Thursday, May 20, 2004

Hersh, Hitchens, etc.

The latest New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh is both insubstantial and revelatory. Insubstantial because, as James Joyner points out, the causal connection between Rumsfeld's aggressive use of special operations and Abu Ghraib is not really made. Further, the heavy use of unnamed sources makes it impossible to assess the validity of the criticisms or the personal agendas at work.

On this last point, Hersh quotes, by name, Kenneth deGraffenreid who was a former Navy aviator who worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency and on Reagan's National Security Council where he worked on intelligence matters. By the conventions of investigative reporting, deGraffenreid could also be Hersh's "former high-level intelligence official", "government consultant", and "Pentagon consultant". For all we know, two people provided all of Hersh's telling quotes.

The revelation is the aggressive actions by military lawyers to undermine the war on terror (not just black ops in Iraq). Hersh admits that the some of the impetus behind Rumsfeld's decision to use special operations began in Afghanistan when a military lawyer refused to OK an air strike against a convoy believed to include Mullah Omar in October 7, 2001. JAG lawyers began to fume about "being cut out of the policy formulation process." But here is the kicker:

In 2003, Rumsfeld’s apparent disregard for the requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying out the war on terror had led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General’s (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on International Human Rights. “They wanted us to challenge the Bush Administration about its standards for detentions and interrogation,” Horton told me. “They were urging us to get involved and speak in a very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue. The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and it’s going to occur.”

A bunch of JAG lawyers went to an outside group to encourage them to agitate against our actions in the war on terror. They had no specific examples of abuse, just a belief that "it's going to occur." They did not raise their voices publically or go up the chain of command: they opted for behind the scenes manipulation. Is that the conduct of an officer or a gentleman? Moreover, is it possible that the some of these JAG lawyers are assigned to the Abu Ghraib cases? If so,they are primed to paint the abuse by the guards as a systemic problem and to go public with the pictures. This both helps their clients and makes their case against the special operations tactics employed against al Qaeda?

Hitchens, as always, is good on this story.

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