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Chains of Command

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To unravel the tortured excuses for Abu Ghraib abuses, go back to June 25, a day of brilliant journalism.

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Once so proud of plans for “War on Terror detainees” that they even showed off their special Gitmo chains and other jewelry, the Bush regime’s various soldiers are now crying, as the Nazis did, “We were only following orders.” Or they’re saying, “Hey, I didn’t even give the orders.”

Blame them, but save the biggest share of blame for their higher-ups — all the way up to Vise President Dick Cheney.

The freshest example is that of Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, whose court-martial right now at Fort Meade, Maryland, for Abu Ghraib abuses that occurred on his watch is a travesty of cover-up upon cover-up.

Despite the fact that the soldiers under Jordan got off by torturing and humiliating prisoners — most of whom were innocent and none of whom were of any intelligence value — Jordan himself will probably get off with a wrist-slap.

Today’s account of this extremely important trial is buried on page A14 of the Washington Post:

Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer charged in connection with abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, did not train, supervise or work directly with interrogators who questioned detainees, the prison’s top military intelligence officer testified yesterday.

Testifying for the prosecution in Jordan’s court-martial at Fort Meade, Col. Thomas M. Pappas said that Jordan’s duties centered on improving the quality of life for soldiers at the austere base outside Baghdad and improving the flow of intelligence information — not on the interrogations or harsh methods of eliciting information approved for use at the time.

The news cycles of real news, especially follow-ups, cause so much frustration. How can anyone put his or her hands around what’s going on?

Abu Ghraib blazed in the headlines in 2004, but now that details of who did what and when are coming out, it’s considered old news. That’s why I try to salt my posts with so many links. All we can do is point to some stories that point to the facts and provide context.

And one unmistakable fact is that no matter what happens to Jordan, the torture scandal goes all the way up the chain of command, right into the White House run by Dick Cheney.

When it comes to Abu Ghraib, all you really have to do is focus on just one day’s worth of brilliant journalism. Go back to this past June 25 and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, I’m not faulting the Post for burying today’s Jordan story. It has kicked the ass of the New York Times on almost every topic since the Bush regime came to power. While Jordan’s court-martial continues, go back and re-read the Post‘s stellar series on Cheney, particularly Barton Gellman and Jo Becker‘s June 25 “Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power,” which I wrote about that day. Here’s how that Post story began:

Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, [David Addington], who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby. The meeting marked “the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up” among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. “The CIA guys said, ‘We’re going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'” if interrogators confined themselves to humane techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions.

From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive’s will to resist. The vice president’s office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.

Remarkable stuff. Too bad it didn’t come out before the November 2004 presidential election.

If you really want to understand how such a coverup happened — and what tragic roles this Colonel Jordan and various other officials played in this sick drama —go back to Seymour Hersh‘s brilliant piece “The General’s Report: How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties,” also published on June 25.

Taguba’s investigation (PDF of his report) was circumscribed by his higher-ups, Hersh reveals. And of course now it comes out that Jordan supposedly wasn’t read his rights at the proper time and he might skate on serious charges.

What about the people above — way above — Jordan? Hersh’s reporting explodes the Bush regime’s lame excuse that Abu Ghraib’s abuses were the work of a few “rogue soldiers”:

Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General [Ricardo] Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, “Sanchez knew exactly what was going on.”

Taguba learned that in August, 2003, as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was gaining force, the Pentagon had ordered Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantánamo, to Iraq. His mission was to survey the prison system there and to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence. The core of Miller’s recommendations, as summarized in the Taguba report, was that the military police at Abu Ghraib should become part of the interrogation process: they should work closely with interrogators and intelligence officers in “setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.”

Taguba concluded that Miller’s approach was not consistent with Army doctrine, which gave military police the overriding mission of making sure that the prisons were secure and orderly. His report cited testimony that interrogators and other intelligence personnel were encouraging the abuse of detainees. “Loosen this guy up for us,” one M.P. said he was told by a member of military intelligence. “Make sure he has a bad night.”

The M.P.s, Taguba said, “were being literally exploited by the military interrogators. My view is that those kids” — even the soldiers in the photographs — “were poorly led, not trained, and had not been given any standard operating procedures on how they should guard the detainees.”

Rogue soldiers? No, a rogue presidency.

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