Posted by: L | June 18, 2007

The Don In Denial – What did Rumsfeld know and when did he know it?

In an interview with reporter Seymour Hersh, (“The General’s Report,” New Yorker, June 17, 2007), Major-General Taguba confirms what those who’ve followed the Abu Ghraib scandal have known from the start. Donald Rumsfeld and others in the chain of command knew all about it. They knew the details. But they deliberately kept what they knew under wraps and lied through their teeth about it to the house and senate.

Taguba was no hero to them. He was the guy who ratted out the military. That’s why – as Hersh’s interview confirms – they sent him to a dead-end job that ended his career.

It was only the threat of exposure by Hersh’s New Yorker story and a CBS broadcast at the end of April 2004 that forced their hands. Even then, Rumsfeld and his partners in crime – especially, General Richard Myers and Undersecretary of Defense, Stephen Cambone – shucked off responsibility, insisting that they’d been informed only in the vaguest terms.

Taguba’s revelation calls their bluff. It puts the gold seal of credibility on what’s easily proved from the record – Rumsfeld, Myers and Cambone engaged in a cover-up.

Look at the conflicting testimony at the two Senate hearings held on May 7 and May 11, 2004. Look at the previous reports to the Department of Defense about abuse — not just the report submitted by Taguba, and not just at Abu Ghraib, but reports going back to 2002. Reports that describe abuse all over Iraq and in Afghanistan. From the International Red Cross, from Human Rights Watch, from other human rights groups, from journalists, from American officials, from Iraqis — all clear, well documented, consistent. All immensely credible.

Even without Taguba’s definitive statements, does anyone really believe that the bosses didn’t know what was going on?

Here’s a timeline of the abuse (and the complaints) compiled from a Human Rights Watch timeline and from other reports (it’s by no means exhaustive):

December 25, 2002 – A Washington Post report on torture at Bagram, Afghanistan

December 27 – Human Rights Watch asks President Bush to investigate WP story

January 14, 2003 – Directors of several human rights groups write to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to publicly condemn use of torture

January 31 – Human rights groups write to President Bush to condemn torture and provide guidelines for interrogations.

February 5 – Human rights groups meet with White House Counsel Haynes to urge guidelines. Haynes writes back (in April) ruling out torture but sidestepping on the issue of cruel and degrading practices

February- March – various US officials admit that torture and rendition are being practiced

March onward – Oral and written complaints made by Red Cross

June 2 – Senator Leahy writes to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice about torture allegations and urges clear guidelines (Haynes later responds to Leahy, abjuring cruel treatment and affirming Convention Against Torture guidelines)

June 24 – Human rights groups write to Rice

August – An International Red Cross complaint is made to the “highest level of the Coalition forces” (this is according to the IRC February Report). Officially, the highest level would be then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Paul Bremer – who reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, i.e. to Rumsfeld.

August 28 – Investigation into Umm Qasr (Iraq) abuse

October 19 – Eight marine reservists charged with abuse

November 12 – International Red Cross report issued

November 17 – Human rights groups write to White House Counsel Haynes

November 18 – Deputy General Counsel of the DOD reaffirms that earlier statements of DOD about torture are binding to the whole executive branch

December 23 – Brigadier-General Karpinski (in charge of AG) replies to the November International Red Cross Report

December 27
– Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush

December 29 – Case of abuse at Camp Bucca (Iraq) in May is investigated and closed

January 6, 2004
– Three reservists discharged for abuse

January 12 – Human rights groups write to Rumsfeld

January 13 – Sgt. Joseph M. Darby of the US Army’s 372nd Military Police Company downloads pictures from a computer that turn out to be photographs of graphic abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. He turns them in to his superiors.

January 15 – Details of Abu Ghraib abuse (including forced nudity and sex torture and including torture of women and children deemed too sensitive for public display) were emailed to senior Pentagon officials, including General Craddock and Vice-Admiral Keating, director of the Joint Staff of the JCS.

January 16 – DOD brief numbered 04-01-43 (only 4 lines in length) from Baghdad states that an investigation has been initiated into “reported incidents of abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility.” The release of more detail is not possible, it says, because that could hamper an (note this phrase, please) ongoing investigation which was in its initial stages.

January 18-19 – 320th Military Police (MP) suspended Brigadier General Karpinski (one-star general) suspended.

Late January – General Abizaid (head of Central Command) tasks Lieutenant General Sanchez (a three-star general, army commander in Iraq and Taguba’s boss) to investigate further. Rumsfeld claims he alerted President and senior officials

January 31 – Major-General Taguba (a two-star general) begins investigation

February 6 – Taguba submits report

February 10 – Human Rights Watch and several rights groups write to Rumsfeld describing abuse and asking how many detainees were being held.

Early February – Two more investigations begin (into training of reservists and detention practices elsewhere in Afghanistan and Iraq)

February – Another International Red Cross report on abuse is delivered to the CPA (highest authority in Iraq).

Match 8 – Human Rights Watch report on abuse in Afghanistan comes out

March 9 – Taguba presents his report to commanders. Criticizes Major-General Miller for advocating use of Military Intelligence (MI) in interrogations (Gitmoization strategy).

March 20 – Major-General Kimmitt tells reporters that 6 military personnel have been charged with criminal offenses

Late March-April – Miller (commander of Guantanamo) brought from Guantanamo to head Abu Ghraib.

April – Investigation number five (into gathering of military intelligence) begins

April 28 – Rumsfeld and Myers brief 35-40 senators on Iraq in classified session, hours before CBS 60 Minutes II expose without mentioning Abu Ghraib. Myers claims he did not know about the photos until just before the CBS show.

April 28 – CBS expose of Abu Ghraib

May 1 – Taguba report approved by Defense Department.

May 3 – Human Rights Watch and other groups write to Rice that abuse is widespread, systemic and illegal, according to the army’s own investigation.

May 4 – Armed Services Committee receives Taguba report.

May 6 – Taguba meets Rumsfeld who denies having received his report.

May 7 – Armed Services Committee Hearings

May 10 – President is shown a representative sample of photos, supposedly for the first time.

May 10 – ASC receives classified annexes of Taguba report.

May 11 – ASC Hearings. Taguba testifies about his report.

Here’s the interesting bit. Originally slated to speak at the Senate Hearings in the morning panel, Taguba is later pushed into the afternoon, with Undersecretary of Defense Cambone speaking in the morning, instead. Cambone’s testimony sets a framework that entirely undercuts Taguba’s.

Accidental – or deliberate?

While Taguba’s report showed that it was Miller’s Gitmoization policy that laid the groundwork for the torture, Cambone’s testimony attempted to erect a firewall between Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

What for? Because Cambone didn’t want people to see the Bush administration’s loose standards on torture as having having set off the abuse. The administration treated Gitmo prisoners as terrorists.  Their  fingerprints were all over interrogations there, as the ACLU file on Gitmo shows.

AG had to be kept apart from Gitmo, at all costs.
So, that’s why we have Cambone arguing that while Miller might have been called from Gitmo to shake up intelligence gathering in Iraq, he didn’t really call the shots at AG. Oh no. He just made suggestions. It was Karpinski’s fault, not Miller’s.

And Cambone also did his best to keep the focus off the single more dangerous aspect of the Abu Ghraib abuse — the involvement of the CIA, intelligence contractors and special forces.

Why? Again, to protect Rumsfeld and himself. Because central to Rumsfeld’s New Model Army is the outsourcing (privatization) of intelligence, so that it’s no longer under congressional supervision. And part of that process is the extensive use of special ops, special forces and private contractors. The very people up to their necks in abuse in Iraq.

Special forces are all over the place now – from the appointment of Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker, a member of Delta Forces, whose appointment was the first time a special forces commander had controlled the military, to the appointment of Civilian Assistant Secretary for Special Operations, Thomas O’Connell, late of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, and the involvement of Cambone himself, a ballistic missile hawk, and of “Jerry” Boykin, the special ops loose canon whose idea it was to Gitmoize in the first place.

And that’s why when Taguba turned in his incriminating report, Rumsfeld and Cambone could only see it as the old- style military turning on his new model army.

So we know why he’s no hero to them.

But here’s what the Donald and his merry men still have to explain:

Question One:

Taguba says he submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through “several channels” at the Pentagon and to Central Command at Tampa, Florida. He also “spent
weeks” briefing senior military officials on the report, he says. Not one of them, except General Schoomaker (who complimented him), seems to have read it. Some said they didn’t, so as to avoid getting involved.

This is the report of a general who was tasked by no less than CENTCOM chief General Abizaid to write it, but no one read the thing?

According to Taguba, Rumsfeld’s words to him on May 6 were: “Here I am, just a Secretary of Defense, and we have not seen a copy of your report. I have not seen the photographs, and I have to testify to Congress tomorrow and talk about this.”

OK. Let’s say the dozen or more copies got lost somehow wending their way up through that perilous chain of command. Let’s say Taguba is too low on the pole for the mighty defense secretary to pay attention to.

What about the general in charge of Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez? Mightn’t he at least reside close enough to the rarefied air of Mount Pentagonus to warrant attention? Apparently not.

Sanchez was cc’d on January 20, 2004 that the allegations of torture were true and that there were more than a hundred photos to back them up. Nonetheless, Rumsfeld says Sanchez didn’t breathe a word about it to him.

My, my. What Victorian reticence they practice in the halls of power.

But, get this, Rumsfeld also admitted at the May 7 hearings that he spoke “everyday” to Sanchez. And Sanchez, we know, received a Red Cross report on prisoner abuse as far back as August 2003. Specific abuses at AG were known to his underling Karpinksi by December 2003. That’s thesame Karpinksi who was directly under Sanchez and who was fired by Sanchez in January. For what, if not for the torture scandal?

Repeat – Rumsfeld and Sanchez spoke every day. Rumsfeld, Myers, Abizaid and Sanchez spoke to each other every day; according to Rumsfeld, several times. Rumsfeld briefed the President with Myers present every other day. And somewhere in late January or early February at a meeting at which General Pace, Myers’ deputy, was sitting in for him, the President was also informed.

But none of them heard anything about Abu Ghraib? Not a whisper. How credible is that? If they didn’t, what would that make them? Incompetent or liars. Which is it, Mr. Rumsfeld?

“The President didn’t know, and you [representatives] didn’t know, and I didn’t know,” claims Rumsfeld, who says he didn’t want to interfere with the report working its way up the chain of command.

Oh – so, are we to believe that between the heads up to the president in late January and the April 28 CBS story, the president was not told anything more?

Yet, Myers admitted to the Senate hearing on May 7 that people “inside our building” knew about the photos. Then how could the president not know? And if Myers himself hadn’t seen the photos, how come he squashed their publication until Hersh’s story forced them into public view? How did he know they were too explosive for CBS?


Question Two:

Said Rumsfeld on May 7, the problem was only “one dimensional”; he couldn’t foresee the kind of damage that “hundreds or however many of these things there are” would do.
On May 11, Cambone added: “Until the pictures began appearing in the press, Sir, I had not sense of that scope and scale.”

But here are some of the details Taguba says were sent to the military high command in January — “descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees,” “of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts,” and of “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee” – only a few of many (about 300) images, some still held in secrecy

Rape, sodomy, child abuse. Captured on CD’s and audio-tapes. Short of performance art, how much more multidimensional would things have needed to get, Secretary, for you and your colleagues to have figured out that what was going on was in violation of US and international law?

Question Three:

Miller’s the guy whose Gitmoization strategy at AG in the fall of 2003 led to the torture, according to Taguba’s own investigation. What’s he doing being put in charge of the business just after Taguba’s report comes out? Rumsfeld can’t pretend he didn’t know that. Because Miller met with him just before going to Iraq.

And why was Taguba carted off to a dead-end job if the army liked what he did?

Wasn’t that a direct contradiction of the findings of the report? Wasn’t that transfer as way of giving the finger to Taguba and every human rights group and critic of the torture policy?

Question Four:

At the May 7 hearings, General Myers suggested that the military had from the start briefed the press in detail (Rumsfeld said it “told the whole world”). The record shows that that’s a fib. The wording of the brief in January is noticeably terse and lacking in detail, especially in the context of two years of mounting abuses.

Looks more like the army brass were trying their best to keep the scandal under wraps till it blew up in their faces. If they were happy with Taguba’s report, why did they approve it only on May 1, when it was completed on February 6 — a whole three months earlier?

What took so long?

Especially since no one seems to have read it in the first place.



  1. I just finished your book on Abu-Ghraib. Extremely well written. Every sentence compelling. Thoughts on the legitimization of torture through legal formalities and banalities. A few years ago it started to creep into my consciousness that we Americans identify our own interests with those of our ruling class far more than other peoples do. And all without any sense of history. Talk about a misplaced self-image. There is a beast lurking behind the curtain. It started in the US prison Gulag and is now emerging into the view of the entire world.

  2. Hi Alan –

    You’re too kind. I wish I could have actually taken longer with it, but I was writing to a word limit and had to pare it down to the minimum. It was written very fast – in two months, November – December 2004, but then had to wait a whole year for publication, with some of the more controversial material softened or removed. I want to self-publish next time, because it’s just much easier to call the shots the way you see them, rather than assuaging editors.

    Many things work well in the US – more so than in most countries – so that it’s hard to see the peculiar corruption within things. I actually started out wanting to write up the story of Nick Berg and then found that the more I researched, the more the big picture became disturbing and demanded my attention.

    Thanks again.

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