Monday, June 18, 2007

 

Abu Ghraib Investigator Details Pentagon Cover-Up: ‘I Thought I Was In The Mafia’

In a New Yorker article today, Seymour Hersh interviews Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, who led the Pentagon’s investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib. This article is the first time that Taguba has publicly spoken out about the scandal, revealing that the Pentagon forced him to retire early because of his aggressive pursuit of the issue.

Taguba also reveals that he believed high-level military officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew about the abuses but feigned ignorance, putting all the blame on low-level soldiers. Key highlights:

Taguba was threatened by Gen. John Abizaid:

A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. … Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I wasn’t angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me,” Taguba said. “I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.

White House “didn’t think the photographs were that bad”:

The former senior intelligence official said that when the images of Abu Ghraib were published, there were some in the Pentagon and the White House who “didn’t think the photographs were that bad” — in that they put the focus on enlisted soldiers, rather than on secret task-force operations. Referring to the task-force members, he said, “Guys on the inside ask me, ‘What’s the difference between shooting a guy on the street, or in his bed, or in a prison?’” A Pentagon consultant on the war on terror also said that the “basic strategy was ‘prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture.’”

Taguba was demoted and eventually forced to retire because of his investigation:

Taguba had been scheduled to rotate to the Third Army’s headquarters, at Fort McPherson, Georgia, in June of 2004. He was instead ordered back to the Pentagon, to work in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. “It was a lateral assignment,” Taguba said, with a smile and a shrug. … A retired four-star Army general later told Taguba that he had been sent to the job in the Pentagon so that he could “be watched.” Taguba realized that his career was at a dead end. …

In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.”

Pentagon pressured Sen. John Warner (R-VA) “to back off” the investigation:

A former high-level Defense Department official said that, when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Senator John Warner, then the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was warned “to back off” on the investigation, because “it would spill over to more important things.” A spokesman for Warner acknowledged that there had been pressure on the Senator, but said that Warner had stood up to it — insisting on putting Rumsfeld under oath for his May 7th testimony, for example, to the Secretary’s great displeasure.

U.S. commander in Iraq “knew exactly what was going on”:

Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, “Sanchez knew exactly what was going on.”

Rumsfeld’s claims of ignorance about the abuse were “simply not true”:

Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”

Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, “it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge.” As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, “I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them”; at the House hearing, he said, “I didn’t see them until last night at 7:30.” …

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him — if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said.

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