Saturday, June 12, 2004

Abu Ghraib: Cracks in the Bush stonewall? 

Hey, finally a WaPo story on intelligence that isn't bylined "Walter Pincus"! (Memo to R. Jeffrey Smith: Don't go up in any small planes. And have no communication with your brother, Winston.) Readers, sorry I missed this one; I can only plead that pressure of work kept my blogging light. Now, however, there's time to really dig in.

Summarizing: The Abu Ghraib story has all the features of what we've elsewhere called The Fog Machine (back): An extra-constitutional program that Bush authorized (back), parts of which have been uncovered by Seymour Hersh, that targets perceived enemies of the United States for torture and assassination. So let's read Smith's story through that lens.

[Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, an Army reservist was head] of the interrogation center at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told an Army investigator in February that he understood some of the information being collected from prisoners [at Abu Ghraib] had been requested by "White House staff," according to an account of his statement obtained by The Washington Post.
(here via The Mighty Atrios)

Ah. So I guess some of the "bad apples" were in the West Wing. Who knew?

The reference by Jordan to a White House link with the military's scandal-plagued intelligence-gathering effort at the prison was not explored further by Taguba, whose primary goal at that time was to assess the scope of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The White House was unable to provide an immediate explanation.

I bet. And somehow, in all the foo-fraw about G8 and Reagan's funeral, they still haven't found time to respond.

But no reference has previously been made in the publicly available Abu Ghraib investigative documents to a special interest by White House staff.

Translation: Hitherto, subordinates have been blamed. The coverup and the stonewalling has worked. That is, The Fog Machine has operated as it was designed to do; Bush has maintained "plausible deniability."

The precise role and mission of Jordan, who is still stationed in Iraq and through his attorneys has declined requests to speak with the news media, remains one of the least well understood facets of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal.

Translation: The visible chain of command has been deliberately confused. That is, The Fog Machine has operated to shield superiors from the acts committed by their subordinates.

[Other] military personnel [have described Jordan as] playing a key role at Abu Ghraib in overseeing interrogations; they have described him as being deeply involved in an incident on Nov. 24, 2003, when a detainee was confronted in his cell by snarling military dogs[1], which Taguba deemed a violation of the prisoner's rights.

I liked "deemed": It's a fine example of falsely "balanced" reporting. Still, the Post is to be commended for writing this story.

In a March 9 report on the abuse scandal, Taguba listed Jordan as one of four military intelligence officers he suspected were "directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib." [But] Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the chief military intelligence officer at the prison, said in his statement to Taguba that Jordan was working on a special project...

"Special," eh? Very special? Sounds a lot like the Special Access Program discovered by Seymour Hersh (back, again).

... for the office of Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top U.S. intelligence official in Iraq. He also described Jordan as "a loner who freelances between military intelligence and military police" officers at the prison. But Jordan, in the statement to Taguba, described himself as more of a functionary than a rogue operator.

Translation: Again, we see the deliberate confusion of the visible chain of command.

[Jordan] said he was aware of the "rules of engagement" approved by commanders for interrogations, which have been a topic of controversy. But the rules changed several times, and he did not clarify which set he relied on.

Translation: The rules of engagement and policies have been deliberately confused. That is, The Fog Machine is once again in operation. In the absence of clear directives, two things are possible: (1) the Stanford Effect (MTV (!!), here) comes into play, where the deepest impulses all humans share to mistreat those seen as "the other" can be managed and harnessed to implement a regime of torture, and (2) nods and winks[2] from those in positions of authority—Rumsfeld Bush—substitute for orders and regulations; "Do what you have to do," becomes the lawless norm.[3]

[Jordan] also said that an "OGA" team -- or Other Government Agency, a euphemism for the CIA -- known as Task Force 121 had caused problems by bringing detainees they had captured to Abu Ghraib and essentially dumping them without conducting any

Well, "follow up" (a euphemism for torture, no doubt) that we know about. Probably the "follow up" was left to civilian "contractors" outside the visible chain of command.

"It's a very cowboy kind of affair," he said of Task Force 121.

"Cowboy," eh? As in "Cowboy from the Great State of Texas"? Thanks for the hint....

One of [Jordan's] civilian attorneys, John Shapiro, described Jordan last night as "a fine soldier who was serving his country and is cooperating in every way with the investigations" into the abuse.

"Investigations," plural. I like that. Let's hope there's a Congressional investigation, too. Perhaps run by McCain? (Who, if he wimps out on this, will show that there's no decency left in the Republican party at all.)

The Fog Machine: Its handwriting

Summing up, we can dimly discern, as through a glass, darkly, the workings of The Fog Machine through its handwriting. Here are the features of its operation:

1. A deliberately confused chain of command

2. Deliberately confused rules of engagement and policies

3. Statements from high authorities that enable and encourage torture, in the absence of clear rules

4 .Subordinates are sacrificed to protect superiors, in the absence of a clear chain of command

The purpose of The Fog Machine is, of course, to protect Bush from accountability by providing him with "plausible deniability" for authorizing ad enjoying the fruits of an extra-constitutional and illegal system for torturing and assassinating percieved enemies[4].

Corrente's marketing department insists that I engage on criticism/self-criticism in that we (kinda) called this story a month ago:

The intelligence produced by The Fog Machine would [flow] from from civilian contractors/military intelligence people out of uniform to.... Where? Nobody will say. [Still true] My guess, FWIW, is that information flows through operatives at the RNC/CPA [Not known] right to the West Wing [Now known to be true] (that is, it's Iran-Contra all over again, just a thousand times worse).[Readers?] In consequence, it's highly unlikely that there are orders for torture flowing down from the West Wing; with the chain of command replaced by the fog machine, specific orders would not be needed. [Jordan says not true, but I'd be very surprised if there's anything on paper]It's highly probable, however, that information--in the form of digital photos, interrogation reports, perhaps voice--flowed up to the West Wing [Now known to be true—"information collected"]and is stored there, even today.[A question Smith does not ask] Over the top? Think: It seems that the abuses, though present since Afghanistan, became much worse during the hunt for Saddam. Can anyone seriously believe that interrogation results, and methods, for the Saddam hunt didn't flow up to the West Wing?

The Fog Machine: Follow the bytes!

Seymour Hersh has shown (back that the Abu Ghraib photos were not taken by the few "bad apples," but as a matter of policy. This gives us one final feature of The Fog Machine

5. Secret records kept on digital media.

Remember the photos Bush keeps in his desk? (back) The photos of (percieved) assassinated terrorist? Where, we might ask, do these photos come from? Thus, the question is, as it was ("Hersh: More units involved, photos part of process "):

Where were the photos stored, what was the chain of custody, and who has them now?

As in Watergate, the mantra was "Follow the money," so for Abu Ghraib the mantra should be "follow the bytes." Restoring Constitutional government in the United States demands on less.


[1] The use of dogs shows ("Who Let the Dogs Out") that the Abu Ghraib torture could not have been the work of a "bad apples"; there is an elaborate and well-documented process for when dogs may be used, maintaining their kennels, and so on.

[2] Bush's prejudicial statement, in the Plame Affair, that he didn't think the leaker would ever be found, was one such "nod and wink." His consistent use of religious language is another.

[3] In Germany, this style of leadership was known as Furherprinzip. That is, The Leader would set general guidelines, commit little to paper, and give few explicit orders. Subordinates, through a process known as "working toward the Fuhrer", were expected to known what He wanted, and take action on their own. Auschwitz was built on a foundation of nods and winks. Since we, in this country, have hitherto lived in a Constitutional democracy under the rule of law, we have had little opportunity to experience this style of leadership. Bush, however, seems determined to train us in it.

[4] Most of the discussion about the Bush administration's use of torture has focussed on the pragmatic issue of whether it is a useful intelligence tool (it isn't). However, one possibility goes unmentioned: That, for Bush, torture and assassination are simply tools of war, as rape and murdur were recently for the Serbians and the Hutus, as massacre was for the Nazis in World War II. These tactics for terrorizing enemies have a long history, going back to the Mongols, the Assyrians, etc. Of course, this would imply that Bush has already committed us not to a "war on terror" but to a true war of civilizations against Islam as such—as indeed His religious beliefs might impel him to do—but that is a prospect too dreadful to contemplate.

UPDATE Alert reader Brian Boru comments:

The key words from the Terror Q&A and the G8 press conference: "The authorization I issued." This is a document that must be brought out into the light of day (by way of a subpoena from Sen. Warner's committee?).

Unless, of course, the document doesn't really say anything. If the administration really is operating on fuhrerprinzip, it won't.

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