Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

President George W. Bush at the Pentagon: "Mr. Secretary, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You're doing a superb job. You are a strong Secretary of Defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."

Sy Hersh, in The New Yorker: "Secrecy and wishful thinking, the Pentagon official said, are defining characteristics of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, and shaped its response to the reports from Abu Ghraib. “They always want to delay the release of bad news—in the hope that something good will break,” he said. The habit of procrastination in the face of bad news led to disconnects between Rumsfeld and the Army staff officers who were assigned to planning for troop requirements in Iraq. 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."

When President Bush says Don Rumsfeld is doing a "superb job" you really have to shudder to think what we'd have in store for us if the guy came off his winning streak.

Clearly, the president's political advisors have told him that his political fate is tied to Rumsfeld's. And on that judgment I think they're right. But certainly there are ways to keep someone on the job without submitting the English language to this sort of brutality, this ... abuse, shall we say.

Then there is the increasingly precious two-step -- perhaps fetishization -- of the photos. This from the Associated Press ...

The president was shown a "representative sample" of photos, including pictures not yet seen by the public, a senior defense official said, adding that some showed humiliation of prisoners and "improper behavior of a sexual nature," the official said.

Citing ongoing investigations and privacy concerns, McClellan refused to describe the still images, including some that were taken from videotape. And McClellan repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether the president thinks they should be publicly released.


The Pentagon agreed to send as-yet unreleased photos and at least one videotape to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. But senators had not determined when or under what circumstances they would be viewed by lawmakers.

Larry DiRita, spokesman for Rumsfeld, told reporters that the Pentagon was discussing arrangements with the committee staff for showing the additional photos and video "in a restricted environment."

I cringe to see these photos come out. But clearly they will come out. And really they should come out.

With all this mumbojumbo about representative <$Ad$>samples, and giving some pictures to congress and not others, and bizarre locutions like "improper behavior of a sexual nature" (that remind you of Clinton's "inappropriate sexual banter", only this time it's not a ridiculous joke), you get the feeling that you're dealing with an addict or a scammer who can't give up BSing even after everyone else can see that the jig is up.

You expect -- or perhaps better to say, you hope -- soon to see the sober, serious grown-up come along, put his hand on the guy's shoulder and say, "It's over" -- perhaps saying it a few more times, with arresting finality, until he understands.

Perhaps a better metaphor is a user at the ugly outset of his own intervention -- the increasingly desperate lies, the bargaining, the lickety-split oscillations between apologies, self-pity and impulsive anger.

An interesting connection. A report on NPR suggests the possibility that Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's scathing report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison may have been affected in some way by the fact that his father, Sergeant Tomas Taguba, was himself a POW in WWII.

In fact, as a prisoner of war, he was part of the notorious 'Bataan Death March'.

Who knows what played into this one man's role in this story now unfolding. But it's hard to imagine this memory of his father's time as a POW didn't play upon his mind at some point in his investigation.

[ed. note: thanks to this blog for calling this to my attention.]

On whether everything will be released at <$NoAd$>once ...

QUESTION: Scott, given that there are these other pictures out there, it's been acknowledged by the Secretary and you just mentioned, why not just release all of the pictures and all of the video clips that exist, just all at once, and stop the dribble, dribble that's, you know, one-by-one -- MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are in close contact with the Pentagon on those issues, and I think the Pentagon is working to address those issues. QUESTION: Is there discussion that, perhaps, it might be better to just release it all to the public? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Pentagon is looking at all those issues. I mean, they have to take into account other considerations, as well. There are ongoing investigations, and the Pentagon has to look at those issues and take those issues into account. QUESTION: Do you think it will be discussed this morning at this meeting? Has the President expressed his view as to whether it should all be released? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that those are issues the Pentagon is working to address. And we remain in close contact with the Pentagon on those issues. QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of -- I mean, obviously you said the President is -- hasn't necessarily seen them, but he knows what's in the pictures. What is his feeling, at this point, about releasing the pictures? Or is there just still an active discussion going on about whether or not -- MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views known, in terms of when it comes to the investigations that are ongoing. I think he's stated that. But, again, I think the Pentagon is the one who is working to address these matters. We're going to continue to stay in close contact with them on these issues. But as I said, the Pentagon has to look at other factors, as well, when they're considering these issues. QUESTION: But it will be his decision whether or not to release them, right? MR. McCLELLAN: These are issues the Pentagon is working to address, and they have to take into account other considerations. I think that's the way I would describe it.

More soon.

A telling foreshadowing?

This from George Will's column<$NoAd$> of August 12th, 1999 ...

[Tucker] Carlson reports asking Bush whether he met with any persons who came to Texas to protest the execution of the murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Bush said no, adding: "I watched (Larry King's) interview with (Tucker), though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' " Carlson asked, "What was her answer?" and writes:

" 'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.' "

Hughes, who says Bush's decision not to commute Tucker's sentence was "very difficult and very emotional," says Carlson's report is "a total misread" of Bush. Carlson, who describes Bush as "smirking," says: "I took it down as he said it."

Gary Bauer, then running against Bush for the 2000 nomination, called the Bush's comments "inappropriate, disgusting and profoundly disturbing."

Consider this along with the fact that, as many have noted, the now-President's ire has oddly turned on the photos -- that is to say, the evidence -- seemingly more than the underlying facts.

Just to pass on some added information, about which we'll be saying more. There is chatter in Pakistani intelligence circles that the US has let the Pakistanis know that the optimal time for bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects in the untamed Afghan-Pakistani border lands is the last ten days of July, 2004.

Andrew Sullivan has a series of damning posts up tonight about the Abu Ghraib scandal. The section that particularly caught my eye was this ...

To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen - after a year of other, compounded errors - is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account.

In fairness, this is a long stream of thoughts that <$Ad$>should be read in toto in order to get his full meaning. He does reaffirm his belief that the decision to go to war was the right one, but only just barely. But I don't think these excerpted words in any way overstate the scope and intensity of his condemnation of the administration.

I haven't been able to read much news in the last thirty-six hours, or at least not as much as usual. So I'm still catching up with the details of today. But when I try to write about this, I have to confess that the words, metaphorically at least, get stuck in my throat.

For myself, it's not so much the horror of what we're seeing itself. Certainly, history is littered with far greater outrages. But how exactly did we find ourselves on the doling out end of this stuff? Morally, how did it happen? And in simply pragmatic terms, since this was a grand gambit for hearts and minds in a region awash in anti-Americanism and autocracy, how exactly did we get here? More than anything, a self-inflicted wound of this magnitude just leaves you speechless.

For someone who considers himself in many ways a hawk and who did and does believe in American power as a force for good in the world (most recently in the Balkans) it is difficult to describe the depth of the chagrin over watching the unfolding of a story which reads in many ways like a parody of Chomskian screeds against American villainy.

As I think is already becoming clear, the responsibility for all of this goes right to the very top -- to the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Vice President and many others. The point isn't that the president ordered or knew specifically that soldiers in Iraq were setting attack dogs on to naked prisoners or all the other outrages we're about to hear of. But going back almost three years these men made very conscious and specific decisions to disregard or opt out of the various international conventions, rules and traditions governing the treatment of prisoners of war and enemy combatants that are intended to prevent such things from happening.

It may be true that in this one MP Unit things got particularly out of hand. But even the instructions from above they and other unit appear to have been getting from superiors were quite bad enough.

Now there are reports of something close to open warfare between the cabinet departments in the administraiton over this. We'll cover all this in greater depth in succeeding posts but the embrace of lawlessness, systematic deception and an almost boundless incompetence have all made this possible. These guys created the climate in which this could happen. And then they were either too disorganized or too indifferent to stop it when things got out of hand.

In the case of the president, it's hard to know what to think. As Jake Weisberg explains here, the president of the United States is just so cocksure, incurious and lazy that I think it's half possible he's never gotten past the gleaming phrases his advisors have given him to make sense of what's happening on his watch. Nor, I think, can we discount the possibility that the president's advisors and the president himself knew enough of what was probably happening -- how their orders were being executed in practice -- not to want to know the details.

Zakaria sums it all up in a few short sentences: "Leave process aside: the results are plain. On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq—troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani—Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."

An uncomfortable backdrop to the Abu Ghraib story is the knowledge that various sorts of abuse are endemic throughout the American prison system. Along those lines, here's a clip from a piece in Saturday's Times by Fox Butterfield: "The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time. The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country's criminal justice system."

Meanwhile, on page 6 (link through then scroll down to page 6) of the latest edition of the Utah Sheriff's Association newsletter, The Utah Sheriff, is a picture of McCotter on "a tour of the death house at Abu Ghraib Prison" with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The figure in the background appears to be Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski.

Department of Scoundrels looking for that last refuge. This from Kate O'Beirne ...

The most recent images of abuse concerning Iraqi detainees will inevitably fuel the anti-Americanism that endangers American lives — not at the hands of sadistic young misfits but at the hands of our elected representatives. Members of Congress elbowing their way into camera range to question, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, whether abuses were widespread and senior commanders were implicated and accusing the military of engaging in some cover-up are abusing the Abu Ghraib scandal and recklessly putting our troops at risk.

Stab-in-the-back bake mix. Limited assembly required. Do-it-yourself. Off-the-Shelf.