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.
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.
(full transcript via CNN below the fold)
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
HERSH: Glad to be here.