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Seymour Hersh Reveals Rumsfeld Misled Congress over Abu Ghraib; How Gen. Taguba was Forced to Retire

Seymour Hersh Reveals Rumsfeld Misled Congress over Abu Ghraib; How Gen. Taguba was Forced to Retire over his Critical Abu Ghraib Report; and the Site of Another Secret U.S. Prison (Mauritania)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/06/19/1433252

Over three years ago, Seymour Hersh exposed the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib in an article largely based on a leaked report by Major General Antonio Taguba. Now Taguba has spoken to Hersh in his first interview since being forced to retire. Taguba reveals that he was blocked from investigating who ordered the abuse at Abu Ghraib and how more pictures and video exist showing the torture. [includes rush transcript - partial]

 


New details have emerged in the Abu Ghraib scandal -- and with them new questions that reach right to the top. In his first interview since leading the Pentagon's investigation into Abu Ghraib, Major General Antonio Taguba says he was forced to retire because his report was too critical of the U.S. military. He says the military has unpublished photographs and videos that show the abuse and torture was even worse than previously disclosed. That includes video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee, and information of the sexual humiliation of a father and his son.

Taguba says he was blocked from investigating who ordered the torture at Abu Ghraib. In May of 2004, he indicated where that may have led him when he was questioned by Senator John Warner of Virginia and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

  • Gen. Taguba, testifying in May of 2004.
The new details of General Taguba's story were revealed by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in this week's issue of The New Yorker Magazine. Hersh first exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal three years ago. His latest article is called: “The General”s Report --How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.” Seymour Hersh joins me now from Washington, DC.

AMY GOODMAN: New details have emerged in the Abu Ghraib scandal

and with them new questions that reach right to the top. In his first interview since leading the Pentagon's investigation into Abu Ghraib, Major General Antonio Taguba has revealed he disclosed key findings and photographs of the abuses as early as January 2004. That’s months before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush say they first learned of what went on at the Iraqi prison. Taguba also says he was forced to retire because his report was too critical of the US military.

He says the military has unpublished photographs and videos that show the abuse and torture was even worse than previously disclosed. That includes video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female prisoner and information of the sexual humiliation of a father and his son. Taguba says he was blocked from investigating who ordered the torture at Abu Ghraib.

In May 2004, he indicated where that may have led him, when he was questioned by Senator John Warner of Virginia and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

    SEN. JOHN WARNER: Within simple words, your own soldier’s language, how did this happen?

    MAJ. GEN. ANTONIO TAGUBA: Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down; lack of discipline; no training whatsoever; and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant. Those are my comments.

AMY GOODMAN: That was General Taguba being questioned by Senators Warner and Levin in May of 2004. The new details of General Taguba’s story were revealed by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in this week’s issue of the New Yorker magazine. Hersh first exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal three years ago. His latest article is called "The General's Report: How Antonio Taguba, Who Investigated the Abu Ghraib Scandal, Became One of its Casualties." Seymour Hersh joins us now from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Hello.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First of all, how did you end up speaking to General Taguba? Hasn’t spoken, since he left, publicly.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, just the way that reporters do things. I had been making a lot of speeches across the country in which I was very praiseful of his report. Amy, you should understand there’s been, what, about officially a dozen reports made about Abu Ghraib. And his report, the first one, which perhaps was never meant to be public, as the others were, was spectacular. I’ve read a lot of reports in my life, and all of a sudden I’m reading a report by a general who’s actually criticizing his peers, his fellow two-star generals -- he was a major general, Taguba -- and in which he’s talking about systematic abuse, in which he’s clearly indicating that this was way beyond just a few MPs. He’s not saying it, per se, but the language of his -- the tone of his report -- and, of course, part of my thought was that he had been born in the Philippines, and getting from being a second lieutenant out of ROTC in Idaho, where he came from -- he and his family moved to Idaho, became a citizen, I think, when he was about twelve or thirteen -- making it from there to two-star is -- this is a remarkable guy.

And at some speech, I ran into somebody who went to school with him, who apparently forwarded some of my comments. And I think Taguba was always interested in how I got his report. If you remember, in the New Yorker we published his report before it was made available and before it was declassified -- and Rumsfeld, by the way, has said to Congress, even before he got to see it, or he chose to see it. And so, at some point, we just started talking, more than a year ago.

And he’s not interested in publicity. He’s getting inundated with calls, and, as far as I know, he hasn’t agreed to talk to anybody, and he’s not going to write a book, and he’s not looking to be famous. He’s just a tough guy. And I thought the most revelatory line about him was -- he was five-foot-six when he joined the Army and weighed 120 pounds. And he said to me one morning -- I would see him sometimes just for coffee, sometimes for lunch, sometimes just to talk -- well, months ago, years ago, a year ago, he said to me one day, without any bitterness, he said, “Let me tell you about discrimination. I was told as a young officer I had to repeat everything twice, because I couldn’t speak English well enough. I got three master’s degrees, and I paid for them myself, because the Army thought I was too dumb to finance me.” And he said, “It was rough, but I worked hard and I made it. And that’s what I always thought you had to do.”

And so, when he got the assignment by sheer circumstance -- it was just he happened to be in a headquarters in the war zone in Kuwait when they needed a two-star general -- there were only two -- and as the Army goes, somebody saw him first and said, “You’ve got it.” There was nothing more than that. It was absolutely by chance. He just thought, “I’m going to do the job the way I’ve done everything.” And it turned out that cost him his career.

AMY GOODMAN: You begin your piece by talking about that meeting on May 6, 2004, that General Taguba has when he’s summoned before Donald Rumsfeld, then the Secretary of Defense. Describe it.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, actually, he had never been in Rummy’s office -- Rumsfeld’s office before. He had been in the outer office, but never has seen the Secretary of Defense. And he’s suddenly called, because on the next day -- this is about ten days after the stories that I did, and CBS, if you remember, also published, printed, aired photographs, some of the photographs, so there was a whirlwind of attention. This was a huge international issue and not very good for the United States. So Rumsfeld was supposed to testify on the 7th before two committees, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, so they summoned in Taguba.

And as he gets there, Rumsfeld's military aide, a general named Craddock, who, like everybody around Rumsfeld, everybody who participated in this, has been promoted, where those on the other side have not been -- in any case, Craddock -- his daughter had babysat for Taguba when they served together in an Army station in Georgia years earlier -- certainly very friendly -- and this time when Antonio, Tony, walked into the meeting, Craddock was very cold. “Wait here,” he said. Then they finally ushered him into the big room. And there’s the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld; there’s Wolfowitz, Paul Wolfowitz, then his deputy; there’s the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Myers; General Pace, then the deputy chairman; there’s a bunch of other senior generals. The whole major league cast was there.

And as Taguba walks in, Rumsfeld, who’s never met him, says in a word very ripe with mockery, he said -- his phrasing was, that is -- he said, “Here comes General Taguba” -- no, the “famous general” -- “Here comes the famous General Taguba.” And, look, Taguba’s not a violent man, but it’s good for Rumsfeld he wasn’t. He was really hot about that -- I mean, mocking him for doing his job.

And then, what they did is everybody played dumb. “My God! We didn’t know.” And Rumsfeld -- it was Wolfowitz at one point said, “Well, is this really torture what happened?” As you know, the government has made a big -- this government has made a big distinction between abuse and torture, with one legal definition of “torture” being when you actually break a bone, that could be construed as torture, but anything short of that, that kind of physical pain, is not. And they asked if it was just -- “Was this abuse?” And Tony, Antonio, recalled replying, “Well, you’ve got a naked guy in a wet cell and you’re shoving things up his rectum, and he’s not dressed -- I mean, he’s not been fed, and he’s not been treated -- you know, I don’t know what else you’d call that but torture.” And he said there was silence.

And, in general, the game was, as Rumsfeld testified the next day, the game was simply: “Oh, my god,” said the Secretary of Defense, “if I had only known. I had no idea about this. I didn’t look at the pictures until the day” -- he’s given various stories, but “until the day or night before I came to the Congress, and nobody ever gave me any information about this.” That was his testimony. That’s basically the President's position today.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He has gotten this first interview with General Taguba, revealing why he retired and what he knew about Donald Rumsfeld and -- well, we’ll look up the chain of command after this break.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Rumsfeld’s defense is that he first learned of the extent of the abuse after the photographs were made public. This is what he told Congress after the scandal broke in May of 2004.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: It breaks our hearts that, in fact, someone didn’t say, “Wait! Look! This is terrible!” We need to do something to manage the -- the legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn’t proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn’t know and you didn’t know and I didn’t know. And as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press. And there they are.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Rumsfeld, May 7, 2004. Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New Yorker magazine, what did Rumsfeld know? When did he know it? What does General Taguba say?

SEYMOUR HERSH: I’m always amazed hearing that bit that one of his big complaints is that the report that Taguba wrote was leaked. But, anyway, look, actually what you said in the introduction was slightly wrong about -- just in terms of who was responsible for what. Taguba did not begin his job as investigator until the end of January. On January the 13th, I think, or perhaps a day or so -- give me a break on that, I’m not sure -- January the 13th, one of the guys in the military police unit at Abu Ghraib prison, one of the guys whose partners, whose pals, were in the photographs, the infamous photographs -- you know, the pyramids, etc. -- and everybody in the unit was circulating CDs and photographs -- all soldiers have these cell phones with cameras in them -- and he just had it, and he walked in with a CD to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Army cops. There was a unit there at Abu Ghraib at the prison.

And within two days after that, the back channel, which is, as you know, not surprisingly, generals talk to each other. They talk to each other in ways that they don’t want anybody to see. Sometimes it’s Monday and, I’m sure, about golf games, but a lot of times, it’s very important. These aren’t classified, per se, because they’re very private. You rarely get a chance to see the back channel.

What happened in Taguba’s case is, by the time he got on the job in late January and was given the assignment, the back channel had -- there had been five, six, seven messages already, very explicit messages. He was given copies of those messages. By the 15th, the military assistant to Rumsfeld, the three-star general, the military assistant to Wolfowitz, the director of the joint staff or the joint chiefs of staff, probably the most important position in the joint chiefs, various sorted other generals with direct ties to the leadership, -- and, of course, when you’re talking to Rumsfeld’s military assistant, a general then named Craddock -- I mentioned him earlier -- you’re talking to Rumsfeld; that’s how you communicate with him in this system -- they were given explicit memoranda and details, particularly very vivid, graphic descriptions of what the photographs show. As Taguba said, you didn’t need to “see” the photographs -- that is, quote/unquote “see” -- to know what was on them. So Rumsfeld’s defense that he didn’t see them ’til right before, therefore he didn’t realize how serious this was, is sort of shredded by these back-channel messages.

There were exchange after exchange. I quote some of them to some degree. It was in one of these messages there was something rather explicit about the actions against women, more than has been made public, that you mentioned earlier, too. So what you have is a body of evidence that shows that the senior leadership was extremely aware of how serious this was. By the 20th -- one of the memos on the 20th was simply saying -- one of the memos said, “Is this as real as it seems? YES” -- Y-E-S, in capital letters, you know -- “Are there photographs? YES. Is it pretty devastating? YES” And there was a lot of -- actually, I should say, honorable and direct chit-chat in the back channel about “Let’s deal with this correctly. This is huge. We’ve got to make sure we don’t mess this one up. Maybe we should make it public ourselves.” All of this was being done. General Myers, actually, in one of his appearances before Congress mentioned the back channel, but not quite by saying it. He said, “Well, we received a series of messages very earlier on with a lot of details, including accounts of the photographs.” He did say that at one point. So even he is contradicting Rumsfeld.

But it’s a position that I think if you’re Rumsfeld -- well, I’ll just tell you what happened to Taguba. Taguba finishes his report in late February, early March. Nobody wants to read it. He can’t get people to read his report. He’s trying to get the upper echelon. That’s part of his job, is to go to the command structure and inform them of what he’s found. His investigation is not criminal. At the same time, the Army investigators and the cops are doing a criminal investigation into the kids in the photographs. His investigation is really more about the politics of the event and the overall level of responsibility, not about, you know, what you’re going to do to each kid in the photographs. One three-star general refused to see the photographs and explicitly said to him, “Look, if I look at these, then I have knowledge of them, then I have to act. I don’t want knowledge.” Basically, that was the position. Only one general, the head of the Army, Pete Schoomaker, actually read it and later sent Taguba a very kind note and a gracious note about how competent it was. But the rest of them simply didn’t want to know.

And again, by March, you’ve got a chain of command, you’ve got a lot of generals working for a very tough guy, Rumsfeld. They know this incident went down. They know everybody knows a lot about it. Rumsfeld has testified differently about when he talked to the President on various occasions, either late January, early February, but certainly he and Myers both testified they spent time with Bush on this. And I have two things to say about that. One, of course, is, if nobody knew anything and we had no idea how serious it is and, as Rumsfeld has said repeatedly in testimony, 18,000 court-martials a year, why are they talking to the President about it? What do they have to tell the President for about it if it’s not -- if nothing anybody had any idea how serious it was?

And given the fact that they did talk to the President -- and what the President did is really the crux of what I see. That’s how I ended my story writing about this. Bush, at some point, whether it was in January, February or March, was made aware of the details, maybe not all the salient details, but many of them. And what did he do? Did he say, “Rummy, I want some generals heads”? Did he say, “I want an investigation”? Did he say, “We’ve got to stop this practice”? What he did was, Amy, was nada. So inside the chain, this very sensitive, you know, hummahumma instrument of the military, everybody knew by the spring of ’04 investigating detainee abuse is not a way to get a third star if you’re two-star and not a way to get ahead.

And certainly Taguba, by then, knew it. Among the things he told me was, from the moment he got the assignment, he isolated -- there were twenty-three people on his staff, including many career officers, colonels, etc. -- he isolated everybody. He was going to be the point man on this so nobody’s career could get hurt except his. He was the front guy, and he was aware, very aware, of the dangers.

And there’s an amazing, I think, and astonishing moment in the article -- and to give you some idea of his integrity, the New Yorker has this very complicated and detailed fact-checking process, in which no matter how many times they sing and dance, somebody from the New Yorker fact-checking staff sits down with Taguba for a day and goes over everything very carefully. And this is his chance to opt out, say “I don’t remember it that way. That’s not right.” There’s a scene where in April General Abizaid, John Abizaid, not a bad guy, the commander who retired early this year, allegedly because he wanted to retire, but actually I think he was fired. But that’s another story. Abizaid is in Kuwait. He’s in the back seat. He’s driving with Tony Taguba. The report’s not published yet, but it’s done. It’s sitting there. And he says to Tony, as Taguba remembers it -- and we certainly gave Abizaid and everybody a chance with email messages and telephone calls and long summaries of what we’re doing, including to Rumsfeld; everybody got a chance to comment on this weeks before the story was published -- we are not trying to sandbag anybody -- Abizaid said to Taguba, “You know, Tony,” -- and the message was -- “the only victim of this, the only person that’s going to get hurt in this, is you, if you don’t watch it.” And Taguba said he remembered thinking then -- he said to me that “I had been in the Army then for thirty-two years, and it was the first time I thought I was in the Mafia.”

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