Implausible Denial II

Implausible Denial II

Seymour Hersh has been much more right than not in his reporting on the current Administration.


On Saturday, May 15–twenty-four hours after The Nation published “Implausible Denial”–The New Yorker posted on its website Seymour Hersh’s latest Abu Ghraib-related investigative report. Its central revelation: The interrogations at Abu Ghraib were part of a highly classified Special Access Program (SAP) code-named Copper Green, authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ultimately overseen by Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Originally a joint CIA-Pentagon program in Afghanistan that utilized highly trained Special Operations personnel, Copper Green eventually expanded to Iraq, Hersh reports, where Cambone decided it would begin using non-Special Operations personnel–including military intelligence officers and other military personnel–to begin questioning prisoners whose status was outside the program’s original brief. The CIA objected and withdrew from the program, while Cambone apparently tasked Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, former Guantánamo Bay interrogations chief, with “Gitmo-izing” Iraq’s prison system.

What may be more surprising than the revelations in Hersh’s piece is the fact that leads to the Abu Ghraib skullduggery were hidden in plain sight–and that the Pentagon press corps all but ignored them. Though Cambone has been an exceptionally sub rosa figure in his position as DoD’s intelligence chief, on November 21, 2003, he sat down for a rare on-record meeting over breakfast with the Defense Writers Group. Again in contrast to his May 11 comments, in which he cast himself as a benign bureaucrat largely out of the loop, his November comments offer a glimpse into the mechanics of how Cambone’s office was assertively taking the lead in coordinating intelligence operations in Iraq.

Noting first that his office has “one group of people over to do an assessment” and that another was getting ready to go, Cambone said that “the requirement for an increased level of intelligence support became increasingly evident as we went through a period between early July/late August…. In that late August time frame, a delegation went over there from the Department and included people from the CIA to look at how we were structured, whether we had proper arrangement at the division level, whether that information, as it was being compiled at the divisional level, was being moved from that level up to the CJTF-7 [Combined Joint Task Force-7] level in an expeditious manner.”

Cambone further stated that the group “came back with a list of somewhere close to eighty or ninety recommendations,” and went on to describe a rapid infusion of personnel and technology for intelligence-related endeavors. He also noted that the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, had “made a number of adjustments in his complement of people in Iraq” as part of a “concerted effort to lash up much more tightly the work that is done in the context of the CIA activities with those being done by the Department to ensure there is [a] cross-flow of information and cooperation.”

The specifics of any of those eighty to ninety recommendations–as well as the nature of then-joint CIA/DoD operations and the staffing and leadership of the August delegation to Iraq, which may have covered Miller’s mission–were not, apparently, of interest to the members of the Defense Writers Group. Though a few journalists elsewhere had raised concerns about the gray areas Defense Intelligence operations might be getting into–as well as Cambone’s interest in bringing all uniformed Special Operations under his aegis–there were no follow-up questions, and Cambone’s comments went virtually unreported.

Cambone’s remarks at the breakfast also bring into potentially clearer focus the role in Abu Ghraib of Lieut. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, his deputy for intelligence and warfighting support. “It is an office,” Cambone says of Boykin’s shop, “that is designed to assure the types of capabilities we have just been talking about here, whether it is people, or it is resources, or it is material, or it is information, is moved forward to the people who need it at various levels of command and operation in order for them to execute their mission.”

Having been much more right than not in his reporting on the current Administration, it’s unlikely that Hersh’s story is, as Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita quickly characterized it, “outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error,” since the neglected public utterances of Cambone not only track with Hersh’s reporting but that of R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post for May 16. (Cambone is prominent in Smith’s story, succinctly titled “Knowledge of Abusive Tactics May Go Higher.” And he figures as well in a remarkable article for the May 24 edition of Newsweek by John Barry, Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff, “The Roots of Torture,” which not only points to Cambone’s deep involvement in the intelligence-gathering apparatus in Iraq but demonstrates that the climate for the “stress and duress” interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib was “officially approved at the highest levels of the government” as part of a secret system “adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions.” ) Indeed, last week Di Rita himself described Cambone in a way not unlike that of Hersh and the Post: “Somebody who thinks through issues in all their dimensions, and in whom the Secretary has enormous confidence.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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