The Don In Denial: What Did Rumsfeld Know and When Did He Know It?

In an interview with reporter Seymour Hersh (“The General’s Report,” New Yorker, June 17, 2007), Major-General Taguba confirms what those who’ve followed the Abu Ghraib scandal have known from the start. Donald Rumsfeld and others in the chain of command knew all about it. They knew the details. But they deliberately kept what they knew under wraps and lied through their teeth about it to the house and senate.

Taguba was no hero to them. He was the guy who ratted out the military. That’s why — as Hersh’s interview confirms — they sent him to a dead-end job that ended his career.

It was only the threat of exposure, by Hersh’s New Yorker story and a CBS broadcast at the end of April 2004, that forced their hands. Even then, Rumsfeld and his partners in crime — especially, General Richard Myers and Undersecretary of Defense, Stephen Cambone — shucked off responsibility, insisting that they’d been informed only in the vaguest terms.

Taguba’s revelation calls their bluff. It puts the gold seal of credibility on what’s easily proved from the record: Rumsfeld, Myers and Cambone engaged in a cover-up.

Look at the conflicting testimony at the two hearings held on May 7 and May 11, 2004. Look at the previous reports to the Department of Defense about abuse — not just the report submitted by Taguba, and not just at Abu Ghraib but reports going back to 2002 that describe abuse all over Iraq and in Afghanistan. Reports from the International Red Cross, from Human Rights Watch, from other human rights groups, from journalists, from American officials, from Iraqis: all clear, well documented, consistent. All immensely credible.

Even without Taguba’s definitive statements, does anyone really believe that the bosses didn’t know what was going on?

Here’s a timeline of the complaints compiled from a Human Rights Watch timeline and from other reports (it’s by no means exhaustive):

December 27, 2002-June, 2003

Human Rights Watch asks President Bush to investigate a Washington Post story about abuse in Afghanistan. Directors of several human rights groups write to Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, to publicly condemn the use of torture. Human rights groups also write to President Bush to provide guidelines for interrogations. They meet with White House Counsel Haynes to get those guidelines. Various US officials admit that torture and rendition are being practiced and there are oral and written complaints about it by the International Red Cross. Senator Leahy writes to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice about the allegations and again urges clearer rules about interrogations. Human rights groups also write to Rice.

August-December 2003: An International Red Cross complaint is made to the “highest level of the Coalition forces,” which would be then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Paul Bremer, who reported directly to the Secretary of Defense, i.e. to Rumsfeld. Cases of abuse at Umm Qasr (Iraq) and Camp Bucca (Iraq) are investigated and reservists are charged

November 12, 2003: An International Red Cross report is issued describing torture in Iraq.

November- December 2003 – Human rights groups write to Haynes again, while the deputy general counsel of the DOD reaffirms that earlier DOD statements about torture are binding to the whole executive branch. Brigadier-General Karpinski (in charge of Abu Ghraib) replies to the November International Red Cross Report. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush again.

January, 2004: Three reservists are discharged for abuse and human rights groups write to Rumsfeld.

January 13-19, 2004: Sergeant Joseph M. Darby of the US Army’s 372nd Military Police Company downloads pictures from a computer that turn out to be photographs of graphic abuse at Abu Ghraib. He turns them in to his superiors. Details of the abuse (including forced nudity, sex torture, and torture of women and children, deemed too sensitive for public display) are emailed to senior Pentagon officials, including General Craddock and Vice-Admiral Keating, director of the Joint Staff of the JCS. DOD brief numbered 04-01-43 (only 4 lines in length) from Baghdad states that an investigation has been initiated into “reported incidents of abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility.” The release of more detail is not possible, it says, because that could hamper (note this phrase, please) an ongoing investigation which was in its initial stages The 320th Military Police (MP) and Brigadier General Karpinski (a one-star general) are suspended.

Late January, 2004: General Abizaid (head of Central Command) tasks Lieutenant General Sanchez (a three-star general, army commander in Iraq and Taguba’s boss) to investigate further. Rumsfeld claims he alerted President and senior officials. Major-General Taguba (a two-star general) begins investigation

February 6, 2004
: Taguba submits his report

February, 2004: Human Rights Watch and several rights groups write to Rumsfeld about the abuse and ask how many detainees are being held. Two more investigations begin, into the training of reservists and into detention practices elsewhere in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another International Red Cross report on abuse is delivered to the CPA.

March 8, 2004: A Human Rights Watch report on abuse in Afghanistan comes out

March 9, 2004: Taguba presents his report to his commanders and criticizes Major-General Miller for advocating the use of Military Intelligence (MI) in interrogations (this is the Gitmoization strategy).

March-April 2004: Major-General Kimmitt tells reporters that 6 military personnel have been charged with criminal offenses. Miller (commander of Guantanamo) is now brought from Guantanamo to head Abu Ghraib. Investigation number five (into the gathering of military intelligence) begins

April 28, 2004: Rumsfeld and Myers brief 35-40 senators on Iraq in classified session, hours before CBS 60 Minutes II expose, without mentioning Abu Ghraib. Myers claims he did not know about the photos until just before the CBS expose of Abu Ghraib, late that evening.

May 1, 2004: Taguba’s report is approved by DOD.

May 3, 2004: Human Rights Watch and other groups write to Rice that abuse is widespread, systemic and illegal, according to the army’s own investigation.

May 4, 2004: The Senate Armed Services Committee receives Taguba report.

May 6, 2004: Taguba meets Rumsfeld, who denies having received his report.

May 7, 2004: The Armed Services Committee Hearings are held. Rumsfeld claims this is the first time he’s seen the photos.

May 10, 2004: The President is shown a representative sample of photos, supposedly for the first time. The ASC receives classified annexes of Taguba report.

May 11, 2004: ASC Hearings are held again. Taguba testifies about his report.

Here’s the interesting bit at the hearings. Originally slated to speak in the morning panel on May 11, Taguba was later pushed into the afternoon panel, with Undersecretary of Defense Cambone speaking in the morning, instead. Cambone’s testimony set a framework that entirely undercuts Taguba’s.

Accidental — or deliberate?

While Taguba’s report showed that it was Miller’s Gitmoization policy that laid the groundwork for the torture, Cambone’s testimony tried to erect a wall between Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

What for? Because Cambone didn’t want people to figure that the Bush administration’s loosening of standards on torture had set off the abuse at AG. Gitmo prisoners were treated as terrorists and the administration’s fingerprints were all over interrogations there, as the ACLU files on Gitmo show. AG had to be kept apart from Gitmo.

So, Cambone argued that Miller might have been transferred from Gitmo to shake up intelligence gathering in Iraq, but he didn’t call the shots there. Oh no. He just made suggestions. It was Karpinski’s fault, not Miller’s.

And Cambone also did his best to keep the focus off the single most dangerous aspect of Abu Ghraib — the involvement of the CIA, intelligence contractors and special forces.

Why? To protect Rumsfeld and himself. Because central to Rumsfeld’s New Model Army is the outsourcing (privatization) of intelligence, so that it’s no longer under congressional supervision. And part of that process is the extensive use of special ops, special forces and private contractors. The very people up to their necks in abuse in Iraq.

Special forces are all over the place: there’s the appointment of Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker, a member of Delta Forces, the first time a special forces commander has been allowed to control the military; the appointment of Civilian Assistant Secretary for Special Operations, Thomas O’Connell, late of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam; there’s the involvement of Cambone himself, a ballistic missile hawk and of “Jerry” Boykin, the special ops loose canon whose idea it was to Gitmoize in the first place.

That’s why when Taguba turned in his report, Rumsfeld and Cambone could only see it as the old style military turning on the new model army.

So we know why he’s no hero to them.

But here’s what the Donald and his merry men still have to explain:

Question One:

Taguba says he submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through “several channels” at the Pentagon and to Central Command at Tampa, Florida. He also “spent weeks” briefing senior military officials on the report. Not one of them, except General Schoomaker (who complimented him), seems to have read it. Some said they didn’t, so as to avoid getting involved. Now, this is the report of a general who was tasked by no less than CENTCOM chief General Abizaid to write a report, but no one read the thing?

According to Taguba, Rumsfeld’s words to him on May 6 were: “Here I am, just a Secretary of Defense, and we have not seen a copy of your report. I have not seen the photographs, and I have to testify to Congress tomorrow and talk about this.”

OK. Let’s say all dozen or more copies got lost somehow wending their way up through that perilous chain of command. Let’s say Taguba is too low down the pole for the mighty defense secretary to pay attention to.

What about the general in charge of Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez? Mightn’t he at least reside close enough to the rarefied air of Mount Pentagonus to warrant attention? Apparently not.

Sanchez was cc’d on January 20, 2004, that the allegations of torture were true and that there were more than a hundred photos to back them up. But, nonetheless, Rumsfeld says Sanchez didn’t breathe a word about all this to him.

My, my. What Victorian reticence they practice in the halls of power.

But, get this, Rumsfeld also admitted in the May 7 hearings that he spoke “everyday” to Sanchez. And Sanchez, we know, received a Red Cross report on prisoner abuse as far back as August 2003. Specific abuses at AG were known to his underling Karpinksi by December 2003. That’s the same Karpinksi who was directly under Sanchez and who was fired by Sanchez in January. For what, if not for the torture scandal?

Repeat: Rumsfeld and Sanchez spoke every day. Rumsfeld, Myers, Abizaid and Sanchez spoke to each other every day, according to Rumsfeld, several times. Rumsfeld briefed the President with Myers present every other day. And somewhere in late January or early February at a meeting at which General Pace, Myers’ deputy, was sitting in for him, the President was also informed.

But none of them heard anything about Abu Ghraib. Not a whisper. How credible is that? If they didn’t, what would that make them?

Incompetent or liars.

Which is it, Mr. Rumsfeld?

“The President didn’t know, and you [representatives] didn’t know, and I didn’t know,” claims Rumsfeld, who says he didn’t want to interfere with the report working its way up the chain of command.

Oh – so, are we to believe that between the heads up to the President in late January and the April 28 CBS story, the President was not told anything more?

Yet, Myers admitted to the Senate hearing on May 7 that people “inside our building” knew about the photos. Then how could the President not know? And if Myers himself hadn’t seen the photos, how come he squashed their publication until Hersh’s story forced them into the open? How did he know they might be too explosive for CBS?


Question Two:

Said Rumsfeld on May 7, the problem was only “one dimensional”; he couldn’t foresee the kind of damage that “hundreds or however many of these things there are” would do.

On May 11, Cambone added: “Until the pictures began appearing in the press, Sir, I had not sense of that scope and scale.”

But here are some of the details Taguba says were sent to the military high command in January — “descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees,” “of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts,” and of “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee” – only a few of many (about 300) images, some still held in secrecy

Rape, sodomy, child abuse. Captured on CD’s and audio-tapes. Short of performance art, how much more multi-dimensional would things have needed to get, Secretary, for you and your colleagues to have figured out that what was going on was in violation of US and international law?

Question Three:

Miller’s the guy whose Gitmoization strategy at AG in the fall of 2003 led to the torture, according to Taguba’s own investigation. What’s he doing being put in charge of the business just after Taguba’s report comes out? Rumsfeld can’t pretend he didn’t know about Miller’s transfer. Because Miller met with him just before going to Iraq.

And why was Taguba carted off to a dead-end job if the army liked what he did?

Wasn’t that a direct contradiction of the findings of the report? Wasn’t it a way of giving the finger to Taguba and every human rights group and critic of the torture policy?

Question Four:

At the May 7 hearings, General Myers suggested that the military had from the start briefed the press in detail (Rumsfeld said it “told the whole world”). The record shows that that’s a fib. The wording of the brief in January is noticeably terse and lacking in detail, especially in the context of two years of mounting abuses.

Looks more like the army brass were trying their best to keep the scandal under wraps till it blew up in their faces. If they were happy with Taguba’s report, why did they approve it only on May 1, when it was completed on February 6 — a whole three months earlier?

What took so long?

Especially when no one now will admit to having read it in the first place.

Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World: Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Read other articles by Lila, or visit Lila's website.