Saturday, September 09, 2006

Senate reports say Saddam rejected cooperating with terrorists

McClatchy Washington Bureau 09/08/2006 Senate reports say Saddam rejected cooperating with terrorists: "WASHINGTON - Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein rejected pleas for assistance from Osama bin Laden and tried to capture terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi when he was in Iraq, a Senate Intelligence Committee report released Friday found, casting further doubt on the Bush administration's rationale for invading Iraq. "

President Bush and other administration officials repeatedly cited Saddam's alleged ties to radical Islamic terrorists before the March 2003 invasion as one reason to take military action against Iraq.

The 150-page report said the administration's claims were untrue. "Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaida to provide material or operational support," the report said.

The report was released along with a second one that said false information from the exile group Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, was widely distributed in prewar intelligence reports and used to support intelligence assessments about Iraq's weapons and links to terrorism.
Intelligence officials repeatedly warned that the INC was unreliable, but White House and Pentagon officials ignored the warnings.

The reports are part of a five-report study that the Senate Intelligence Committee has undertaken into the Bush administration's use of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq.
The study has left the committee badly divided. Three reports remain classified, including one comparing prewar statements by Bush administration officials to intelligence available at the time. Democrats have accused Republicans of delaying the reports until after the November congressional elections.

On Friday, Democrats charged that the reports showed that the White House had manipulated intelligence to make the case for war to the American people.

"The administration ignored warnings prior to the war about the veracity of the intelligence it trumpeted publicly to support its case that Iraq was an imminent threat to the security of the United States," said panel Vice Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Republicans rejected that allegation and said the reports added little to what was already known.

"The long-known fact is that the prewar intelligence was wrong. That flawed intelligence was used by policymakers, both in the administration and in Congress, as one of numerous justifications to go to war in Iraq," said committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

In the run-up to the war, Bush and his advisers repeatedly sought to link Saddam and al-Qaida, stopping just short of accusing the Iraqi leader of a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"You can't distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," Bush said on Sept. 25, 2002.

On the same day, Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security adviser, said, "High-ranking detainees have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaida in chemical weapons development."

The detainee Rice referred to was al-Qaida operative Ibn al Shaykh al Libi, who was captured in Pakistan in November 2001 and, U.S. intelligence officials said, tortured by Egyptian authorities after his transfer to that country.

The Senate report says that in February 2002, months before Rice spoke, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that al Libi "was likely intentionally misleading his briefers."

Postwar information on Saddam's relations with Islamic extremists came from numerous sources, the report suggests, including seized documents and interrogations of Saddam himself, former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and a senior Iraqi spy, Faruq Hijazi.

The report, quoting from an FBI debriefing of Hijazi, said that when an Iraqi operative met bin Laden in Sudan in 1995, bin Laden asked that Saddam allow him to open an office in Iraq, give him Chinese-made sea mines and military training, and broadcast his speeches.

"According to Hijazi, Saddam immediately refused," the FBI debriefing said.

Regarding Zarqawi, the Senate report cites information that's surfaced since the war indicating that Saddam "attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture" him and the Iraqi regime "did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."

Zarqawi, who operated from a part of northern Iraq that Saddam didn't control, was a key part of Bush's case for war.

After the invasion, he became the head of the group al Qaida in Iraq. U.S. bombs killed him in June.

The second report released Friday confirms that the INC had "an aggressive `publicity campaign' prior to the war to bring defectors to the attention of `anyone who would listen.'"

While many committee Republicans dismissed the INC report's conclusions as unsupported by the facts, two of them, Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, voted for harsher language that Democrats proposed.

The report, which ran 211 pages, disclosed that three months after the White House approved continued funding for the INC's intelligence collection in July 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that the group "was penetrated by hostile intelligence services," including Iran's. It's unclear whether top White House officials were aware of the warning.

The report also confirms a report by McClatchy Newspapers that former CIA director R. James Woolsey helped get an INC defector attention from the U.S. government by referring him to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Linton Wells.

The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, suggested that he had knowledge of dozens of sites related to weapons of mass destruction, but none of them were ever found, and Haideri, taken to Iraq in early 2004, couldn't identify the facilities that he claimed he knew about.

McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Matt Stearns and John Walcott contributed to this article.

CJR September/October 2006 - Failures of Imagination

CJR September/October 2006 - Failures of Imagination: "Carlotta Gall was curious. It was early December 2002, and Gall, the Afghanistan correspondent for The New York Times, had just seen a press release from the U.S. military announcing the death of a prisoner at its Bagram Air Base. Soon thereafter the military issued a second release about another detainee death at Bagram. "The fact that two had died within weeks of each other raised alarm bells"recalls Gall. "I just wanted to know more. And I came up against a blank wall. The military wouldn't release their names; they wouldn�t say where they released the bodies"

Gall started calling the governors of provinces, she says, “asking if a family had received a body back from Bagram in their province.” None had, but Gall did learn that U.S. forces had detained some suspects near the eastern border town of Khost.

She visited Khost and left empty-handed, but a few weeks later, she got another tip and traveled back. The body of one of the detainees had been returned, a young taxi driver known as Dilawar. Gall met with Dilawar’s family, and his brother handed Gall a death certificate, written in English, that the military had issued. “It said, ‘homicide,’ and I remember gasping and saying, ‘Oh, my God, they killed him,’” says Gall. “I hadn’t really been thinking that before.”

The press release announcing Dilawar’s death stated that the taxi driver had died of a heart attack, a conclusion repeated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, then-Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, whom Gall later cited as saying that Dilawar had died because his arteries were 85 percent blocked. (“We haven’t found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action,” McNeill declared.) But the death certificate, the authenticity of which the military later confirmed to Gall, stated that Dilawar — who was just twenty-two years old — died as a result of “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.”

Gall filed a story, on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of Dilawar and another detainee. It sat for a month, finally appearing two weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I very rarely have to wait long for a story to run,” says Gall. “If it’s an investigation, occasionally as long as a week.”

Gall’s story, it turns out, had been at the center of an editorial fight. Her piece was “the real deal. It referred to a homicide.

Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can’t get much clearer than that,” remembers Roger Cohen, then the Times’s foreign editor. “I pitched it, I don’t know, four times at page-one meetings, with increasing urgency and frustration. I laid awake at night over this story. And I don’t fully understand to this day what happened. It was a really scarring thing. My single greatest frustration as foreign editor was my inability to get that story on page one.”

Doug Frantz, then the Times’s investigative editor and now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says Howell Raines, then the Times’s top editor, and his underlings “insisted that it was improbable; it was just hard to get their mind around. They told Roger to send Carlotta out for more reporting, which she did. Then Roger came back and pitched the story repeatedly. It’s very unusual for an editor to continue to push a story after the powers that be make it clear they’re not interested. Roger, to his credit, pushed.” (Howell Raines declined requests for comment.)
“Compare Judy Miller’s WMD stories to Carlotta’s story,” says Frantz. “On a scale of one to ten, Carlotta’s story was nailed down to ten. And if it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the Bush administration but to other news organizations.”

Instead, the story ran on page fourteen under the headline "U.S.Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody." (It later became clear that the investigation began only as a result of Gall’s digging.)

Gall, who is British, chalks up the delay to reluctance to “believe bad things of Americans,” and in particular to a kind of post-9/11 sentiment. “There was a sense of patriotism, and you felt it in every question from every editor and copy editor,” she says. “I remember a foreign-desk editor telling me, ‘Remember where we are — we can smell the debris from 9/11.’”

As it happens, two years later the Times uncovered military investigative files on the Bagram case detailing just how big a story had been buried. The files, the Times reported on May 20, 2005, offered “ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity.” The beatings and other interrogation tactics — prisoners deprived of sleep, threatened with dogs, and sexually humiliated — were later used at Abu Ghraib. Dilawar, who officials later acknowledged was innocent, had been repeatedly hit with a “common peroneal strike” — a blow just above the knee. The result, a coroner later testified, was that his legs had “basically been pulpified.” The Times also reported that officers who had overseen the Bagram prison at the time were promoted; another, who had lied to investigators, was transferred to help oversee interrogations at Abu Ghraib and awarded a Bronze Star.

The skepticism back in 2003 about Gall’s findings wasn’t limited to the Times. The evidence of homicides got only a short mention on CNN and a brief write-up inside The Washington Post. The biggest follow-up came not in any American paper but in the Sunday Telegraph of London.“There was no great urge to follow up,” Gall says. “Nobody went to the doorstep of the pathologist or anything like that, until of course Abu Ghraib. And I don’t know why.”

Reporters and news organizations deserve enormous credit for exposing the abuse and torture of detainees during the U.S. war on terror, more than other institutions or individuals. Without Carlotta Gall, The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, and many other reporters, we might well never have learned of the abuse and torture that have occurred in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.

But just as sweeping attacks against “the media” are too reductive, so too are plaudits. And when the record on torture coverage is examined in detail, an ambiguous picture emerges: in the post-9/11 days, some reporters offered detailed accusations and reports of abuse and torture, only to be met with skepticism by their own editors. Stories were buried, played down, or ignored — a reluctance that is much diminished but still bubbles up with regard to the culpability of policymakers.

What is true and what is significant are two different matters. Everybody agrees that journalists are supposed to ascertain the truth. As for deciding what is significant, reporters and editors make that judgment, too, all the time — what story leads on the front page, or gets played inside, what story gets followed up. And when it comes to very sensitive material, like torture, many journalists would prefer to rely on others to be the first to decide that something is significant. To do otherwise would mean sticking your neck out.

When stories about abuse did finally get attention, what was new was often less the revelations themselves than how they were presented and the prominence they were given. Simply put, a scandal wasn’t a scandal or a scoop a scoop until it was played as one. But after the September 11 attacks, most news organizations were reluctant to go there. “Being fair is one thing; being excessively worried that we might not be portraying the military in a fair light is another,” says Roger Cohen. “For a while there, we lost that balance.”

Newsroom ambivalence is not the only impediment to covering this difficult story, of course. For one thing, with the exception of Senator John McCain’s 2005 antitorture amendment — the coverage of which turned out to have been shallow and excessively focused on personalities — Congress has shown a studied lack of interest in torture. There have been no sustained congressional hearings, and a proposed independent investigation has long been blocked by the congressional leadership.

Complicating matters has been the Bush administration’s savvy defense. It has pushed back against calls for an independent, overarching investigation of abuses. Instead, there have been a dizzying number of fractured, limited-authority reports, all of which reporters have diligently sought to cover. But many of the reports are classified and ultimately heavily redacted, and none of them have looked specifically at the connection between policymakers and abuse. Indeed, the stonewalling has been part of a larger, smarter strategy: rather than defending its policies of abuse, the administration has denied the policies exist.

Things changed after the Abu Ghraib photos were published; news outlets flooded the zone, to borrow a phrase, with a near endless number of investigative pieces exploring just how policy contributed to abuse. At the same time, the administration’s strategy of denial was often aided by longstanding journalistic shortcomings; for example, the tendency to treat both sides of an issue equally, without regard to where the facts might lie.

There is a final factor that has shaped torture coverage, one that is hard to capture. In most big scandals, such as Watergate, the core question is whether the allegations of illegal behavior are true. Here, the ultimate issue isn’t whether the allegations are true, but whether they’re significant, whether they should really be considered a scandal.

Though the administration has decided not to defend publicly the need for “coercive” interrogations, others have. Their argument is that the policy of abusive interrogations is not only acceptable but necessary to protect the United States. At the same time, polls on torture are notoriously sensitive to phrasing. It’s the mixed results themselves, though, that may be telling. Americans appear to be ambivalent about the occasional need for torture. And with ambivalence, perhaps, comes a preference for not wanting to know.

Within this context, any article, no matter how straightforward or truthful, that treats abuse as a potential scandal — even by simply putting allegations on the front page — is itself making a political statement that “we think this is important,” and, implicitly, wrong. To make such a statement takes chutzpah. Between the invasion of Afghanistan in fall 2001 and the revelations about Abu Ghraib in spring 2004, chutzpah was in particularly short supply.


Dana Priest, the Washington Post national security reporter who has been widely recognized for her aggressive coverage of the secret U.S. detainee system, did not start covering the story with the notion that detainees were being abused. It was the fall of 2002, recalls Priest, “and my focus was on whether the government caught big al Qaeda guys, who they are, etc. Then we started getting this idea — in this very uncritical way — how do you get guys to tell you things?”

Barton Gellman, another reporter at the Post, was also looking into the subject of interrogations for a long story assessing the U.S. fight against al Qaeda. “I started asking officials how they were doing in capturing high-value targets and how were these people — who were willing to die for their cause — willing to tell you anything,” says Gellman. “I would get silences and coughs and circumlocutions. So I started to wonder. And eventually you get people in the right mood . . . .”

What Gellman got was tough but unspecific talk by officials about the lengths to which the Bush administration was willing to go to extract information from detainees. Priest was hearing similar things, but “it was almost not journalistic; you didn’t have enough details.” Then, she recalls, “Bart and I found each other. That’s when we were able to put it together.”

With Gellman working on his assessment of the counterterrorism effort, Priest took the lead on the detainee story. The resulting piece was extraordinary. Published on December 26, 2002, with a co-byline, it had revelation after revelation about the U.S. treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects. It detailed a “brass-knuckled quest for information” that included “stress and duress” interrogation techniques — keeping prisoners in painful positions for hours, for example — as well as extraordinary renditions, the practice of shipping suspects to countries where they could be tortured. Citing “Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment,” the paper reported that “captives are often ‘softened up’ by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms.”

The article contained both denials from officials that torture was allowed but also quotes from officials all but boasting of abuse. One official “directly involved” in renditions confidently explained, “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.” Priest and Gellman wrote, “Each of the current national security officials interviewed for the article defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary. They expressed confidence that the American public would back their view.”

Among those few whose job it is to follow such things, the story caused waves. “It ruined my Christmas,” recalls John Sifton, a counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. Sifton has spent the last four years probing the secret U.S. detainee network, and his digging has served as the basis for countless stories in the press. It was the Post’s story that first set him going, and he spent the holidays holed up drafting a letter to President Bush.

The story also caught the eye of the American Civil Liberties Union. “These were assertions by senior officials,” says Jameel Jaffer, a staff lawyer. “They basically confirmed rendition. There wasn’t shame in it at all. They wanted credit for it.” Later that year, the ACLU decided to file Freedom of Information Act requests. “It was a response to Dana Priest and Gellman as well as Carlotta Gall,” says Jaffer. “We thought it was clear something nefarious was going on.”

Outside of a handful of human rights organizations, however, the Post’s piece didn’t cause much of a stir. “After working so long on the story, all I remember was getting my editors to promise not to do it on Christmas,” says Priest. “So it was published the day after. Nobody noticed it. People were paying attention to other things, like protecting the U.S. It took on a much more important life a year after it ran — after Abu Ghraib broke.”

Apart from the holiday timing, one explanation for the lack of attention might lie with the Post’s own play of the revelations.

The story ran on page 1, but the headline did not exactly leave the clear impression that the U.S. had condoned violence against prisoners: "U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations". As for the witnesses speaking of regular beatings, that was mentioned in the thirty-first paragraph.
The lack of follow-up was also partly a function of just how difficult reporting on this murky subject is. “There just aren’t many Dana Priests out there that can pierce the wall of secrecy that these things operate in,” says Gellman.

What’s striking, though, isn’t simply the lack of follow-up but that so few tried. Unlike the ACLU, for example, almost no reporters filed FOIA requests about the detainee system. (The one apparent exception was an enterprising reporter at The New York Sun named Josh Gerstein, who actually beat the ACLU to the punch but had his FOIA request dismissed on a technicality.)

The ACLU’s requests resulted in the organization’s being given thousands of pages of investigative files containing information that, once divulged, prompted numerous front-page stories. The Post simply let Priest and Gellman’s story stand without significant follow-up until after Abu Ghraib.

(Three months after the Priest/Gellman story, in March 2003, The New York Times published a piece broadly similar to the Post’s. With softer wording, it was quickly forgotten.)
The failure to file FOIA requests is “something I find terribly embarrassing,” says Gellman, who points out that the administration’s general antipathy toward FOIA means requests are harder to carry through and often result in little being disclosed. Gellman also stresses that the detainee-abuse story unfolded “just as the Iraq war was becoming inevitable.

Iraq took up my life for the next year, as I know it did for many other reporters.”


It was Iraq, of course, and the revelations about Abu Ghraib, that finally elevated reports of prisoner abuse to a major story. But the story did not break as simply or as quickly as is often remembered.

In the summer of 2003, Charles Hanley, a special correspondent for The Associated Press, was preparing to make his second post-invasion trip to Iraq. Doing research and scouting for potential stories, Hanley came across a little-noticed Amnesty International report charging that “very severe” human rights abuses were occurring at U.S. prisons there. “It was a very murky, strange article,” he remembers.

“I couldn’t even determine who the writer was.” But it suggested that the Amnesty allegations were based at least in part on leaks from the International Committee for the Red Cross, whose work is well regarded and whose findings are supposed to be confidential.

His interest piqued, Hanley, who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his reporting on GIs who had massacred civilians during the Korean War, started poking around when he arrived in Baghdad that September. Journalists weren’t allowed to visit Abu Ghraib or other prisons. “I knew the only way I could get the story was from released detainees,” Hanley says. Going through the Red Crescent, Hanley eventually spoke with six former detainees, each of whom had been freed without charges. They all gave similar accounts of their captivity.

The prisoners didn’t talk of outright torture, but of humiliation and abuse: water withheld; being shackled for hours in painful positions or bound and made to lie in the sand, even during summer days when the temperature would approach 120 degrees. “I interviewed them independently, and their stories all corroborated each other’s and were consistent with the Red Cross’s leak,” says Hanley.

Weeks before he published the allegations, Hanley e-mailed the military a series of questions. “I asked if prisoners were being tied up and thrown in the sun. I asked how many prisoners had died in custody. You know, how much time do you need to figure that out?” In the month that Hanley worked on the story, the military never responded. “There was just no reaction from them, including no denial,” he recalls. If it was intentional, he says, it was “a very smart strategy.”

Lacking a response from U.S. officials — as well as prominent billing by the AP — Hanley’s story garnered almost no notice when it appeared in November 2003, except overseas. The most prominent attention, Hanley recalls, was in Stern, the German weekly. “After I published,” he says, “I assumed other people would follow up. That’s what really surprised me.”

Later on, Hanley was surprised to learn that until April 2004 — when the Abu Ghraib photos were published — nobody else had done much reporting about abuse at U.S. prisons in Iraq.

On the one hand, “reporters in Baghdad were overwhelmed.

You can’t blame particular reporters,” he says. “But it’s a certain mindset. I think there were an awful lot of editors at papers who would react negatively to a bunch of Iraqis saying something so nasty about the American military.”

Shortly after the Abu Ghraib pictures broke, Hanley returned to his notebook and was struck by a remark of one of the prisoners, who had told him, “‘If only somebody could get photos of what’s happening.’”

“You know, you can’t ignore those photos,” Hanley says. “You can’t find an excuse not to confront it.”


When the photos did surface, they couldn’t be ignored. But they weren’t immediately treated as big news, either. The now-deceased 60 Minutes II broke the story, airing the photos on April 28, 2004. As Dan Rather, the segment’s correspondent, noted, CBS had held the story for two weeks at the request of Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who, citing the major fighting in Fallujah, a Shiite uprising in Najaf, and two American civilians being held hostage in Iraq, had argued that the photos would further inflame matters in the region. The network aired the piece after learning that The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh also had the photos.

What came next was less a media storm than scattered sprinkles. The New York Times covered the story of the photos on page 15, the Los Angeles Times on page 8, and The Washington Post on page 24, though none chose to publish the photos themselves. The photos should have made for compelling TV coverage, but there was no avalanche of coverage there either. Only NBC and, obviously, CBS had segments on the photos the day after.

But the reaction abroad, particularly in the Middle East, was intense. With headlines blaring across the world, and near-endless coverage on Arab networks such as Al Jazeera, President Bush made his first public comments about the abuse two days after the photos aired.

And that is what, finally, lent Abu Ghraib big-story status: not allegations of abuse or even the photos confirming them, but revulsion abroad and the president’s reaction to it. "Bush Denounces Troops’ Treatment of Prisoners," proclaimed the Los Angeles Times in its first front-page story on Abu Ghraib, on May 1, 2004.

The floodgates then opened, and what was revealed was far more than random acts of sadism toward detainees at Abu Ghraib. Now that the story had “been ratified as important,” as the writer Michael Massing put it in The New York Review of Books, journalists pushing for significant coverage of abuse were no longer sticking their necks out. They were part of the pack.

Reporters quickly began looking at the larger picture — especially the relationship between policy and abusive interrogation techniques — and ended up writing some remarkable stories. Indeed, most of what we now know about detainee abuse was uncovered — or simply flogged with previously absent vigor — during the first few months after Abu Ghraib.

The bar was set by Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker story on May 10, 2004, which had details of a military investigation “not meant for public release” into the Abu Ghraib abuses that cited unclear interrogation policies and lax oversight.

Two weeks later, The New York Times uncovered a few of the techniques that had been approved for the CIA, among them “water boarding,” a centuries-old method in which prisoners are strapped down and made to feel they’re drowning.

In June, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post detailed yet more memos of the administration’s decision to remove restrictions on abusive interrogations. One memo, written by administration lawyers, redefined “torture,” saying it must rise to “to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant body function.”

Another memo concluded that “the prohibition against torture must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to [the] commander in chief’s authority.”

Less than three weeks after CBS’s Abu Ghraib report, Newsweek published a long investigative feature mapping out the policy decisions that had justified detainee abuse. As Newsweek put it, while the White House almost certainly did not order the specific abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib, a series of memos cited by the magazine led it to conclude that President Bush, “along with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods.”

Newsweek’s May 24, 2004, piece was a remarkable bit of reporting. It was also an example of how a “scoop” can result less from new disclosures than the fresh eyes with which old information is viewed. Chief among the magazine’s seeming revelations was a January 2002 memo, “obtained by Newsweek,” detailing the president’s conclusion that Taliban and al Qaeda suspects were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. The memo, written by Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, and later endorsed by the president, contained language that would become infamous. Gonzales wrote that the “new paradigm” of the fight against al Qaeda rendered “quaint” and “obsolete” Geneva protections.

(Gonzales’s analysis was summarily dismissed this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.)

Newsweek was certainly right to flag the memo. But the truth is that the president’s decision that the U.S. wouldn’t be bound by the Geneva accords had been publicly announced in February 2002, albeit in hedged and even misleading language. The president had said then that al Qaeda detainees weren’t covered by Geneva protections but should still be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles” of the Geneva Conventions. (Though it wasn’t publicly known then, the president had exempted the CIA from even that loose “humane” edict.) At the time, Rumsfeld dismissed any criticism of the decision as “isolated pockets of international hyperventilation.”

The Gonzales memo became the big revelation in Newsweek’s piece, with the memo’s jarring language being quoted endlessly by pundits and talking heads. It was a discussion a long time in the making: Gonzales’s memo was first uncovered and quoted not by Newsweek after Abu Ghraib but by the Washington Times — two years earlier.

Back then, there was little outrage. The paper’s piece focused on how Secretary of State Colin Powell objected to the lack of protections for al Qaeda and Taliban suspects and, according to “administration sources,” was “bowing to pressure from the political left.” Gonzales’s conclusions that the Geneva protections were “quaint,” quoted in the original Washington Times piece, were not again cited until Newsweek did so two years later.


Whether they looked at old information anew or delivered genuine revelations, what the post-Abu-Ghraib stories clarified is that the administration had specifically approved a kind of “torture-lite” for the CIA and the military special forces. They also made clear that the military’s rules for interrogations had morphed from a clear stance — no abuse — into a mishmash of ever-changing rules and directives, and that as a result, abuse coursed through the system.
The interrogations at Guantanamo were, as one military investigator testified, “a California Avocado Freestyle kind of a thing.” The investigator explained, “It was hard to go beyond the guidance because there was almost no guidance.”

And the abusive tactics, as another investigation concluded, mysteriously migrated from Afghanistan to Guantanamo, and then to Iraq. The results have become clear: roughly a dozen prisoners have died of abusive treatment. No soldier or officer has been sentenced to more than five months for any of the deaths. Four of the deaths, said to involve the CIA, have resulted in just one criminal case, involving not a CIA employee but an agency contractor.

The rules for the military had become so hodge-podge and confusing that the administration itself seemed unclear on whether the Geneva Conventions covered detainees in Iraq. A month after the Abu Ghraib revelations were published, Rumsfeld said the protections are “basic rules” for handling prisoners but yet also did “not precisely apply.”

In the wake of Abu Ghraib, reports from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which usually shares its findings only with the country holding the prisoners, were leaked to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. One report, written months before Abu Ghraib broke, warned of cases “tantamount to torture” and said abuse appeared to be a “practice tolerated by” the military. The report had been sent to administration officials.

In mid-May, the Post published a series on the “path to Abu Ghraib” and detailed evidence suggesting “a wider circle of involvement in aggressive and potentially abusive interrogations of Iraqi detainees, encompassing officers higher up the chain of command.” Guards told of being ordered by intel officers to “Loosen this guy up for us,” as one of them reportedly put it. “Make sure he has a bad night.”

The press also began to detail how military lawyers and the FBI had fought against the interrogation policies. With a media pack now pushing for answers, the administration changed course. Rather than slyly boasting about the brass-knuckle approach it was taking, it denied that abuse was more than the work of “a few bad apples” (as the mantra would go).
The difference in tone was striking. “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time,” one official had told the Post in 2002, “you probably aren’t doing your job.”

Now, in 2004, the White House repeatedly reminded anyone who would listen that the president had ordered prisoners to be treated in a “humane” manner.

In shaping the debate, the administration moved not only to distance itself publicly from those of its policies that abrogated the restrictions on abusive treatment, but also to keep those policies from being uncovered. Appearing in congressional hearings soon after the so-called torture memos were leaked, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to discuss, release, or even acknowledge the memos and insisted that the administration had never approved torture. (The insistence that the U.S. didn’t engage in “torture” would often trip up many reporters, who weren’t aware that the administration defined “torture” exceedingly narrowly.) With the administration now refusing to acknowledge its policies of coercive interrogations, the debate on torture was reframed as a debate about whether there was a need for a debate.

The argument by the White House and its allies that there wasn’t a need for a debate was aided by many news organizations’ habit of presenting both sides of a story as if they were equal, regardless of the underlying reality. The result was a kind schizophrenic coverage: aggressive investigative pieces showed the extent to which policy had underwritten many abuses, while political and other stories passed along the administration’s assertions that abuse was the work of a few bad apples, without offering key context — namely that the facts suggested those assertions were untrue.

As the administration blocked attempts to create an overarching, independent investigation into abuses, a head-snapping number of reports of varying quality and focus by military officers — Taguba, Schlesinger, Schmidt, Fay, Hood, Church, and Green, among others — surfaced. None of them were tasked with looking at the role policy played in abuse. The reports did provide clues anyway — the details, if not the official conclusions, of the Taguba and Schlesinger reports were particularly strong. But the administration also worked to keep the details from the public.

“We’ve been very eager to write more about policymakers’ connection to abuse,” says R. Jeffrey Smith, a Washington Post investigative reporter. “But that’s been very hard. Some of the Pentagon’s reports have been very superficial. Some of the backup material for the reports is classified. I dare say some of it has been suppressed. The reports that we’ve seen have had huge redactions.”

Writing stories about the reports was made even more difficult by the investigations’ occasionally self-contradictory, even Kafka-esque, conclusions. Take the so-called Schmidt Report, which was released in July 2005. Overseen by Lieutenant Gen. Mark Schmidt, an Air Force pilot, the report looked into FBI memos detailing abusive interrogations at Guantanamo.

Schmidt concluded that tactics once approved for Guantanamo by Rumsfeld — one prisoner was stripped naked, led around on a leash, and doused with cold water seventeen times during one interrogation — were indeed “abusive” and “degrading.” Nevertheless, Schmidt concluded — and emphasized in his executive summary — that the tactics were still “humane” and thus legal. Yet it was also Schmidt who would later tell the Army Inspector General’s Office that the administration had never defined “humane.” (The parsing seems to have been motivated by Schmidt’s preference for not crossing onto the turf of policymakers. Regarding the appropriateness of the interrogation methods, Schmidt’s report states that Rumsfeld’s “approval of each of the techniques clearly establishes the ultimate legitimacy of that technique.”)

The almost absurdist conclusions — there was abuse but it was “humane,” although we don’t know what “humane” means, and because techniques were approved, they can’t be wrong — were hard to convey within the confines of “objective” coverage. But it wasn’t impossible. The Washington Post, as it often seemed to do, rose to the occasion and added analytic muscle to its coverage. The paper’s main story on the report appeared on page 1 with the headline, "Abu Ghraib Tactics Were First Used at Guantanamo." More typical, though, was the coverage by The New York Times, which put the same report’s conclusions on page 21: "Report Discredits FBI Claims of Abuse at Guantanamo Bay."


The administration’s bad-apple argument has also had an unwitting ally: TV news. The evidence of the connections between policies and abuse was just a few dry memos, many of which weren’t even available to the public in full. By contrast, the “bad apples” were being paraded in and out of courts-martial. Their stories were not only repulsive but also, in a way, enthralling, filled with reality-show-quality sex and violence.

The result was that the various torture memos were covered on all three networks on only one day — June 8, 2004 — when Ashcroft made an appearance before a Senate committee and refused to discuss them. By contrast, the trial of Lynndie England — who had led a naked prisoner around on a leash — was a regular staple on network and cable news programs.

That focus not only distorted the larger story but also constricted it. Some journalists came to the courts-martial expecting to hear a kind of mini-trial of the overall debate: Was the abuse the result of official administration policies or a few sadistic soldiers?

What was little appreciated is how — in the words of Tim Golden, a New York Times investigative reporter — courts-martial “are a very imperfect method for finding the larger truth about why these abuses took place.” The reasons for that are partially structural. The military has no central prosecutor’s office, meaning courts-martial are brought on a case-by-case basis with no ability to follow investigations across cases. Military prosecutors can’t do what their civilian counterparts are famous for: slowly building a large case by trying to flip the low-level perpetrators and nab the big fish.Over the last two years, Golden has published an impressive series of stories detailing, at a minimum, the indirect role played by officers and policies in the deaths of the two Afghans in Bagram — the killings his colleague Carlotta Gall first detailed in 2003. Among other files, Golden cited a secret Army memo concluding that during the time when the two men were killed, interrogators at the base had adopted harsh techniques that Rumsfeld had approved for use at Guantanamo. The GIs involved in the killings eventually faced courts-martial. But as Golden noted in his story:

"Although military lawyers said the Bagram prosecutors were aware of [the] memorandum, the document was never cited in court. Nor do the prosecutors or Army investigators appear to have asked intelligence officers at Bagram to specify what those harsher methods were, when they were used, who authorized them or whether they had any effect on the treatment of the two men who died."

Only one junior officer faced court-martial in the matter. His case was dismissed before trial.

Some of the courts-martial that went to trial did provide an opportunity to connect dots, but reporters often took a pass. The daily dispatches from the courts-martial, by both TV news and in the papers, usually stuck to the small picture, rarely noting that some of the abuses that led to charges had at one point, though not specifically in the courts-martial cases, been approved by Rumsfeld.

Joanne Mariner, head of Human Rights Watch’s counterterrorism program, points to a trial last spring involving a guard at Abu Ghraib who was charged with using dogs to intimidate prisoners. “You don’t see headlines in The New York Times that Rumsfeld approved techniques that others are now facing courts-martial for,” says Mariner. “It doesn’t lend itself to daily coverage. What you need is more analytic capacity to add things up. It requires larger context.”


As a result of the administration’s stonewalling, the abuse story has been deprived of the oxygen it needs to move forward and stay in the headlines. There are still occasional revelations, but without the typical next steps — congressional hearings, investigations, resignations — the scoops themselves start to lose their pop and the story grows cold. The abuse story has become what Mark Danner, writing in The New York Review of Books, memorably dubbed a “frozen scandal.” Revelations are only followed by more revelations, and readers’ attention, and a news organization’s resources, ultimately drift to other stories. The pack moves on.

“Democrats don’t have the ability to hold hearings unless the party in power, the GOP, agrees. And Republicans have been loath to do that,” says The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who has written some of the finest big-picture stories connecting policymakers to torture. “There’s been none of the usual fact-finding with subpoena power,” she says.

“What reporters keep pointing to is that contrary to the administration’s repeated assertions of ‘a few bad apples,’ there is an official policy of renditions, of interrogations using abusive techniques like water boarding,” Mayer adds. “These are political choices that have been made and those who made them should be made to stand up and explain them, so the public can make an informed decision.” Reporting — fine as much of it has been — can’t replace congressional oversight.
“Journalists will do incredible work and it just drops into a great black void,” Mayer says. “I have subpoena envy.”

While some stories fall into a void, others never get done. “When Congress is actively engaged in oversight, there’s a synergy with the press,” says Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “It’s a powerful mechanism for disclosure that nourishes press coverage. Without the Congress there’s a kind of negative synergy. Congressional inaction serves as a signal to leave this alone. And, frankly, taking a pass is perfectly understandable. These are very hard stories to cover, and sources are very hard to come by.”

Consider the circuitous path into the open taken by one of the military’s best investigations into abuses. Overseen by Major General Antonio Taguba, the report said that the chain of command bore some responsibility for abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Initially classified, the report was disclosed in part by The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh. But its classified annex, containing thousands of pages of testimony detailing the scope of the abuse, stayed out of public view — until the ACLU uncovered it through an FOIA lawsuit. Congress itself never pushed to obtain the annex. “If Congress had asked for it, that would have done the trick,” says Aftergood. “But Congress didn’t want to know.”

It is impossible to quantify the effect of congressional inaction and the administration’s efforts to quash details about abusive interrogation tactics. But the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press did ask a question in a poll that might give a glimpse. In October 2005 — eighteen months after the disclosures of memos redefining torture, and after the appearance of official reports concluding that much of the abuse photographed at Abu Ghraib had indeed been based on tactics approved elsewhere in the system — respondents were asked what they thought caused the “cases of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.” About a third said it was “mostly the result of official policies.” Nearly half said it was “mostly the result of misconduct” by individuals.


The debate finally focused on the policy of detainee treatment — rather than on the need for such a debate — in the fall of 2005. The shift was brought on by Senator John McCain and his proposed amendment banning torture.

The administration’s position was still pushed sotto voce.

While quietly opposing the McCain amendment, the White House again refused to publicly defend its policies. President Bush continued to insist that the U.S. did not engage in torture and treated prisoners humanely.

But while Bush, Cheney, and other administration officials chose not to engage, the debate developed by proxy, with the writer Charles Krauthammer, among others, insisting that the McCain standard was too stringent. And the administration’s backstage maneuvers were detailed in early November, when The Washington Post reported on page 1 that the vice president was waging an “intense and largely unpublicized campaign” against restrictions on detainee treatment and had lobbied senators to exempt the CIA from McCain’s amendment.

The White House began threatening to veto the measure, although the president wouldn’t comment publicly, and Scott McClellan, then White House spokesman, simply labeled the amendment “unnecessary and duplicative.” But forced into the open, few senators were willing take a stand for inhumane treatment, and McCain’s bill passed by the veto-proof margin of ninety to nine. (The exemption for the CIA was rejected, too.)

Faced with defeat, the president invited McCain to the White House, where Bush signed the measure and offered vague praise for the ban. “We’ve been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective,” he said.

The McCain vote, of course, garnered front-page coverage around the country and on the networks. "President Backs McCain on Abuse," declared The New York Times. What was mostly missed, however, were two key facts. First, the amendment, worthy as it was, wasn’t as strong as advertised.

It contained no enforcement clause: soldiers or CIA agents couldn’t abuse prisoners, the bill stated, but it didn’t provide for any penalties if they did. The amendment, in other words, was mostly a statement of principle, without teeth.

What’s more, McCain’s amendment was undercut by another little-noticed amendment that was passed as part of the same defense appropriations bill. Sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham, Carl Levin, and John Kyl, the amendment — which was combined with McCain’s measure to become the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) — states that testimony gained through “coercion” can be used in military tribunals. Unlike the McCain amendment, which merely reaffirms existing laws, the Graham-Levin-Kyl measure muddies what had been clear waters. The amendment’s portion of the DTA also severely restricts detainees’ access to U.S. courts and strips them of the right to habeas corpus. It limits detainee cases to a single hearing in front of an appeals court, at which detainees have no clear right to present the facts of their case.

Cheney and his allies “took their opponents to the cleaners,” Marty Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown who served in the Justice Department until 2002, wrote at the time on a blog called Balkanization. “The Graham amendments . . . are far more beneficial to their detention and interrogation policies than the McCain amendment is detrimental.”

But that’s not how the matter has played in the media. The triumph of the McCain amendment was a compelling story, a personality play in which the little-liked Cheney was brought to heel by the much-adored maverick senior senator from Arizona. The Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment — a legalistic, obscure, and at least nominally bipartisan effort — had no such drama. And it got no equivalent coverage. The morning after that amendment passed, only one major paper, The New York Times, gave it front-page treatment, and it simply wasn’t mentioned on the network news.

“I don’t think the media were connecting the dots,” says Marc Falkoff, a law professor at Northern Illinois University who represents seventeen Yemenis detained at Guantanamo. “They never realized” that the McCain bill “gave the detainees a right, but without a remedy.”

The undercutting pattern continued with the president’s “signing statement,” in which he asserted that he didn’t consider his administration to be bound by the McCain ban but instead would interpret it “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president.” With the statement’s practical implications unclear — Was the president reserving his right to ignore the ban? Was he giving fair warning of what he was already doing? — and the whole notion of signing statements a confusing, unfamiliar, and often headache-inducing legal topic, most news outlets, with the notable exception of The Boston Globe, ignored it. (Coverage of the signing statements did eventually pick up after bloggers and others harped on them.)

If the ramifications of the signing statement are murky, the practical effect of the combined McCain and Graham-Levin-Kyl amendments — stripping the ability of prisoners to challenge their treatment — may be less so. Falkoff says that when he last visited the prison, in April 2006, one of his clients showed up badly beaten. “One eye was swollen shut, the other a deep black and blue. Contusions all over his body, cuts on his head and legs,” recalls Falkoff. “He couldn’t swallow and could barely talk.” The client had been forcibly “extracted” from his cell. The offense meriting the move “was that he stepped over a line that they painted in his isolation cell.

“It’s good that McCain is very clear about it being illegal to abuse detainees,” Falkoff continues. “But for Gitmo detainees the DTA is a net negative. They could torture and beat the shit out of any of our clients and there’s nothing we can do about it after the DTA.”

Though it’s still being litigated, the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision in June seems to have reined in the DTA’s habeas-stripping provisions. But two other lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo told me that treatment had indeed become tougher after the DTA, especially the guards’ treatment of detainees on hunger strikes. Hunger strikes have been occurring at Guantanamo for years. It was only early this year, after the DTA was passed, that the military began particularly aggressive force-feedings involving larger than normal tubes, which often resulted in bleeding.


In early November 2005, as McCain’s anti-abuse ban and the Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment were winding their way through the Senate, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest published another seminal piece on the U.S. detention system, this time on the CIA’s network of secret prisons.

The story gave a “rough estimate” of “more than 100” suspects who have been moved through the system, with some being rendered to foreign intelligence services — which held the prisoners “with CIA financial assistance and, sometimes, direction” — and others held directly by the CIA, including some at a “Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.”

Contrary to international law, those held at the secret prisons were not registered with the International Red Cross or acknowledged as being held. They were, and remain, ghost prisoners. The policy, as Priest detailed, had started haphazardly as a way of holding only the top al Qaeda suspects, but it morphed into something different. “We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy,” one “former senior intelligence” officer told her.

“Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’”

The Post seemed to suggest that the existence of the prison system itself was breaking news: "CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons." Additional coverage — and outrage in Washington — followed. ABC News, for example, referred to the “revelation today, first in The Washington Post, about a network of top-secret prisons run by the CIA.”

It’s true that the existence of a “number of secret detention centers overseas” was first revealed by the Post — but the revelation came three years earlier. Priest and her colleague Bart Gellman reported that fact in their little-noticed story over Christmas 2002, the one that detailed “stress and duress” techniques and beatings. That story even listed specific locations, saying there were secret prisons at the U.S.

Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and another at a base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In October 2004, Human Rights Watch also released a report on the ghost prisoners. And journalists abroad had reported on the locations of other CIA prisons, one in Jordan, another in Morocco, and yet another in Thailand.

Priest’s 2005 piece had more detail than anything previously published on the subject — discussion from former intelligence officials about how the program started; and particularly the reference to the existence of prisons in Eastern European countries — but the story’s revelations were actually modest in comparison to the amount of vituperation they stirred up.

As for extraordinary renditions, the first small glimpse into that policy came just a month after 9/11. At the time, the Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran was reporting from Pakistan and saw a reference in a local paper to an al Qaeda suspect who had been flown away in the middle of the night by the U.S.

Chandrasekaran ran the plane’s tail number, which had been published, through an FAA database and quickly suspected that a CIA front was involved. “I tried finding the number for the company listed and couldn’t get anything,” Chandrasekaran recalls. “I thought, Why the hell would they fly in the middle of the night? That was it. It was all I had time to do back then.”

The following spring, in early 2002, Chandrasekaran was stationed in Indonesia and saw a squib in a local paper about an Arab handed over to foreigners at a military air base. “I went to the guy’s neighborhood, talked to Indonesia intel sources, and one opened up to me,” he remembers. Written with Peter Finn, the resulting front-page story — "U.S. Behind Secret Transfer of Terror Suspects" — revealed how a prisoner who, without a court hearing or a lawyer, “was hustled aboard an unmarked, U.S.-registered Gulfstream V jet parked at a military airport in Jakarta and flown to Egypt.”
“After September 11, these sorts of movements have been occurring all the time,” one U.S. diplomat told the Post. “It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can’t do on U.S. soil.”

Coming just six months after 9/11, Chandrasekaran says the article “got very little interest. A year, two years later, I started getting calls saying, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And that includes my own paper.” Bob Drogin, an intelligence reporter at the Los Angeles Times, remembers trying to follow these stories and making “an utterly unsuccessful effort to crack into the rendition business. It’s reporters abroad who’ve done the best job on this stuff. It’s just the nature of where the story is.”

Indeed, by the summer of 2004, soon after the Abu Ghraib photos surfaced, European journalists from outlets like The Financial Times, the London Independent, The Ottawa Citizen, and Calla Fakta (Cold Facts), a Swedish TV program, were driving the coverage of renditions. A British reporter named Stephen Grey began to track CIA flights by their tail numbers. Grey eventually detailed some 300 flights of a single jet to forty-nine different destinations in the British publication, New Statesman. Grey, a freelancer who in the past year had written about renditions for The New York Times, says that before publishing his piece he tried to get U.S. networks interested. One show was particularly interested, but eventually the idea fell through. “They said, ‘Can’t you find somebody who’s innocent; we’d much prefer that,’” says Grey, who won’t name the show he was referring to. “The nub of the story wasn’t innocence; it was that people were sent to places where they were likely tortured.” (A number of American outlets did eventually contribute pieces of the puzzle, including regional dailies like The Oregonian, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune.)

When Priest’s story on the secret prisons was splashed across the Post’s front page, it resulted in an enormous amount of attention, consternation, and, of course, a backlash. Although the Post had declined to name the Eastern European countries in which some of the prisons were located — a decision prompted by “the request of senior U.S. officials [who] argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation” — the reaction against the Post by the administration and Congress was swift and overwhelming.

Joining others in calling for a leak probe, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declared himself “not concerned about what goes on” at the prisons but very concerned about the leak. The CIA also requested that the Justice Department start an investigation, and the House Intelligence Committee started its own.

“The House and Senate majority leaders held a joint news conference calling for a bicameral investigation,” says Priest.

“That was the weirdest day.” The article, as Priest puts it, was “my attempt to go back again, with deeper sourcing and a better understanding of the discrete elements and motives behind all this.” As to why this particular piece, of all the stories she has written on the detention system, got so much attention, Priest suspects that “it was the fact that the prisons were in Europe and that those were democracies. They’re like us.”

The leak investigations have not yielded any firm results yet. (One CIA official, Mary McCarthy, was fired earlier this year, apparently for leaking, but it’s unclear whether that involved Priest’s article.) But whatever the intentions of those who complained about Priest’s story, one consequence is clear: in contrast with Europe, the focus in the U.S. moved from the existence of secret prisons to the Post’s disclosure of them. The debate was once again deferred.


Carlotta Gall, the Times reporter who uncovered the two homicides at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in early 2003, was struck at the time by “the reluctance to believe bad acts of American troops when we’re at war.” That reluctance has largely disappeared, but a certain caution remains regarding officials in Washington.

This June, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the military commissions the president had set up for al Qaeda suspects hadn’t been approved by Congress and thus were illegal. At least that is what made the headlines. Almost all papers, the Los Angeles Times being an exception, played the ruling narrowly. Take The Washington Post: "High Court Rejects Detainee Tribunals."

What was only slowly recognized was that the court had also concluded that abusive interrogation policies were in fact illegal. The majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, said that contrary to the Bush administration’s assertions, all captured combatants in U.S. custody are entitled to protection under what’s known as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. While not granting them full prisoner-of-war protections, Article 3 says even fighters such as captured al Qaeda members are entitled to a minimum standard of treatment, including protection from “outrages upon personal dignity.”

By now, two years after Abu Ghraib, there is plenty of evidence that subjecting some detainees to “outrages upon personal dignity” has been exactly the policy of the administration. In November 2005, ABC News published a partial list of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation tactics,” including such things as water boarding, the “attention slap,” and the cold-cell treatment, in which prisoners are kept naked, nearly freezing, and continuously doused with water.

Lieutenant General Schmidt, who had overseen the report on FBI allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, later testified that Rumsfeld had been “personally involved,” and was being given “weekly updates” on the interrogation of one detainee, who was kept near-freezing and led around naked on a leash. Interrogation logs later showed that the detainee’s heart rate became so slow during his “cold” treatment that he nearly died. Another prisoner in CIA custody in Afghanistan died of hypothermia.

“It all goes back to President Bush’s order, in February 2002, that detainees would not be covered by Common Article 3 of Geneva. That was the key,” says Marty Lederman, the constitutional scholar and former administration lawyer. Bush made that declaration publicly. It was oddly fitting, then, that when the Supreme Court ruled that Bush’s 2002 executive order was in fact illegal — a conclusion the White House implicitly acknowledged this summer when it began lobbying to effectively shield interrogators and officials from potential violations of the War Crimes Act — there were few headlines about that either.

Eric Umansky, formerly a columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey fellow in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. CJR gratefully acknowledges support for this article from the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

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U.S. Troops Battle Insurgents in Eastern Afghanistan - Asia - U.S. Troops Battle Insurgents in Eastern Afghanistan - Asia: "KANDAGAL, Afghanistan � U.S. troops on Wednesday launched a fearsome barrage of artillery and rockets into a mountainous militant stronghold in eastern Afghanistan where they suffered their deadliest combat loss over a year ago. "

Plumes of smoke rose over the top of pine tree-forested mountain ranges in Kunar province's Korangal Valley, where scores of troops from the New York-based 10th Mountain Division are trying to curb militant attacks in this volatile region bordering Pakistan.

"We have had nonstop contact for several days and the enemy is on the run," said Staff Sgt. William Wilkinson, 36, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who heads a team firing mortars toward militant positions.

"We have cut them off a couple of times and they are not doing as well as they thought they would."

No militant casualty figures were available from the heavy bombardment of locations some three miles deep into the Korangal Valley, where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have set off roadside bombings and staged ambushes targeting American and Afghan forces operating in the region....

NATO Forces in Afghanistan Kill More Than 40 Suspected Taliban - Asia - NATO Forces in Afghanistan Kill More Than 40 Suspected Taliban - Asia: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan � NATO and Afghan soldiers killed more than 40 suspected Taliban militants in fierce raids that destroyed insurgent hide-outs and a weapons-making factory, the alliance said Saturday. One NATO soldier also died.

The insurgents were killed late Friday and early Saturday in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, where an anti-Taliban operation was launched Sept. 2. The latest deaths brought the number of suspected militants killed by NATO in Operation Medusa to at least 320.

The ferocious anti-Taliban blitz came as Afghans on Saturday commemorated the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda's killing of Ahmad Shah Massood, the fabled mujahedeen commander who battled the Taliban regime until his death two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks."...

Army to hit 2006 recruit goal

Army to hit 2006 recruit goal��US News�� "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a big turnaround from a year ago, the U.S. Army will achieve its 2006 goal of 80,000 new soldiers despite lingering reluctance by some potential recruits to join amid the Iraq war, officials said on Friday.

Adding recruiters, sweetening enlistment bonuses, accepting older volunteers and even tolerating more tattoos helped the active-duty Army rebound from fiscal-year 2005 when it fell almost 7,000 recruits short of 80,000, officials said.

'We will make our 80,000 mission (for new recruits) for the fiscal year,' said Maj. Gen. Sean Byrne, the Army's director of personnel management. Fiscal 2006 ends on September 30.

But some defense experts argued the Army, which provides the bulk of ground forces in Iraq, had been able to make its goal only by taking lower-quality volunteers who previously might have been rejected.

'The real question is: how low are we willing to let the quality of the Army decline while we continue in this war?' asked Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense in charge of manpower issues under former President Ronald Reagan.

The Army has already met its annual goal for re-enlistment -- current soldiers volunteering for another tour of duty -- and overall will grow by about 10,000 from the level of 492,700 soldiers at which it stood at the start of fiscal 2006, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty.

'The bottom line is: we're recruiting the force that we need in the numbers that we need. We're doing considerably better than we were last year,' Byrne said. ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 09/06/2006 | Top military leaders insist new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq

McClatchy Washington Bureau 09/06/2006 Top military leaders insist new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq: "Debating issues of war and peace and America's role in the world aren't off limits in this fourth year of war in Iraq, and they aren't a sign of anything but the health and vibrancy of our democracy, however much President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld might wish otherwise in a tough election season. "

In hopes of furthering that debate, this week I asked more than a dozen top Army and Marine Corps generals - active duty and retired, dissidents and administration loyalists - to address what we should do now in Iraq.

All of them agreed that America's strategy and tactics in Iraq have failed, and that President Bush's policy of "staying the course" in Iraq isn't likely to produce anything but more frustration, more and greater problems for the United States in a dangerous world, and more and bloodier surprises for the 135,000 American troops in Iraq.

"Lack of security and lack of governance have pushed Iraq into the rise of a civil war," said one retired senior general.

"The message is clear: We have a failed strategy, and we need new leadership and a new strategy to secure (our) interests in the region." The U.S. has important issues in the Middle East - not least of them Iran, he said, "but we cannot do much while bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"The problem thus far, as you know, has been lack of serious planning, poor selection of people in charge ... screwed-up assessments and assumptions, no building of international and regional cooperation, trust in non-credible exiles and too much spin and ad hoc-ery," said retired Marine Gen. Tony Zinni, who formerly headed the U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for 32 nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zinni, who was among those who counseled continued containment of Saddam Hussein's Iraq rather than war and regime-change, continued: "The current bankrupt course we are staying is focused only, or almost only, on security and is not complete even in that area."

"Until we back up and assess what we have gotten ourselves into, I fear we will see a repeat of the war in Vietnam," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who recently called for firing Rumsfeld. "Our military will again fight a series of battles and engagements in Iraq without the overall purpose that a good campaign plan provides."

The need for change, all the officers agreed, is urgent if the U.S. to avoid a catastrophe whose ripple effects would cripple American influence in the Middle East and worldwide, leaving us a superpower in name only, and a beleaguered superpower at that.

Though it's far more difficult today because of lost opportunities, Zinni said, if the administration acted fast, a better outcome could be pulled out of the flames. To get Iraq right, he said, would take five to seven years, "and it means a much more comprehensive and well-planned set of programs to build political, economic, social and security institutions."

Even retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell at the State Department in President Bush's first term and now an outspoken critic of the administration's policies in Iraq, said there's still a way to succeed.

"First, you have to think big," Wilkerson said. "Not stupid big, the way Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld do, but smart big the way Teddy Roosevelt used to do."

Some retired officers such as Wilkerson and Zinni spoke on the record; others, including all still on active duty, would speak only on background for obvious reasons. But there was a broad consensus among them that a new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq, and on the outlines of one:
-Review America's military options.

None of the officers I interviewed recommended an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and a few suggested sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. "You have to be willing to let the GIs on the ground continue to do what they have been doing recently, fighting smart rather than dumb ... doing counter-insurgency and not fighting on the northern plains of Europe," Wilkerson said.

Most of the officers, however, agreed that the administration has relied too heavily on the military and shortchanged economic and political efforts in Iraq.

One senior general who's still on active duty and has broad experience in the Middle East argued that the United States should announce that it wants no permanent, long-term American bases in Iraq; that we aren't planning to stay forever. "By pouring concrete and building these huge bases, we are reinforcing what the insurgents are telling the people," he said.

Some, like retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who resigned as the director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, said the time has come to begin discussing withdrawing U.S. troops.

Newbold said that he takes what he called a "distinctly minority view" that the administration should set a general timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, declaring success in the most important goals - the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the institution of a Middle East-style democracy and the removal of any near-term threat that Iraq will threaten its neighbors. Any such timeline should be made conditional on the general security situation in Iraq, he said.

We'll inevitably publish a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal, anyway, Newbold said, but doing so now would weaken one of the prime motivating forces of the insurgency - the continued presence of American troops as an occupying force.

"Our national strategy must include policies that assist our cause, not those of the insurgents and terrorists by reinforcing their exaggerated views of American behavior and intentions," Newbold said.

A retired Army senior general said it's time for the national debate to focus on how we get out of Iraq and how we do so in such a way that we return to a more normal role and secure our vital interests in the region.

He said that an exit strategy is the venue we need to work - "not cut and run but focusing the national debate on what next and our role in the region for the long term ... an exit from what we are doing currently to get us to a more normal role securing our vital interests in the region."

-Bolster the effort to train and equip Iraqi military and security forces that can take over from U.S. troops.

Newbold said that the time for adding more U.S. forces on the ground has passed, if only for political reasons, and that the best military option now is to reinforce the efforts of Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to stand up a capable Iraqi army to take over security.

If we're serious about standing up a capable and effective Iraqi army to take responsibility for security, said a serving senior general, "then we need to get serious about it now" and make certain that only the best American Army and Marine officers and NCOs are assigned to the Military Transition Teams. Without that, he said, "we will be there forever."

A senior Army officer who's served multiple tours in Iraq and studied the situation more closely than most said the U.S. should undertake reforms of the security sectors in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, train and install stronger leaders at every level in the Iraqi Army and police, establish a reconciliation program that permits more participation by former Saddam regime officials and disarm the private militias that are responsible for much of the sectarian violence.

-Devote greater energy to rebuilding Iraq's economy and political system.

"You have to pour on the resources, not cut back," Wilkerson said. "A billion a month for reconstruction ... and these dollars do not go to American contractors. They go to Iraqi contractors who are overseen by Americans and British and others."

Newbold agreed that the United States must focus its primary effort in the economic and political realms in Iraq, and he said that so far the other agencies of the U.S. government haven't come close to the intensity and commitment of the military engagement. "To borrow a phrase: It's the economy, Stupid!" he said.

The State Department and other agencies need to stop staffing the U.S. Embassy and U.S. advisory teams to the Iraqi government ministries with inexperienced, short-term Generation X staffers, agreed a senior general. Stop making duty in Baghdad strictly a volunteer affair, he said: Assign your best and most experienced staffers to this vital work.

The senior officer who's served multiple tours in Iraq said one goal should be to establish an Iraqi rule of law (police, judges/courts, prisons) with a degree of due process appropriate to the security situation. He said the United States also should empower local governments, giving them the capability to provide basic services and address local grievances.

-Revive American diplomacy in the Middle East.

"Everything we are doing brings Iran and Syria closer together when we ought to be doing everything we can to split them apart," said the senior general. "We need a U.S. ambassador in Syria. (The Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador, who hasn't returned.) It would help in Iraq and have spin-off benefits in Lebanon. You can't exert influence if you are not there. We need to be talking to the Syrians. Hell, we need to be talking to the Iranians. This whole axis of evil thing is bull! All it did was drive our enemies closer together."

Wilkerson said the administration should "bring in the surrounding states, not just Iran, though it is the most important one, and get them to share the load money-wise and diplomatically. The Bedouins have got to stop putting their money on all sides, hoping that one will win. They must put their money exclusively on the government in Baghdad. They have to understand that the U.S. is not leaving until the situation is stable."

Wilkerson said the United States also has to start a "rational dialogue" with Iran that encompasses everything from the MEK guerrillas to al Qaida to nuclear weapons to Hezbollah, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

He said the administration also should start negotiations to settle, once and for all, the Israel-Palestinian situation, including talks with Syria on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with Lebanon and with the Palestinians themselves.

"The U.S. must be an honest broker in all of these talks - not Israel's lawyer," Wilkerson said. "The U.S. must be willing to bang heads, all of them if necessary."

Finally, Wilkerson argued that the United States must ask international institutions such as the United Nations to help. "You have to cajole and wheedle and coerce your allies to do likewise. If this means eating a little crow, you just ask for the pepper and the cayenne," he said.

Van Riper said the United States lacks a global strategy for fighting a global war against a global Islamist insurgency. He contrasted what we've witnessed from today's war president with the way America and its leaders prepared and planned the campaigns in World War II, and how President Franklin D. Roosevelt explained the strategy and the campaigns to educate the public and ensure support for the war.

"Our current leadership has failed us in these most basic of obligations," he said.

One general who's led troops in combat since 9/11 said the administration's civilian leaders must explain why we're still militarily engaged in Iraq. "Or as most Americans would ask: What does it mean to win in Iraq? Or ... how much U.S. blood and treasure should Americans be asked to sacrifice for Iraq and why?"

"Iraqis, as well as Muslims, know that someday - a year, two years, 10 years - the U.S. military will be gone from their country," he added. "Then what? Will civil war erupt? Will Iraq's regional neighbors stand on the sidelines, or is there too much at stake for them? Should the U.S. find a way to get them involved now in the process? Is that even feasible?

What level of potential internal chaos can the U.S. allow?

Perhaps unanswerable questions, but our national leaders need to have this conversation both privately and with the American public, because without it the U.S. will continue to react to events instead of establishing a pro-active foreign policy for the region. And support from the American people will continue to evaporate."

None of these officers, however, was optimistic that the administration will alter a course that they all fear will lead America to defeat and disaster.

"All of this will take concentration on the part of the leadership of this country, as well as extraordinary diplomatic skills, thus it won't likely happen," Wilkerson. "The Bushites are too terribly inept."

"Unfortunately, I do not believe that the current Pentagon military and civilian leadership is capable of designing an effective plan," Van Riper said.

If these distinguished military officers are correct that it's not too late to change course in Iraq, then we should all hope that they're wrong in fearing that the Bush administration is too ignorant, too inept, too proud or too political to do so.

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it's time for both parties to check their politics at the door and begin a vigorous public debate on how to chart a course that's worthy of the sacrifices that our troops, our firefighters, our police and others have already made.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail:

[bth: political ineptness, corruption in congress and with contractors, moral cowardess among our high ranking military leaders who felt no reservation about going to congressional hearings and lying like a dog about equipment, endgames and assessments; stupidity and ineptness at the senior levels of the government have caused us to lose this war. What a waste, a shame, a sham.]

Senate: No Prewar Saddam-al-Qaida Ties

BREITBART.COM - Senate: No Prewar Saddam-al-Qaida Ties: "There's no evidence Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida associates, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democrats said the report undercuts President Bush's justification for going to war.

The declassified document being released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war. "

The report comes at a time that Bush is emphasizing the need to prevail in Iraq to win the war on terrorism while Democrats are seeking to make that policy an issue in the midterm elections.

It discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates," according to excerpts of the 400-page report provided by Democrats.

Bush and other administration officials have said that the presence of Zarqawi in Iraq before the war was evidence of a connection between Saddam's government and al-Qaida.

Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June this year.

White House press secretary Tony Snow played down the report as "nothing new."

"In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had and they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on," Snow said. That was "one of the reasons you had overwhelming majorities in the United States Senate and the House for taking action against Saddam Hussein," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a member of the committee, said the long- awaited report was "a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration's unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts" to link Saddam to al-Qaida.

The administration, said Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., top Democrat on the committee, "exploited the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, leading a large majority of Americans to believe _ contrary to the intelligence assessments at the time _ that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks."

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said it has long been known that prewar assessments of Iraq "were a tragic intelligence failure."

But he said the Democratic interpretations expressed in the report "are little more than a vehicle to advance election-year political charges." He said Democrats "continue to use the committee to try and rewrite history, insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime."

The panel report is Phase II of an analysis of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The first phase, issued in July 2004, focused on the CIA's failings in its estimates of Iraq's weapons program.

The second phase has been delayed as Republicans and Democrats fought over what information should be declassified and how much the committee should delve into the question of how policymakers may have manipulated intelligence to make the case for war.

The committee is still considering three other issues as part of its Phase II analysis, including statements of policymakers in the run up to the war.
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EOD bomb disposal vehicle Posted by Picasa : Taliban takes over town for second time in 2 months : Taliban takes over town for second time in 2 months: "KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN � Taliban militants took over a southern police station after officers fled an Afghan town for a second time in two months, police said Thursday.

Under attack from Taliban forces, police on Wednesday left the remote Helmand province town of Garmser, which was briefly held by insurgents in July before a U.S.-led force reclaimed it, said district police chief, Ghulam Nabi Malakhail.

NATO spokesman Major Scott Lundy said clashes did erupt in Garmser on Wednesday, but he was unaware that police had left the town.

Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said Taliban forces have occupied Garmser's police compound since police fled after a large group of insurgents surrounded it."

It was not immediately clear how many police or Taliban fighters were involved in the Garmser incident.

Taliban forces held Garmser for two days in July before U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan ground forces entered the town of about 50,000 people. Insurgents had fought 40 poorly armed police for 16 days before capturing it.

Many towns in Afghanistan's vast southern provinces are hard to properly police and Taliban fighters regularly stage attacks and flee back into the desert and mountains when military reinforcements arrive to combat them

[bth: does this say we didn't respond for 16 days until the police were driven from the town?]
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Handover of military to Iraqi leader far from complete Columbia, SC: Handover of military to Iraqi leader far from complete: "(Baghdad, Iraq-AP) September 8, 2006 - It's a step toward bringing American and other foreign troops home. But Friday's transfer of military authority in Iraq wasn't a complete one.

The country's prime minister took control of just one of Iraq's 10 army divisions, as well as its tiny navy and air force. At a ceremony, the top US general in Iraq called it an 'important milestone,' but warns there's still 'a way to go.'

For one thing, it's unclear how fast the Iraqi troops will be ready to take over security. And there are still nine army divisions being controlled by the US, with no timetable for a handover. One American military spokesman says it might happen at a rate of two divisions per month."
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Army Faces Rising Number of Roadside Bombs in Iraq

Army Faces Rising Number of Roadside Bombs in Iraq: "Roadside bombs in Iraq rose to record numbers this summer -- to about four times as many as in January 2004 -- as tips from Iraqi citizens warning of the bombs and attacks have dropped sharply amid a flaring of sectarian violence, according to a senior U.S. defense official."

About 1,200 improvised explosive devices (IEDS) -- the leading killer of U.S. troops in Iraq -- were detonated in August as insurgents continue to invent new ways to design and hide the lethal munitions, according to retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is spearheading efforts to curb the bombs.

"We're making slow, grudging progress," Meigs said in a briefing with reporters. "We're not going to bat a thousand." But he predicted his organization -- which has grown from a small Army initiative of 12 people in 2003 to a Pentagon entity with 269 employees and a fiscal 2006 budget of $3.47 billion -- will "do better" over time.

Despite the soaring number of roadside bombs, nearly half are now discovered and neutralized by the military before they explode, and the number of U.S. casualties caused by the devices has remained relatively constant, although it has edged upward in recent months, Meigs said.

But finding the bombs has grown more difficult, as fewer Iraqis have come forward to alert the military about bombs, snipers and other enemy activity since the February bombing of the gold-domed mosque in Samarra sparked a spiral of sectarian killings.

The number of tips from Iraqis that the military can act upon, known as "actionable intelligence," rose earlier this year from 4,000 in January to a peak of 5,900 in April, but then declined significantly, to 3,700, in July. "It will improve once it's not so darn lethal to go out on the street," Meigs said.

"You have to have really good intel in real time. You have to have operational analysis of what's going well and what's not going well. And you have to train everybody like crazy," he said.

Bombs that are particularly devastating for U.S. troops today include "explosively formed penetrators" -- metal slugs placed in cones that can punch through an inch of steel, he said. Another growing challenge comes from devices designed to detonate on the underbelly of armored vehicles, where the vehicles are most vulnerable.

"There is a higher incidence of bottom attack IEDs, especially in the Sunni areas," he said, adding that there is a particular concentration in Baghdad, where the U.S. military has stepped up operations to quell sectarian violence.

The Pentagon is adding new armored doors to Humvees, producing 5,000 kits so far for the estimated 35,000 Humvees in Iraq, Meigs said. But he said the military can add only so much armor to its vehicles while remaining mobile, and that he could not guarantee the new doors will protect against the penetrator bombs or other, bigger explosive devices being produced by insurgents.

Meigs's organization will spend about $1.43 billion -- or 41 percent -- of its budget this year on jamming devices to prevent remotely detonated bombs, and an additional $1.22 billion to detect, neutralize and gather intelligence on the road bombs. But he stressed that aggressive military operations, coupled with training in methods to defeat improvised explosives, are as important as new technology in tackling the problem.

[bth: human intel was our number one means of discovering these weapons. If this is down that a big problem. Meigs plays games with the discovery rate. Its been about 40-50% for some time. The means of detection might shift slightly - less human intel and more technical - but the percentage has been pretty constant. Given 3 man teams are likely involved in planting them, this means that the number of active insurgents is going up not down. Also the number of EFPs seems exaggerated for political purposes to goad us into attacking Iran. They remain so far as I can tell measured in dozens of attacks versus thousands of all types. Its uprising that the number of underchassis attacks has been so few to date because we didn't effectivley armor under the vehicles on about 25,000 Level II vehicles. This is common knowledge to the insurgents and to the US military but the US public has been taken out of the discussion since most of this information was classified in June including any photos of damaged vehicles - though those photos are commonly posted on the internet and are shown in arab, european and australian news sources all the time. Just the American public has its news censored and we don't even realize it. There were 8-10 million mines which were not recovered after the war of which at least 2 million were anti-armor. This tells you how far we have to go in dealing with this threat - the supply is effectively endless. I think we are losing a robot to damage or destruction every other time we disarm an IED. Thank God isn't a person]