How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib

[ Below are excerpts from the latest Seymour Hersh article on Abu Ghraib. –BL ]


15 May 2004 | The New Yorker (May 24 issue)

…. The success of the war was at risk; something had to be done to change the dynamic.

The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the detention and interrogation center at Guant?namo, who had been summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison interrogation procedures….

(The Bush Administration had unilaterally declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of international terrorist networks to be illegal combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the Geneva Conventions.)

Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the sap [special-access program, “subject to the Defense Department?s most stringent level of security”], bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation….

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. ?They said, ?No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan?pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets?and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets???the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. ?The C.I.A.?s legal people objected,? and the agency ended its sap involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

The C.I.A.?s complaints were echoed throughout the intelligence community. There was fear that the situation at Abu Ghraib would lead to the exposure of the secret sap, and thereby bring an end to what had been, before Iraq, a valuable cover operation….

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was ?The Arab Mind,? a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. ?The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women … and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,? Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, ?or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.? The Patai book, an academic told me, was ?the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.? In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged??one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.?

The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything?including spying on their associates?to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, ?I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population.? The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said. If so, it wasn’t effective; the insurgency continued to grow….

The Pentagon?s attitude last January, he said, was ?Somebody got caught with some photos. What?s the big deal? Take care of it.? Rumsfeld’s explanation to the White House, the official added, was reassuring: ??We?ve got a glitch in the program. We?ll prosecute it.? The cover story was that some kids got out of control.?

For the full piece, see the New Yorker‘s website.

Leave a comment