Donald Rumsfeld in the eye of the storm

Havana. May 19, 2004

1,600 unpublished photos: A descent into hell, as one congressman affirms

Donald Rumsfeld in the eye of the storm

Granma International staff writer

LESS than two weeks after the CBS television network’s transmission in the United States of the first photos and videos showing acts of torture practiced by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the “Lynndie England” case – the name of the 21-year-old female soldier who appears in many of the photos – has turned into the “Rumsfeld case.”

A veteran investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, 67 – the man who revealed the My Lai massacre in 1969 – unleashed the scandal by directly accusing the secretary of defense.

According to his May 17 New Yorker article, “The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq.

Hersh, who specializes in researching the intelligence services, specifies that the Pentagon has created special interrogation techniques that “...encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq.” Rumsfeld gave the green light to a “highly secret” program that basically had “...given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high-value’ targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror.” Hersh maintains that every soldier who knew the code name of one of these special programs (SAP, Special-Access Program) could act freely in the field.

According to a former high-ranking intelligence service official quoted by Seymour, some 200 people in total were in on the secret, including George W. Bush himself. For its part, the May 16 edition of Newsweek published a memorandum dated January 25, 2002, signed by Alberto González, legal advisor to the White House, explaining that the war on terrorism is a new form of war, and that this new paradigm renders obsolete the Geneva Convention’s strict limitations on interrogating enemy prisoners. The confusion reached its peak last weekend, when it became known that abuses being perpetrated on the prisoners at the Guantánamo Naval Base were being videotaped, according to statements by a former British prisoner there quoted on May 16 by the British weekly The Observer. Nobody was surprised when spokespersons for the U.S. authorities scrambled to deny everything.


According to what has come to light in the last few days, in August 2003 General Geoffrey D. Miller, 55, who then commanded the Guantánamo detention center, made a 10-day visit to the Abu Ghraib prison. His mission was “enigmatic,” as El País qualified it on May 14: to inform the chief of the prison’s military intelligence on a series of recommendations “from the base” on how to undertake interrogations, punish prisoners and organize arrests. His disciples learned their lesson, beyond expectations. Abu Ghraib was thus “Guantanamized.” Today, General Miller is once again in Iraq, this time as...the man in charge of U.S. prisons, replacing General Janis Karpinski, seven of whose troops have been castigated in the torture scandal. Six of them must remain under surveillance in Camp Victory near Baghdad, possibly awaiting court martial.

As for Lynndie England, the notorious female soldier who is currently pregnant, she has been temporarily stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, until her fate is decided.

General Karpinski was discreetly “dismissed” in January after the first revelations – at that time internal – of the torture and brutality being practiced there.


While the scandal became public less than a month ago, the highest U.S. military and civil authorities were perfectly aware of the practice of torture in Iraq all throughout 2003. According to General Peter Pace, right-hand man to General Richard Myers, chief of general staff, everyone was regularly updated orally.... Pace responded with a categorical “Yes” when asked on CBC whether General Myers and President Bush were fully informed on the situation...

For his part, George W. Bush – one lie more or less no longer means anything to him – affirmed that he knew of the investigation’s existence and the Pentagon reports, but had not read them and neither had he seen the photos until the day CBS transmitted them. If he is telling the truth, that omission is even more serious than lying. According to those who surround the president, he didn’t know anything about anything.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross, human rights groups and even General Antonio Taguba, commanded by the Army to draft a secret internal report on torture and abuse (that he delivered in March), had regularly alerted all the authorities. However, starting with the Pentagon, the reaction of the U.S. authorities was to try to hide the issue from January. It wasn’t until January 16, 2004 that the Central Command published a five-line press release.

However, the International Red Cross Committee, human rights defense groups and even General Antonio Tagula who was ordered by the Army to produce a secret internal report (that he presented in March) on torture and abuse, had regularly warned all the authorities. But, beginning with the Pentagon, what the U.S. authorities have done since last January is attempt to conceal the matter. It was not until January 16, 2004 that the Central Command publicly released a five-line press statement of notable neutrality referring to an investigation into the mistreatment of prisoners, according to Seymour Hersh. It did everything possible to conceal the matter and confine it to a small group of young or relatively young soldiers, presented as “some kids who got out of control” or “a handful of sadists”.

Despite everything, on January 21 – as reported by French daily Le Monde in its May 14 edition – the first reference to the existence of photos appeared thanks to Barbara Starr, a CNN military correspondent, who wrote that U.S. soldiers had posed for photographs with partially naked Iraqi prisoners. Then began the investigation on the part of U.S. journalists. What also began was a high-speed race between the press on one side and the Pentagon on the other, who increased the pressure so that the photos would not be published. For a time, CBS agreed to postpone its report when the battle for Al Fallujah was intensifying in Iraq. But, on discovering the imminent publication of Seymour Hersh’s investigation, including several photos, in The New Yorker magazine, CBS decided to take the lead and release its own photos and videos. On the other hand, the role of Joseph M. Darby, a sergeant with the 372nd company, who revealed that the photos existed, should also be mentioned. “Incensed by photos that he saw on his computer, he took the photos with an anonymous letter and slipped them under the door of a superior’s office” in Baghdad. (Le Monde, May 14)

Darby’s CD-Rom ended up on CBS’s table by way of soldiers’ relatives.

In effect, everything really kicked off when on April 28, CBS broadcast its “60 Minutes” program with the legendary Dan Rather, showing the first authenticated images. A young female soldier named Lynndie R. England appeared in them. CBS specified that the photos had been taken between October and December 2003. The world’s written press then repeated the story, albeit two or three days later, the time needed to overcome incredulity over the issue.

In the May 5 edition of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh published the first article publicly exposing the Abu Ghraib scandal. The weekly also published exclusive excerpts – not declassified – of Taguba’s 53-page compromising report and was the first to reveal new photos on its web site ( http://www.newyorker.com ); photos that had not been circulated by CBS. The same day, The Washington Post published a new series of some 20 photos. England appeared once again in this series, on the front page of the daily and at the http://www.washingtonpost.com website and subsequently, of course, throughout the international media. The Washington Post affirmed that the photos came from a CD-Rom containing around a thousand images. On May 10, the Wall Street Journal website
( http://online.wsj.com ) published the entire text of the (confidential) Red Cross report that was presented to the United States in February. The following day, General Taguba appeared before the Senate Defense Committee, but decided not to include any of the photos in his report, judging them to be of “an extremely sensitive nature”. It should be noted that however incriminating they may be, the aforementioned photos and videos are merely the visible side of the torture put into practice in Iraq, those included in the reports by Taguba and IRCC offer a real idea but no visual images of any of these exist's so it would seem.


In early May, Donald Rumsfeld himself insinuated as much. On Wednesday, May 12, senators and representatives were able to see some 1,600 photos and video clips – unpublished to date – that were in the hands of the Pentagon. Democrat Ron Wyden declared that they were worse than anyone could have imagined. Richard Durban described it as a descent into hell and Republican Hill Frist as “appalling”. Something so explosive that for the moment widespread circulation has not even been considered. “The devastating effect,” of these first revelations, “does away with the credibility of the United States” read Le Monde’s editorial on May 7. Lynndie England – who has now become “Bush’s nightmare” according to a headline in El País on May 7 – will remain as one of the strongest symbols. It does not just refer to a change of direction in the Iraqi conflict, but a nightmare for the history of the modern world in which the hyper-power has descended into total degradation and completely lost its moral leadership, if indeed it ever possessed it. The torture scandal has served as the latest indication of the failure of Bush’s performance with regard to the Iraqi drama. It is said that several hawks are preparing to jump ship. Some are going very far, such as liberal pro-war columnist Thomas Friedman who, on the editorial pages of The New York Times, posed the daring question: Is it possible to successfully achieve a regime change in Iraq without a change of regime in the United States?

Meanwhile, another question remains unanswered: Where does the real level of responsibility lie? With the soldiers who say they were just carrying out orders? According to several investigations, it is almost certain that no one prevented them from doing what they did, and in certain cases they were encouraged by military intelligence officials. On the other hand, it is known that some of the most severe interrogation sessions were carried out under the directions of civilians contracted by private paramilitary firms.

Mrs. Laura Bush commented that each time a photo is released, it is torturous for everyone. Not as much as for the dozens (or more) of Iraqis who have experienced the worst of it: the degradation of the human condition. How can we believe the enchanting and sensitive wife of the president when we know that on May 10 Bush proclaimed that Donald – to whom “the nation owes gratitude”- had undertaken outstanding work against terrorism? “Guarantee or epitaph?” asked El País (May 11). Will Rumsfeld be the spark that ignites Bush’s electoral hopes? A possibility to which analysts are increasingly referring. In the May 11 edition of El País, Allan Lichtman is categorical: “Rumsfeld’s days are numbered. He is now a political

Informant: Walter Lippmann


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