Sy Hersh On Taguba's Abu Ghraib Investigation

 Sy Hersh joined Wolf on CNN this morning to talk about his new piece in The New Yorker: "How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal

sy-hersh-cnn.jpg Sy Hersh joined Wolf on CNN this morning to talk about his new piece in The New Yorker: "How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties." It's another important story that Sy has brought to our attention. The lies that were told about the Abu Ghraid scandal are staggering as this WH implemented torture into its playbook and the soul of America.

 icon Download icon Download

HERSH:  Very simply that the notion, as they told Congress, that our leader, Rumsfeld, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense and his aides, they all went and testified in May after the stories about Abu Ghraib became public that "Oh, my god, we just didn't know about it until -- we didn't realize how serious it was" is simply not true.

The fact is that, within a few days of the incident first getting reported internally, which was in January of '04, the back channel was flying.  There were messages going.  And the back channel showed very clearly the documents – the actual cables show that Rumsfeld and his aides and Wolfowitz and his aides and the director of the Joint staff, all these senior people at the Pentagon were getting very detailed -- they didn't see the photographs; they were getting verbal accounts of the photographs that made it very clear.

It doesn't pay to do a thorough investigation for this White House as Major Gen. Taguba found out, but what about Bush's role in all of this?

Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career. 


↓ Story continues below ↓

(full transcript via CNN below the fold)

 BLITZER:  Welcome back to "Late Edition."  I'm Wolf Blitzer in

Washington.

   The Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq was a serious blow to the

reputation of the United States.  Top U.S. military officials insisted

that until the photos of Iraqi prisoners became public in 2004, they

were unaware of the seriousness of the scandal.

   But an article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the

new issue of The New Yorker Magazine about the Abu Ghraib

investigation contradicts that claim, and has a lot more new

information.  Seymour Hersh is joining us here on "Late Edition."

   Sy, thanks very much for coming in.  Give us the immediate

headline that pops out, in your mind, based on all the reporting, all

the new information that you collected in this article.

   HERSH:  Very simply that the notion, as they told Congress, that

our leader, Rumsfeld, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense and

his aides, they all went and testified in May after the stories about

Abu Ghraib became public that "Oh, my god, we just didn't know about

it until -- we didn't realize how serious it was" is simply not true.

The fact is that, within a few days of the incident first

getting reported internally, which was in January of '04, the back

channel was flying.  There were messages going.

   And the back channel showed very clearly the documents -- the

actual cables show that Rumsfeld and his aides and Wolfowitz and his

aides and the director of the Joint staff, all these senior people at

the Pentagon were getting very detailed -- they didn't see the

photographs; they were getting verbal accounts of the photographs that

made it very clear.

   It was taken very seriously, within days, from the top to bottom

of the government.

   BLITZER:  And there's a quote that you have from Major General

Antonio Taguba, who was in charge of the investigation, a two-star

U.S. Army general, highly respected.

   He was brought in early on to investigate.  Then, on May 6, 2004,

he's at a meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, all the top brass at the

Pentagon.  And he's told you, in an interview, on the record with you,

in this new article.

   He said this.  "I described the naked detainee lying on the wet

floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum

and said, 'That's not abuse.  That's torture.'  There was quiet."

   Now, that's what he said, according to himself on May 6.

   Here's what Rumsfeld said the next day, on May 7, when he was

testifying before the House Armed Services Committee.

   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

   DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  It breaks our hearts

that, in fact, someone didn't say, wait, look, this is terrible; we

need to do something to manage -- the legal part of it was proceeding

along fine.

   What wasn't proceeding along fine is the fact that the president

didn't know and you didn't know and I didn't know.  And as a result,

somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are.

   (END VIDEO CLIP)

   BLITZER:  All right.  So you want to comment on what you've

learned, based on your reporting?

   HERSH:  What he's talking about is Taguba did a report that,

probably, he finished in late February, early March of '04.

   BLITZER:  Because he was brought in, in January?

   HERSH:  He's out there -- he's in Kuwait.  He's a two-star

general involved in the war, highly, as you say -- I found nobody that

said anything adverse.  He's a highly respected officer.

   It's just randomness.  They needed a senior officer to

investigate; you're it, buddy.  He goes and does it.  And right away,

he feels the heat because -- I don't know what made him so special.

Maybe there was the fact that he was born in the Philippines and he

had to work his way up to two-star, which is a tough thing.  He's not

a big guy.  He had to show many different ways how competent he was.

   But he just resolved to tell it straight.  And it was a tough

story.  And he wrote about systematic abuse and torture.  And he was

discouraged, from the very beginning, to go all the way with the

report.  But he kept on doing it.

   His report was filed, as I say, probably March 1.  It was not

even put out or promulgated.  I got a copy of it, not from him -- I

only met him a year ago.  I got a copy of it and published it in the

New Yorker in late April of '04.

   And Rummy, of course -- Rumsfeld, instead of focusing on what

Taguba reported and fixing it, his first reaction is, why did somebody

leak it?

   It's, sort of, ridiculous.  The fact of the matter is, everybody

at the top, by the middle of January, knew.  The only question I

raised, at the end of the article -- and I'm sure you'll ask me about

this in a minute -- is what did the president know, when.

   BLITZER:  Well, we're going to get to that in a minute, but here

is what Taguba is quote by you in the article as saying.  "There was

no doubt in my mind that this stuff -- the explicit images, the

photographs -- was gravitating upward.  It was standard operating

procedure to assume that this had to go higher.  The president had to

be aware of this."

   That's his assumption.  He doesn't know it, for sure.  The

president says he didn't know about it; he didn't see these pictures

until he saw them on television.

   HERSH:  It's not a question of seeing the pictures.  Once they

had the back channel e-mails describing everything, from the field,

guys were saying, hey, boss, let me tell you what's going on.

   It was very serious stuff.  The messages were all high priority.

And they go to Rumsfeld's military aide, who is now a four-star

general running NATO, General Craddock.

   And the question is, Rumsfeld acknowledged, sort of, in and out

-- it was unclear in his testimony exactly when he told the president,

but certainly, by March, he's talking to the president quite a bit

about this.

   BLITZER:  This was before your article?

   HERSH:  Oh, my God, two months.  Is it possible -- you know, the

question you have to ask about the president is this.  No matter when

he learned, and certainly he learned before it became public, and no

matter how detailed it was, is there any evidence that the president

of the United States said to Rumsfeld, what's going on there, Don?

Let's get an investigation going.

   Did he do anything?  Did he ask for a -- did he want to have the

generals come in and talk to him about it?

   Did he want to change the rules?  Did he want to improve the

conditions?

   BLITZER:  And what's the answer?

   HERSH:  Nada.  He did nothing.  And you know what it meant?

   Inside the chain of command, the military, you get a bad case

like this; it's all known inside; nobody at the top says another word

to you.  Everybody understands one thing:  this is not a way to get

ahead in a career, to start being very tough...

   BLITZER:  Here's the White House response.  We asked the White

House for a response to your article.  "The president addressed this

fully.  He first saw the pictures on TV and he was upset by them.  He

called for the investigation to go forward.  He found the actions

abhorrent and urged the Defense Department to get to the bottom of the

matter.

   HERSH:  It's not when they saw the photographs.  It's when they

learned how serious it was.  They were told in memos what the

photographs showed.  They showed this.  They showed that.

   And you know, something else I wrote about -- they showed other,

more sexual abuse than we knew, the sodomy of women prisoners by

American soldiers, a father and a son forced to do acts together.

There was more stuff that's been made public.

   And you didn't need a photograph if you get a verbal description

of it.  And it's quite explicit.  It's reprinted in the New Yorker

article.  They knew very quickly this was bad.

   BLITZER:  One of the most disturbing parts of the article is the

way General Taguba, after he filed his report, was treated by the U.S.

military, by the U.S. army, effectively forced out.

   At one point, I believe you wrote this -- basically, he was told

to get out.

   HERSH:  What happened was, he was in Doha, working as a two-star

general involved...

   BLITZER:  In Qatar?

   HERSH:  Yes, in Qatar, involved in the war.  And he was supposed

to go -- his assignment was to be, in June, to go to the third Army

headquarters.  Whether he was going to be a three-star general or not,

he was certainly highly respected and very well regarded.

   Suddenly, he's told, in April, you're going back to the Pentagon,

being assigned to Reserve Affairs.  And you're going to be -- he was

told by, actually, a very senior general, they're going to watch you

there.

   His career was effectively shunted.  And there's a scene --

there's a horrible scene I described, in the locker room, here, a few

months after he does his report.

   He's exercising and he's getting dressed.  And there is Rumsfeld

with Larry DiRita, at that time the spokesman.  And he says hello to

the secretary.  He says, hello, General.  And then DiRita says, it was

a bad day in the press about Abu Ghraib, or something.

   DiRita says to him, look what you started, General; you see what

you did?

   Taguba said to me, it's as if I'm the problem now.

   BLITZER:  We got a reaction from Larry DiRita to that element.

He said, "General Taguba managed a difficult assignment to the best of

his abilities.  I never heard the secretary express any view other

than that about General Taguba's work.  General Taguba's assertions to

the contrary are unfair and wrong."

   Sy Hersh, we've got to leave it right there, unfortunately.

Strong article, as usual, in The New Yorker Magazine.  Thanks for

coming in.

   HERSH:  Glad to be here.

About John Amato

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.