin Laden, between his capture late last year and his April transfer to Guantanamo Bay.
What's more, Hersh sheds some light on the war on terror's special operations task forces, charged with hunting high-value targets like bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The task forces get wide latitude from the chain of command in the areas in which they operate -- especially the most clandestine of them, known as Special Access Programs. With a direct channel to the Pentagon, they're often so autonomous that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage tells Hersh that they in fact undermine the chain of command. Accordingly, Hersh reports that some task forces have obstructed and deceived military investigators attempting to reconstruct their operations:
In some cases, the secret operations remained unaccountable. In an April, 2005, memorandum, a C.I.D. officerâhis name was redactedâcomplained to (Criminal Investigation Division) headquarters, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, about the impossibility of investigating military members of a Special Access Program suspected of prisoner abuse:
[C.I.D.] has been unable to thoroughly investigate . . . due to the suspects and witnesses involvement in Special Access Programs (SAP) and/or the security classification of the unit they were assigned to during the offense under investigation. Attempts by Special Agents . . . to be âread onâ to these programs has [sic] been unsuccessful.
The C.I.D. officer wrote that âfake names were usedâ by members of the task force; he also told investigators that the unit had a âmajor computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 per cent of their files; therefore, they canât find the cases we need to review.â