Seymour Hersh is at it again. The investigative reporter who breaks stories like they’re rotten two-by-fours has a major scoop in the latest issue of The New Yorker. He wraps the piece around exclusive access to Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the author of the internal report that investigated abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Exploring the line of culpability, Hersh investigates who in Washington learned what about the torture in the Iraqi prison, and when. His inquiry is typically exhaustive, but one piece of the puzzle is still missing. While the article makes clear that President Bush failed to act effectively after learning of the abuse, the article expresses uncertainty about when exactly the Commander in Chief was informed of the problems at Abu Ghraib. “Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reevaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized,” reports Hersh.
In fact, there is evidence suggesting that Bush was informed of the mistreatment well in advance of Taguba’s report in March. According to former Special Envoy to Iraq L. Paul Bremer III, Bush was told of the abuse on January 16, 2004, at a meeting in the White House at which Bremer was present. The detailed account from Bremer, which is related in his memoir, My Year in Iraq, contradicts that of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who told Congress that until the media’s story broke “the President didn’t know, and you didn’t know, and I didn’t know.”
In the brief and so-far-overlooked passage of Bremer’s memoir, the words “Abu Ghraib” never make an appearance, though it’s clear what he’s referring to. Here’s the relevant part, which Bremer says on an earlier page is taking part on January 16:
I made my way across the alley from the West Wing to the third floor of the Executive Office Building, where Vice President Cheney provided me an office. Dan Senor greeted me with the news that he’d just learned that a “terrible story” was about to break in Baghdad.
“Apparently some MPs guarding detainees forced them to engage in homosexual acts,” he said somberly. “They made one of them crawl around on the ground with a dog’s leash around his neck. There may also have been women involved, whether our women MPs or women detainees isn’t clear.” One MP had reported this despicable activity to his commander.