Article

Human Rights: The Mafia Administration

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Pentagon's investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, revealed that he believed high-level military officials, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, knew about the abuses at the Iraqi prison.

June 18, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
Contact Us | Tell-a-Friend | Archives | Mobile

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Mafia Administration

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Pentagon’s investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, revealed that he believed high-level military officials, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, knew about the abuses at the Iraqi prison. But Taguba had been unable to write about it because his inquiry was narrowly focused on the 800th Military Police brigade stationed at the prison. “I suspected that somebody was giving them guidance, but I could not print that,” Taguba told reporter Seymour Hersh. Taguba, who is just now making his first public comments about his investigation, also revealed that the Pentagon forced him to retire early because of his aggressive pursuit of the issue, and that he had been threatened over the report by the then-commander of Central Command Gen. John Abizaid, who told him that “you and your report will be investigated.” Taguba said the comment made him feel like he was in the Mafia rather than the Army. “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,” he said. Though there have been a dozen government investigations and multiple reports by international human rights groups, responsibility for the grisly abuse at the military prison has yet to reach beyond the soldiers stationed at the prison. Despite reports like Taguba’s, which described the abuse as “systemic,” true accountability up the chain of command has yet to occur.

UP THE CHAIN OF COMMAND: “From what I knew, troops just don’t take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups,” Taguba told Hersh. In his dicussion with Hersh, Taguba has become the first general to assert that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the army commander in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib abuses, “knew exactly what was going on” at the prison. According to Taguba, “in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation.” In June 2004, the Washington Post reported that Sanchez had “approved letting senior officials at” Abu Ghraib “use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished.” In an FBI memo obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, similar techniques were also authorized by an Executive Order from President Bush with the explicit direction that “certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted.” Taguba also asserts that Rumsfeld’s testimony to the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7, in which he claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse until right before his testimony, “was simply not true.”

‘PROTECT THE BIG PICTURE’: According to a senior intelligence official who spoke to Hersh, “there were some in the Pentagon and the White House who ‘didn’t think the photographs were that bad‘” because they focused on enlisted soldiers rather than intelligence officers. “A Pentagon consultant on the war on terror also said that the “basic strategy was ‘prosecute the kids in the photograph but protect the big picture.”” Hersh found at least one incident of the Pentagon protecting a higher-up involved in the detainee policy at Abu Ghraib. In 2003, the Pentagon transferred Maj. Gen. Geoffery Miller from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, where he was tasked “to survey the prison system there and find ways to improve the flow of intelligence.” One of Miller’s key recommendations was that the military police should be utilized in “setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.” After the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib surfaced in 2004, the Pentagon opened an inquiry into complaints about similar abuse at Guantanamo. The officer in charge of the investigation, Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, concluded that Miller “was responsible for the conduct of interrogations that I found to be abusive and degrading.” Schmidt formally recommended that Miller be “held accountable” and “admonished” for his role in the abuse, but that recommendation was rejected by Lt. Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, a senior aide to Rumsfeld, who “absolved Miller of any responsibility for the mistreatment of the prisoners.” Despite his apparent role in the implementation of abusive interrogation techniques in both Guantanamo Bay and Baghdad, Miller was the officer chosen to restore order at Abu Ghraib a month after Taguba’s report was filed.

CREDIBILITY LOST: Taguba believes that the policies put forth by Rumsfeld and his aides have hurt America in the world. “The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects — ‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’ — is an oxymoron,” says Taguba. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they’ve dragged a lot of officers with them.” Indeed, the abuses uncovered at Abu Ghraib have gone a long way towards harming America’s credibility and moral authority in the world, but steps can be taken towards restoring them. In 2004, the Center for American Progress released a series of recommendations demonstrating how “President Bush can take steps to prove America’s credibility and show the world he takes the issue seriously.” Three years later, many of the suggestions still stand as a reasonable approach to regaining America’s moral authority. Most importantly, Bush should “immediately establish a Permanent Committee for Monitoring Prison Conditions to formally oversee the prison system” as well as allowing “independent rights organizations to monitor the conditions of detainees in all U.S.-run detention facilities outside the United States.”

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — NEW REPORT REVEALS LAWMAKERS’ USE OF ‘CAMPAIGN FUNDS TO PAY RELATIVES’: A report released today by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) finds that “96 members [of the House of Representatives] from 33 states: 44 Democrats and 53 Republicans” have used their positions to “financially benefit their family members.” Of those 96, CREW found that 72 members “spent $5.1 million in campaign funds to pay relatives or their relatives’ companies or employers during the past six years.” While the practice of paying one’s spouse or relatives for political work with campaign funds is not illegal, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) argues that “there’s simply been too much abuse.” The new report finds that “Rep. Randy Forbes’s (R-VA) campaign committee paid his three children over $45,000” and that “Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) campaign committee has paid her husband’s two businesses almost $350,000, mostly for event management, accounting and fundraising services.” Schiff and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) have “introduced a bill this month that would prohibit congressional candidates from paying their spouses with campaign funds and require campaigns to disclose close relatives on the payroll.” Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), who “paid six of his eight children, in the range of $1,000 to $33,000, over the six-year period,” defended his actions. His spokesman said, “It’s cheap labor…they put in a lot of work, and [Cannon] doesn’t really have a problem with them collecting a paycheck for it.” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan argues, however, that “paying relatives with campaign money gives the impression that Congress members use their ‘position as a profit center for the family.'” Furthermore, she notes that “[a] member of Congress would not be allowed to put that family member on their office payroll. … [W]hy should they [be allowed to] put them on the campaign payroll?”

MILITARY — WALTER REED NOT EQUIPPED TO DEAL WITH MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS: The Veterans Affairs administration is “battling a crisis in mental health care.” Veterans returning from Iraq, one-fourth of whom display post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illness symptoms, “enter a VA system that chronically loses records and sags with a backlog of 400,000 claims of all kinds.” Outdated diagnosis methods, medical records “riddled with obvious errors,” and shortages in trained personnel and treatment options contribute to the crisis. According to a report commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “there is not a coordinated effort to provide the training required to identify and treat these non-visible injuries, nor adequate research in order to develop the required training and refine the treatment plans.” At Walter Reed Medical Center, where the majority of soldiers diagnosed with mental problems are transferred, “the Army has no PTSD center…and its psychiatric treatment is weak compared with the best PTSD programs the government offers.” The Army’s top hospital “lacks enough psychiatrists and clinicians to properly treat the growing number of soldiers returning with combat stress” and rarely offers individual or group therapy for PTSD. Medical experts and “even VA’s chief of mental health” have also admitted that the Army’s rules for mental health coverage and compensation “deny thousands of claims.” According to the Washington Post, “to qualify for compensation, troops and veterans are required to prove that they witnessed at least one traumatic event, such as the death of a fellow soldier or an attack from a roadside bomb, or IED.” Under the system, soldiers living “in dread of exposure” to a roadside bomb or death “don’t qualify” for compensation. Those who do are “over-medicated and treated with none of the urgency given the physically wounded.”

IRAQ — LOW EFFECTIVENESS OF ESCALATION RAISES QUESTIONS OF LONG-TERM OCCUPATION IN IRAQ: Last week, a fatal bombing that destroyed the Samarra Askariya mosque, which was also severely damaged one year earlier, raised questions as to the efficacy of the U.S. troop escalation. U.S. News and World Report reports this week that “[e]arly indications are far from encouraging” for the escalation. “While sectarian killings appear to have declined at least temporarily in the capital, the Pentagon reports that overall violence levels nationwide remain as high as ever. Indeed, even as U.S. troops boost their presence in some Baghdad neighborhoods, many insurgents appear to have simply moved to outlying provinces that now have a much thinner security presence.” Insurgents continue to attack American soldiers at record levels, for example, with May being one of the deadliest months for American forces in the entire war. Despite the clear evidence against the escalation’s effectiveness, administration and military officials are attempting to play down expectations of progress by this fall and instead are endorsing a protracted troop presence. Last week, Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding U.S. general in Iraq, stated that “we haven’t even started the surge yet,” despite nearly all of the 28,000 troops being in place at the time. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Petraeus admitted that he didn’t expect the “surge” to be done by September, the date set for Petraeus’s supposedly make-it or break-it report to Congress. Petraeus then went on to endorse the “Korea model” for Iraq, which envisions keeping troops in the country for decades. “[T]ypically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or ten years,” he said.

THINK FAST

In Iraq’s Diyala province, U.S. soldiers are willing to risk teaming up with Sunni militias to fight insurgent groups. Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent Shiite lawmaker, said the United States is “trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

Fallout from the U.S. attorney scandal is “starting to hit the [Justice] department in federal courtrooms around the country.” Defense lawyers are “raising questions about the motives of government lawyers who have brought charges against their clients,” and “are citing the furor over the U.S. attorney dismissals as evidence that their cases may have been infected by politics.”

“A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., has heard evidence about a remodeling project at Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-AK) home as part of a burgeoning investigation into corruption in Alaska.” 

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will take up “a major reversal of energy tax policies,” legislation that would “raise about $14 billion from oil companies over 10 years and would give about the same amount of money on new incentives for solar power, wind power, cellulosic ethanol and numerous other renewable energy sources.”

Seven children were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting suspected al-Qaida militants in eastern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said Monday. The strike came hours after the deadliest insurgent attack since the Taliban fell in 2001.”

White House loyalists have begun arguing for a Libby pardon. “[S]everal Republicans, who sense a movement in Libby’s favor, said a more likely possibility might be a presidential commutation — a reduction or elimination of Libby’s 2 1/2-year federal prison sentence.

Robert Novak writes that President Bush plans to go on a “veto offensive.” Bush has pledged to veto the homeland security appropriations bill. After that, “Bush next plans vetoes of the energy-water and interior-environment bills.” Novak predicts Bush’s vetoes will “trigger an epochal political struggle in the months ahead.”

And finally: For Father’s Day, First Lady Laura Bush gave the President “several ties she purchased during their recent trip to Europe,” and his daughters “gave him a CD they had made for him to listen to while exercising.” President Bush also “squeezed in a bike ride at his ranch” and “spoke to his father, former President George H.W. Bush, over the phone.”

Features
Under the Radar
Think Fast

SIGN UP for the Progress Report

Read Our Blog: Think Progress


GOOD NEWS

“Just one day after a news that an internal audit found that FBI agents abused a Patriot Act power more than 1000 times, a federal judge ordered the agency Friday to begin turning over thousands of pages of documents related to the agency’s use of a powerful, but extremely secretive investigative tool that can pry into telephone and internet records.”

STATE WATCH

MISSOURI: A new law aimed at restricting access to abortions is forcing changes at Planned Parenthood clinics.

TEXAS: The mockingbird — Texas’s state bird — has declined by 18 percent in the past four decades in part due to “suburbanization.”

ENVIRONMENT: “Seven of the 32 states that test car emissions do not check vehicles built before 1996 models,” which are often the heaviest polluters.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Gen. David Petraeus: escalation will not be done by September, 50-year presence in Iraq is a “realistic assessment.”

THINK PROGRESS: Special Counsel probe advances into Karl Rove’s politicization of the government.

NEXT HURRAH: Former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles, who pleaded guilty to obstructing a Senate inquiry into Jack Abramoff, is now attempting to get a lighter sentence.

TALKING POINTS MEMO: The press release for an upcoming PBS documentary on the separation of church and state “reads like a pamphlet from Focus on the Family.”

DAILY GRILL

“[T]he damage that’s been done is enormous. And it breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something.’ … I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”
— Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 5/7/04, testifying to House Armed Services Committee about Abu Ghraib detainee abuse

VERSUS

“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.”
— New Yorker, 6/25/07, on the reaction of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who led the Army’s Abu Ghraib investigation