Democrats & Liberals Archives

They Knew. Lies to Cover a Rogue Administration

After 34 years of service, General Taguba was forced to retire in January 2007 - apparently in retaliation for his report on the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

General Taguba (Wikipedia)

"From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service," Taguba said. "And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable." -- General Taguba to Seymour Hersch in the New Yorker

Abu Ghraib - image from

Seymour Hersch's article The General's Report in the June 25, 2997 New Yorker, is damning in regards to "who knew." General Taguba makes clear that he feels that "everyone knew." He reports that it was clear to him that the orders for the torture came from higher up, and that the torture was systematic and pervasive. He also makes clear that Rumsfeld, Myers (then head of the Joint Chief of Staff), and Abizaid (then in charge of Central Command) knew of the conditions well before the Senate testimonies ever occurred. Therefore, all the "lack of knowledge" testimony was a lie. So too is the prosecution of enlisted personnel as if they were acting on their own initiative.

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.' " (Hersch)

"Protect the big picture" he says. What exactly was - and is - the "big picture?" Certainly part of that picture was to keep the Bush Administration out of the picture. It amazed me at the time, and it amazes me still, that Bush and Cheney could task Alberto Gonzales with writing a legal legitimation of torture, and why the U.S. was not bound by the Geneva Convention, then argue they never legitimated torture. Likewise Rumsfeld's quipping remarks regarding the "interrogation techniques" as not that bad. So folks knew. In fact, it seems likely that torture was ordered from the top.

The country was well served by General Taguba and his dedication to honesty and integrity. It is poorer as he, and others, are purged from the military.

Abu Ghraib was not the only lie - as we now know - though this article is not a detailing of the lies.

The Guardian/UK headline states blatantly "Blair knew US had no post-war plan for Iraq." This is no surprise for those who took the Downing Street Memos seriously. What is new in this article is how upset Blair was about Bush's lack of a reconstruction plan. This report reconfirms what was clear from before the preemptive invasion of Iraq - the Bush administration saw this as a "cake walk."

Two questions arise. First, did the Bush administration really think Iraq would be in and out, or did they hope for the levels of chaos and disruption that ensued? (Which "big picture" was that a part of?) The second question is "What did Blair hoped to gain out of committing Britain to this illegal war?" Was it the same as whatever the Bush administration's goals may have been?

We should be very nervous when decision makers stand to benefit significantly from their committing a nation to drastic action. Individual's might confuse their interests as national interests. For example the interests of big oil, or military industries, or construction industries (or those firms that invest in them like the Carlyle Group) are not necessarily the same as the interests of the nation. The "plan" if we read neoconservative reports and plans was to treat Iraq as a test case of unfettered capitalism.

I have no idea what Blair's connections are to industry and finance, but it seems that he felt serving those interests were important. Hence, the 1 billion pound payments to Prince Bandar by the MoD of Britain in conjunction with the largest military arms deal in England's history has made is in the news. So too is Blair's accepting responsibility for the deal.

One of the largest lessons from the massive debacles of the Bush administration will be that there is no mechanism for putting a leash on a cabal with extreme power. The Bush Administration has broken virtually every law and rule in the books with impunity. There is no Constitutional leash left to protect the nation from an abusive Executive Branch. That is a sad lesson to learn, but it did not just happen. It has been a plan long in the making. The question is, is it a plan we can reverse?

Posted by Rowan Wolf at June 17, 2007 6:30 PM
Comment #223358

Yes it is possibler to reverse, but only if we can elect goverment officials who are willing to prosecute those who have disregarded our Constitution and the treaties we have agreed to sign.

Posted by: Lil Sue at June 17, 2007 9:03 PM
Comment #223360

Based on the Hersch article, it doesn’t appear that Taguba was retired because of his report but because the report was classified and it was leaked to the media, along with a great deal of insinuations—based on his “feelings” instead of any hard evidence—about higher-ups in the Pentagon having ordered the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Something Taguba, from where he was stationed in Kuwait, had no first hand knowledge about.

Taguba was NOT the one who brought Abu Ghraib to light, so this isn’t a matter of backlash against a whistle-blower but against somebody in uniform getting wrapped up in a media campaign against his superiors.

The Pentagon was already actively investigating the events of Abu Ghraib, and it appears that Taguba leaked or failed to guard classified documents. After the hullabaloo over Plame, nobody on the left should have much to say in defense of a leaker of classified intelligence.

And it’s simply intolerable for those in uniform to engage in political activity against their superiors—especially based on their own opinions instead of hard facts.

Democratic leaders benefit from this rule more than anybody. Mandatory respect for the chain of command was why, for example, members of the military greeted Bill Clinton with a salute instead of a middle finger.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at June 17, 2007 9:30 PM
Comment #223362


Great article! About Tony Blair, since he threw away his political career for GWB it is very interesting to ponder what financial benefit he MUST be getting from this Bush War. I can’t imagine that he is the idiot that George W. Bush is, so he had to be in it for something. My brother and I have been pondering this question for months now. He says we will just have to wait over the years and follow the money trail across the pond.

You know he has to be in it for something big; why else would a Brit sell his soul to a totally moronic American fascist?

Posted by: Kim-Sue at June 17, 2007 10:10 PM
Comment #223364

For an excellent video clip of Hersch explaining what happened with Taguba and when, click here:

Scroll down the view the clip.

Posted by: Mister Magoo at June 17, 2007 10:18 PM
Comment #223366

Taguba knows the chain of command. Things like Abu Ghraib are not accidents. How do things get that bad, and the people in charge and running other related operations not notice? How is it that the SERE training supposed to harden our soldiers to enemy interrogation end up being mutated to just that purpose?

You suppose the General’s opinions should be left out of it, that he shouldn’t be asked what he thought about these things.

Investigations are not mere findings of facts. In the real world, we deal with incomplete information, which means that interpretation and interpolation become necessary. Fortunately, the real world is not without a certain amount of order and interrelation.

You express outrage that he wrote a report critical of his superiors. Evidence shows, though, that knowledge of this kind of policy extends all the way up.

Of course, we can’t have that; that’s Bush hatred. That’s a media campaign or conspiracy. We can’t draw attention to anything going wrong, much less get a real discussion about solving the problems. It’s got to be about whether Bush wins or loses political face.

Your side never focuses on the matter at hand. If it’s armor we’re talking about, the matter gets shifted to an attack on the soldier who asked the question, and the Reporter who helped him formulate it. Never mind the problem, or how blowing up and killing soldiers emboldens the enemy. If it’s about the loss of major cities to the insurgents, it becomes about the president’s reputation. If it’s about the surge, it becomes defeatism, despite over four years of failures to get Iraq under control. Everytime this country asks about the real world nature of what happens in Iraq, your side turns it into a political debate about what mean old liberals and media figures are doing to your president.

Is it any wonder nobody much believes in this war anymore? Nobody can get a straight answer about this war, much less the problems of this war taken care of.

The Right has forgotten that’s there’s more to this world and to people than just politics.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 17, 2007 10:21 PM
Comment #223371
You express outrage that he wrote a report critical of his superiors. Evidence shows, though, that knowledge of this kind of policy extends all the way up.


I express outrage that a classified military document was leaked. Don’t try to muddy the waters.

And give it a rest with this stuff about anybody who doesn’t hoot and holler with ecstatic joy over intelligence breaches wanting to “save face” for George W. Bush.

FYI, I can’t stand George Bush. I think he’s awful in a million ways, but that doesn’t mean for a second that I’m signing up for a full-fledged left-wing propaganda crusade (like the one currently underway) against either him or the United States military.

Taguba was ordered to write that report. He complied with that order and was perfectly free to put anything into it that he wanted. He was not free, however, to go outside of the chain of command, leak secret documents, and then begin attacking his superiors over allegations which he had NO proof for but just a “feeling.”

Evidence shows, though, that knowledge of this kind of policy extends all the way up.

So produce the evidence. Point out what “knowlege” you’re alluding to, and enough with all this Stalinist show trial language about evidence that remains permanently offstage. With nothing substantiating them, these sly insinuations and smears are not nearly as sly as you think, and are no better than saying “Evidence shows that planting magic beans will make a giant beanstalk grow to the heavens.” Cough up the evidence. Cough up the knowledge. Or just admit that Taguba’s allegations are nothing more than partisan hackery and bile.

I really would love to hear about how the Pentagon decided to torture inmates in Abu Ghraib and selected as their agents to carry out this dastardly plot a handful of below-average weekend-warrior National Guardsmen who were also told to photograph the whole thing. Of course, despite his allegations, Taguba had no evidence for anything of the kind from his desk in Kuwait—and frankly, he’s lucky to have gotten off with retirement and a pension instead of a court marshal.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at June 17, 2007 11:41 PM
Comment #223380

Stephen et al

The reason we conservatives do not “focus on the matter at hand” when we see such sensational things is that you have to ask the next question and the one after that. We are presented with a picture or a sensational situation. It has very little meaning w/o context. Liberals assume the context is some variation of conspiracy by the Bush Administration. When we point out that this is incorrect, you say we are not focusing on the matter at hand. In this particular case, we also have a man who, no matter what his feelings, has no first hand knowledge about what he is saying. It is sort of like asking Mike Nifong about how the Duke case went.

Some things just do not make sense. As LO says, if Abu Ghraib was such a deep and nefarious plan, why would the powers that be leave it in the hands of those guys at the end of the chain. Beyond that, a torture plan implies a torture goal. Has anyone ever heard of a reason why this torture would be carried out? If it was meant to gain information, what sort? If it was meant to intimidate a larger population, you cannot want to keep it a secret.

The explanation that Abu Ghraib was a crime carried out by a few out of control people aided by a sloppy oversight makes the most logical sense and nobody has come up with any evidence (besides feelings) why it is anything else.

Many things happen for boring and prosaic reasons. Human beings do not like this. They prefer a coherence story line that has a larger meaning. They also like to think they are in on inside knowledge that is hidden from others. That is why conspiracy stories have such staying power. Usually the story people construct is more interesting than the reality of what happened.

The best explanation of Abu Ghraib is that it was carried out by low level guys with no particular goal in mind except to relieve their boredom. People higher up the chain were not paying enough attention and some were negligent in their oversight. If you want to say it goes all the way up to the president, you have developed an impossible standard of responsibility. If you think you can achieve zero mistakes among the millions of military personal, contractors and federal employees you do not understand the world and probably should be kept away from managing others. What we can do is strive to improve the systems we work with and to discipline miscreants when we find them, as we did in this case.

The other thing about Abu Ghraib that some of my fellow Americans seem not to understand is how damaging the repeated baseless accusations are to our country and even to human rights worldwide. Most countries in the Middle East region and certainly our opponents in Iraq practice much worse forms of abuse on a regular basis. Beheadings, beatings and mutilations are their practice. They happily refer to Abu Ghraib, news that is now years old, to hide what they are doing today, did yesterday and will do tomorrow. Bringing up Abu Ghraib with such monotonous regularly shows our lack of perspective, which our enemies are happy to exploit.

The criminals at Abu Ghraib killed nobody. They were tried and punished. The terrorists we face kill many. They make films too, for which they are praised and promoted. There is a big difference.

Posted by: Jack at June 18, 2007 7:16 AM
Comment #223396

Classification is only useful when what you’re classifying is a genuine secret. What was happening at Abu Ghraib was a poorly kept secret. Where’s your evidence, though, that it was Taguba who leaked this?

There is evidence that this kind of interrogation was encouraged from the top. There are many examples.. One example is the infamous photo of of that hooded guy in the poncho wired on top of that box. That’s a specific technique used in interrogations in the past, not something that these people would have been likely to have come up with on their own. We also have a number of memos from top officials including John Yoo and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in support of the repudiation of Geneva convention protections for Taliban prisoners of war, and those accused of being terrorists. We even have Bush signing an order authorizing the CIA to engage in these transgressive tactics. Not only that, but what do you think all these revelations of secret prisons in different parts of the world are about, prisons we negotiated with foreign governments to set up? And your party’s continued demands that Gitmo be kept as it is- what is that about? What does it say that the first commander of Gitmo was dismissed after he made sure that prisoners were given literature spelling out their rights, and that military intelligence was put in charge?

The situation in Abu Ghraib relates to that connection. Guess who had control of things in Abu Ghraib. Military intelligence. It’s from them that we get these special interrogation tactics. It’s from them we get the low level soldiers doing the work of softening up the detainees.

This was not some isolated incident. This was a product of the Bush administration’s policies, of its repudiation of the normal international laws of war. I’m sure the Bush administration did not want to be tarred with this kind of bad publicity, but under such circumstances, they should have been well advised to think out in advance what the consequences of their policies would be.

With such evidence, the notion that this was merely an isolated incident of a command getting out of control is a bit thin.

So is the notion that this is all just some partisan witchhunt. You haven’t provided one scrap of positive evidence that your assertions are true. I can back my point up with a whole ton of evidence that says that Abu Ghraib was by no means unique, and justifies Taguba’s intuition that this scandal went much further up than the local command. We got 42 page memos by Bush administration officials, justifying the use of these tactics on enemy combatants.

I got to tell you, the real problem here is that the Bush administration goes into these radical changes in policy, and when they backfire, instead of dealing with the reality of the problem, they bitch about the politics, about how they’re such victims of their coverage. Never mind that their behavior, their policies, are what’s drawing the negative attention.

Mike Nifong did not have pictures of the Lacrosse players raping the woman. He did not have memos from the top relating how this kind of behavior could be legally justified. That’s your context. Hell, the photo of the guy dangling the wires on top of the box is your context. This isn’t sensationalized, nor was the armor problem, nor was the urgency and necessity of dealing with the unrest in Iraq. Only trouble was, acknowledging these things was politically inconvenient for Republicans and conservatives.

You talk of boring and prosaic reasons for what happened. Well, provide them. Provide the ordinary explanation, especially in the context of all the effort the Bush Administration has gone through to immunize it’s prisoner interrogation practices from prying eyes and international standards of treatment.

As for impossible standards of responsibility, how is that impossible in the light of what policies every other Administration followed before this one?

And what the hell does the brutality of the enemy do to justify what was done in Abu Ghraib? Better question: do we want to justify their practices by ours? We are supposed to live up to a higher standard, and that is a strength for us.

As for continue to bring up this standard, let me remind you that we’re still finding out about new secret prisons, and that Gitmo still operates, with torture-lite procedures still continued, with folks held without trial, with Conservatives still fighting to keep open this black mark on our country’s reputation in the name of protecting America.

Only it doesn’t. It gives ammunition to our enemies, so they can dehumanize the millions of people who would never consider torturing another human being. It gives ammunition to our enemies who want to present us as barbarians to be defied, criminals to be distrusted.

If we were just some two-bit dictatorship, this stuff wouldn’t matter, but what we are America, so it does.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 18, 2007 2:39 PM
Comment #223401

“The criminals at Abu Ghraib killed nobody.”

When this bombshell, from a few bad apples, dropped it put our forces in more danger. Those images isolated us further from the arab world. Those images motivated attacks on our soldiers. Those crimes against humanity helped our ememies gain traction in the population. (Still wondering why they all want us the hell out?) The criminals at Abu Ghraib may not have killed any prisoners, but they motivated others to build the bombs or rockets that killed their fellow soldiers. We could not have had too much self discipline in face of this national embarassment. The damage from this may haunt us for decades.

Posted by: darren159 at June 18, 2007 5:49 PM
Comment #223413

darren159- Why would any one incriminate them selves
by sending that garbage out an not expect severe
consequences for their actions, plus showing such
disrespect for them selves an others?

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 18, 2007 8:58 PM
Comment #223424

-DAVID- I have no idea what really happened there or why it happened. I can tell you that the pictures really troubled me and still do. In my previous post I said a “few bad apples”. I was being facetious, but didn’t convey that well. That was a major f-up, too big for the responsibilty to not shoot up to the top.

A final thought on your question. Anyone who didn’t have the judgement to try to stop that kind of garbage probably doesn’t have the foresight to understand the ramifications of their actions. Oh, and regular people do incredibly stupid things occasionally. Fortunately, most of them aren’t international fiascos.

Posted by: darren159 at June 19, 2007 12:30 AM
Comment #223455

darren159- Thank you for your non judgemental
statements. Truly significant, how important just
a few words can mean
Thank you.

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 19, 2007 2:04 PM
Post a comment