Officials knew of Abu Ghraib abuses

The New Yorker just published another great new article by Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who first broke the Abu Ghraib story. In the article, and his interview about it on CNN, Hersh details how Administration officials scrambled to absolve themselves of all responsibility for the scandal. In a hearing before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee on May 7th of 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said:

"It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something... I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t...I didn't see [the photos] until last night at 7:30."

However, Major General Tabuga, the officer originally assigned to investigate reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib, insists that this is simply not true. Whether or not Rumsfeld and other higher-ups had seen the photos (which they certainly had access to long before the scandal broke), very detailed reports describing the abuses had made their way up the chain of command months before the story was leaked to the press. As Taguba said, "You didn’t need to ‘see’ anything—just take the secure e-mail traffic at face value." These reports, among other things, included "descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees" and "a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee" (which was never released).

For obvious reasons, these reports were taken quite seriously, and were relayed quickly through back channel emails. The upshot of all of this is that by March at the latest, Rumsfeld was talking with the President about the incidents at Abu Ghraib, and once again 'The Decider' decided to do nothing. As Hersh writes, "The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career." In fact, General Taguba was asked to resign, without being given any real reason.

Said Taguba, whose only crime was his honesty, “They always shoot the messenger. To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.” While Taguba's story is sad, it is not very surprising, given that this Administration has always been more concerned with avoiding responsibility than with acting responsibly.