Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Here It Comes

As I’ve been saying, if what both Newsweek and The New Yorker say about the background and the chain of command in the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is true, then the shit is about to hit the fan, according to Fred Kaplan in Slate.

Read together, the magazine articles spell out an elaborate, all-inclusive chain of command in this scandal. Bush knew about it. Rumsfeld ordered it. His undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Steven Cambone, administered it. Cambone’s deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, instructed Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been executing the program involving al-Qaida suspects at Guantanamo, to go do the same at Abu Ghraib. Miller told Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the 800th Military Brigade, that the prison would now be dedicated to gathering intelligence. Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, also seems to have had a hand in this sequence, as did William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, learned about the improper interrogations—from the International Committee of the Red Cross, if not from anyone else—but said or did nothing about it for two months, until it was clear that photographs were coming out. Meanwhile, those involved in the interrogations included officers from military intelligence, the CIA, and private contractors, as well as the mysterious figures from the Pentagon’s secret operation.

That’s a lot more people than the seven low-grade soldiers and reservists currently facing courts-martial.

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Much is at stake here—budgets, bailiwicks, careers, reputations, re-elections, to say nothing of national security and the future of Iraq. Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo thinks this could be bigger than Iran-Contra or even Watergate. And for those of us of a certain age who remember Watergate all too well, that’s saying a lot. But at least no one was tortured, sodomized, or beheaded because of Watergate (although G. Gordon Liddy would have willingly done all three for his president).

The one big difference between Abu Ghraib and Watergate is that the full impact of Watergate was not felt until after Nixon was safely re-elected in 1972. While Woodward and Bernstein were on the faint trail of the money connections between the original seven burglars of the Democratic National Committee in June of 1972, it was not until the following winter that pieces began to fall into place, and it would be another eighteen months after that before Nixon resigned. Abu Ghraib is on the fast track to blossom into a full-fledged clusterfuck (no pun intended) before the Republican National Convention.

I suppose we have cable TV and the internet to thank for keeping the story going, but in truth it has been good investigative print journalism by the likes of Seymour Hersh (or Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and Joe Mahr, the reporters at The Blade who broke the story on Tiger Force) who did the real reporting. It’s good to see that kind of work still gets results and brings out the truth.