Saturday, May 15, 2004

Well, Hell, They Look Like Osama

I just read Sy Hersh's article. In typical Hersh fashion, he's found the sources with an axe to grind, in this case CIA operatives who are pretty pissed-off after three years of getting pushed around and dissed by Rummy and the neocons.

The kicker in the article arrives just past the halfway point. By this time, readers like myself who already have seen enough to strongly suspect Pentagon culpability are likely to be a bit uneasy. Hersh devotes the first 3000 words of his article portraying Rummy, Cambone, Miller et al as a bunch of hardchargers who cut through the bureaucratic bullshit to teach some genuinely bad guys in Afghanistan and Iraq the meaning of hardball. What they were doing wasn't pretty, but the people on the receiving end were arguably closely aligned with Osama, Mullah Omar or Saddam (or at least hardcore Baathists). The program was shadowy and plainly outside the channels of accountability, but how else to interdict imminent threats? The picture is one of Rummy, like the Godfather, being "strong for his family" - in this case, you and me and the rest of the stateside contingent.

Then, in the space of about five short paragraphs, the picture shifts to Iraq in late summer and early fall of 2003 and the nascent insurgency. The decision is made by Cambone, with Rumsfeld's and Myer's knowledge and encouragement, to implement this ultra-covert, no-rules, "kick ass and ask questions later" program of interrogation and intelligence gathering in Iraqi prisons as a means of disrupting the insurgency.

Soon, mysterious, non-CIA interrogators are roaming Abu Ghraib, some in military garb, some plainclothed, but all operating outside of the usual chain of command at Abu Ghraib under Gen. Karpinski. Worse, they're enlisting the aid of relative yahoos in the MP brigade to help "condition" the detainees for interrogation. The whole scene apparently became too much for the CIA guys.

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets’”—the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. “The C.I.A.’s legal people objected,” and the agency ended its [special-access program] involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

Here is where the scales should fall from the eyes of the wingnuts. The crux of the problem is that we were giving the Al Qaeda treatment to a bunch of Iraqi Joe's for whom it had been enough just trying to steer clear of Saddam and his sadistic offspring for much of their lives. People who'd never been on an airplane much less hijacked one. People, kind of like the chickenhawks, who sputtered and spouted about those assholes in a foreign land half a world away but were no more likely to join Al Qaeda than the chickenhawks are to fight their own war. People who happened to be at the wrong checkpoint in or around Baghdad at the wrong time and ended up in the custody of an occupying power that couldn't tell an insurgent from a merchant. But to Crummy and Rambone, they were all Osama wannabees.

And this is where Hersh's article basically leaves off. How could Rummy and his minions mistake this bunch of Iraqi schleppers for guys that could knock down skyscrapers with nothing more than box-cutters and religious zealotry?

We'll get to that tomorrow.


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