Today’s Must Read

May 5, 2008 9:58 a.m.

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, there seems to have been a rash of accounting lately.

Consider: in March, the Joint Forces Command released (after a pathetic attempt at squelching it) a report definitively proving that there were no operational links between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda. That same month, The New York Times provided a detailed account of Paul Bremer’s infamous decision to disband the Iraqi Army. And then of course there’s Doug Feith’s book, which purports to show how things would have gone so much better if everyone had just listened to Doug Feith — a thesis that’s necessarily met incredulity in a number of brutal interviews.

Some of this is just because enough time has passed that the players feel safe giving interviews. But then there’s also the case of suppressed information that’s finally seeing the light of day. In February, for example, the Times revealed that a 2005 report by the publicly-funded RAND Corporation had been buried because its conclusions were inconvenient. The report faulted just about everyone in the administration for not adequately preparing for securing postwar Iraq.

And here’s what appears to be another example of a buried report. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq from the beginning of the occupation until 2004, has written a memoir. And he has a couple scores to settle. One, to be sure, is that he thinks he was scapegoated for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. The other has to do with how he was left in command of Iraq with far too few troops.

In an excerpt from the book published in Time, Sanchez tells how Rumsfeld, two years after that disastrous year in Iraq, called Sanchez into his office to try to diffuse blame. Rumsfeld hadn’t known that Sanchez, commander of the Army’s V Corps, was left in charge while CENTCOM and CFLCC [coalition land forces] staffs had pulled out, he said, and he’d written a memo of that official version to prove it.

But Sanchez wasn’t buying it, he writes, and told Rumsfeld, “I just can’t believe you didn’t know.” Rumsfeld flipped out. The meeting ended, Sanchez writes, with Rumsfeld saying that he was going to order a report to find out what happened. But that didn’t go so well:

[Adm. Ed Giambastiani, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] assigned the task to the Joint Warfighting Center and gave them a pretty tight timeline. So it wasn’t long before I was giving the investigative team a complete rundown of everything that had happened in Iraq between May and June 2003. I later learned that Gen. Tommy Franks, however, had refused to speak with them.

A few months later, I was making a presentation at the Joint Warfighting Center and ran across several of the people involved with the study. “Say, did you guys ever complete that investigation?” I asked.

“Oh, yes sir. We sure did,” came the reply. “And let me tell you, it was ugly.”

“Ugly?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. ‘This is not going anywhere,’ he said. ‘Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don’t talk to anybody about it.'”

“You mean he embargoed all the copies of the report?” I asked.

“Yes, sir, he did.”

From that, my belief was that Rumsfeld’s intent appeared to be to minimize and control further exposure within the Pentagon and to specifically keep this information from the American public.

Update: Here’s William Arkin’s take on Sanchez.

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