The Gray Zone


Another blockbuster from Seymour Hersh:

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. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of elite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror….

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  1. No doubt you’re right, Jesse. It’ll turn out that they DID authorize some slapping around and some threatening to expose sensitive Muslim eyes to sins of the flesh in an effort to scare out some information; but that no one suggested (or would have condoned, had they known about it at high levels) the kind of stupid grab ass that actually occurred.

    The political problem for both sides will be, though, getting anyone in the media to acknowledge this rather fine distinction, especially with the photos of the bullshit that actually did occur flying around to every PC in the world.

  2. Jesse Walker writes: “If this story is untrue, that would probably mean that Hersh’s intelligence sources span a really incredible yarn, which would be an interesting story in itself. (The other possibility is that Hersh just made it up, but I find that very difficult to believe.)”

    I do not find it hard to believe that intelligence operatives routing terrorists in Afgahnistan employed coercive and sexually humiliating methods on terrorists to get them to spill their guts. I do not doubt it, and I do not disapprove of it.

    Where I do balk is that with regard to Iraqi POWs — who included common criminals and those whose guilt was yet to be determined, and whose rights are protected by the Geneva Convention — Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld all signed on to a plan entailing piling them in naked pyramids, forcing them to masturbate, sucking each other off, and dragging them on doggie leashes, all while being photographed. So far, there has been little evidence that these “protocols” in Iraq exceed a few cellblocks at Abu Ghraib. For that reason, I think it more likely that Tabuga Report and his testimony are more credible than Hersh, who has a history of being slipshod; Taguba found these events to be isolated and no evidence of orders from “high up.”

    But I await further discussion and evidence.


  3. Do they still have fact checkers over there? I know they pay by the word, so there’s a conflict of interest. I assume they’re still over at the Hotel New Yorker, where I hear they’ve taken over an entire floor. The roots of their irrelevance lie there, and an expansion of a highly secret soap opera market undertaken by Tina Brown.

  4. Nothing wrong with making life miserable for prisoners. The grabass was what was wrong.
    Of course evverybody remembers how the whole democrat caucus resigned in shame when the Barney Frank whorehouse scandal broke.

  5. Superb commentary on the article thus far from the pro-war contingent.
    Strange bedfellows indeed !

  6. An inquiry: If the U.S. captured a “high value” Al Qaeda operative in Iraq who was strongly suspected to know the plans and wherabouts of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi (the butcher of Nick Berg), would it be acceptable to exploit Arab terror of sexual humiliation in order to extort the information from him?

    For myself, the Nick Berg, Daniel Pearl and other head-severings, as well as 9-11 and other atrocities, render the answer obvious.

    Since 9-11 we’ve had no more terrorism on American soil. That this is so is evidence of someone(s) doing their jobs well. But the depraved zealots who killed Nick Berg would love a reprise here, and I have no doubt they will do it, if they are able. What is acceptable to do to any of them captured in order to secure data as to plans and locations of their colleagues?

    Perhaps what many reasonable people would find acceptable in that scenario was transported to a standard POW camp, in a few cell blocks, in Abu Ghraib. But I remain skeptical that this was orderd by Rumsfeld et al, even if such tactics had their legitimate uses in other contexts.


  7. Seymour Hersh has done 35 years of investigative reporting and has extensive contacts, to put it mildly, in the state department, the military, and the CIA.

    He only writes a fraction of what he knows at a time. (I’m sure he knows more than the one “code word” cited below — but only named one in order to establish credibility.)

    He broke the story of the My Lai massacre; he wrote a book detailing how Israel developed nuclear weapons; he broke the Plame scandal months before it became a mainstream news item (his original article is archived on the New Yorker website).

    I don’t know who you all are or how your credentials stack up to his.

    Here is the second paragraph of Hersh’s article published yesterday. This pertains specifically to whether the “grab-ass” activities — and, please, have someone you can think of who doesn’t like you much squeeze a glow stick into your rectum before ironizing the details — were the brainchild of the individual soldiers:

    * * *

    According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon?s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld?s long-standing desire to wrest control of America?s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

  8. And, by the way, in the long run you’ll find that it’s harder to discredit journalists than it is to discredit pundits.

    Hersh isn’t known for his opinions.

  9. Mona,

    You said, “For that reason, I think it more likely that Tabuga Report and his testimony are more credible than Hersh, who has a history of being slipshod;”

    I’ve read a lot of Hersh, but not all of Hersh, so if you could provide me with some evidence of his being “slipshod,” I’d appreciate it.



  10. MONA,

    To your inquiry:

    No it would not be acceptable, regardless of what emotionalism used to justify it. We all are lacking in our understanding and knowledge of what transpires under the shelf and to make any value judgement is arrogant and a catalyst for the types of horror that has been unleashed since the start of this administration.

    With regards to the who killed Berg we only know what we are told. Nothing more. A rash judgement and outcry was the goal and the benefactors of this are not jihadists.
    That orange jumpsuit, troubling indeed.

    What is your definiton of terrorism? Doing their “jobs” would have prevented this in the begining, would it not? What are acceptable coersion tactics? IF you play the moral highground card, torture and rape are not!

    Even if Rumsfeld did not order it(even though I believe there is sufficent evidence he did) he is accountable.

  11. Les, see the url I posted a few posts up to Lowell Ponte’s piece at Horowitz’s blog. I’m not vouching for it, but I’ve read other such criticisms of Hersh. I am not in a position to know which side has the greater merit.

    troubalert: I am willing to exploit the fear of sexual humiliation that obtains in Arab culture for people who slowly sever the heads of screaming innocents, who crash airliners into densely populated buildings, who try to assassinate our former heads of state, and who avow that as per Allah’s instructions, we Westerners all must die. The effete responses to these religious zealots that occurred prior to 9-11 did not work.

    Nick Berg did not deserve what happened to him. Neither did the denizens of the WTC or Daniel Pearl. I am more concerened with finding and eliminating those who commit such atrocities than I am with respecting their fear of sexual dishonor. You may disagree, and based on your post, I expect we are separated by an unbridgable chasm of disposition, knowledge and moral philosophy.


  12. Hersh has been pretty off quite a bit the last year, and hardly unbiased. Sorry is this displeases SM.

  13. Here’s a couple more stories in the same vein. They don’t go quite as far as Hersh, but are still pretty damning.

    Knowledge of Abusive Tactics May Go Higher – Washington Post

    The Roots of Torture – Newsweek

    Both via Matthew Yglesias

  14. troubalert,

    “We all are lacking in our understanding and knowledge of what transpires under the shelf”

    “What is your definiton of terrorism?”

    Flying planes into the WTC. Beheading Nick Berg. And so on & on.
    Since you (you, not “we all”) are “lacking in our understanding”, feel free to ask more idiotic questions of this sort because there’s an education to be had here.

    By the way – what’s the theory on Nick Berg in your circle anyway ?

    And finally –
    “to make any value judgement is arrogant”

    Hay-soos !!!!!! Are you SVR4 of the liberal-parody-bot ? IF some idiot is more afraid of “sexual humiliation” than of strangling his sister becuase she went on a date – well call me arrogant, because i’m making a value judgement. Yes, i know the comparison is over the top & unfair. Still !

  15. Unfortunatly rape, murder and torture are what we are discussing not the “sexual humilation” of untried and held without counsel “inmates”.
    All the things you describe as terrorism are only precision bombings that go astray, regime change, persuasion techniques and on and on to whatever your “godhead” is, under a different name. You are unable to dissiminate reason and motivation from propaganda and doublespeak. Prior to 9/11 there was no response, despite all the warnings, because no one cares when they can’t see it from their house.

    NO ONE deserves what Nick Berg went through. History is rife with examples of atrocities committed for a sundry of silly, unmoral “jihads”. I too want to see those responsible brought to earthly justice, but I am unwilling to support further crimes for that outcome. Sexual dishonor is again, NOT the question nor the complete picture of our actions in Iraq.

    Your last sentence is a cop out to discourse and a judgement based on neither knowledge of me or the issue.

  16. Les: I’m not a big Horowitz fan, but do sometimes find useful and substantial reading at his site.

    Matt XIV:

    The Newsweek article is quite compelling. This is one point that has occurred to me before:

    ::Indeed, the single most iconic image to come out of the abuse scandal?that of a hooded man standing naked on a box, arms outspread, with wires dangling from his fingers, toes and penis?may do a lot to undercut the administration’s case that this was the work of a few criminal MPs. That’s because the practice shown in that photo is an arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade. “Was that something that [an MP] dreamed up by herself? Think again,” says Darius Rejali, an expert on the use of torture by democracies. “That’s a standard torture. It’s called ‘the Vietnam.’ But it’s not common knowledge. Ordinary American soldiers did this, but someone taught them.”::

    I adhere to the “ticking time bomb” doctrine when it comes to the brutal and terrifying random violence directed at innocent civilians employed by such as Al Qaeda. They had to be found, made to talk, and this nation had to be sure no more buildings were going down or other such travesties took place. Bush et al. would have been held liable if that had heppened.

    But in Abu Ghraib? For conventional detainess of war? Simply tossing out the Geneva Conventions as “quaint?” There I canot go.


  17. No problem Mr. Soccer, mate. Though you do realiZe that it’s imporatant to argue your position, once the drinking’s done and YU-R back in the real world, right ?

  18. SM,

    Yes, we’ve got a tu qouque and a insult parading as arguments. Wow, what “superb commentary.”

    Anyone else notice this story?


    BRUSSELS The European Commission said Friday that it planned to approve the importation of a genetically modified sweet corn made by Syngenta, a Swiss biotechnology company, effectively ending a six-year moratorium on introducing genetically modified foods into the European Union.


    Or this story?


    PARIS Ministers from the world?s top trading nations said Friday that they had gained new momentum toward dismantling global trade barriers after narrowing differences on significant issues that had caused a collapse in talks between rich and poor members of the World Trade Organization in Canc?n, Mexico, last year.

  19. I was a principled Republican. I stumped for Ronald Reagan when I was too young to vote. I registered as a Libertarian when George Bush Senior broke his tax pledge, but I always thought the Republican Party would woo me back someday. Even as a registered Libertarian, I voted for every Republican Presidential candidate in every election in which I was eligible to vote. It took a lot to turn me around, but, this time, I?m going to vote for the Libertarian candidate rather than George Bush.

    For me, I think it all started with the Administration?s treatment of people here under work visas, etc. The Bush Administration arrested and held such people without charge; I knew people here on a work visa from a targeted country. They were treated so badly, and I assure you, I’m much more dangerous than they are. The Patriot Act, and the way it?s been implemented and defended certainly pushed me even closer to the line. But I played down the intelligence failures and the fibs about an Al Qaeda presence in pre-invasion Iraq. I was also remarkably soft on the Administration?s incompetence in post invasion planning. It?s the Bush Administration’s un-American violations of the Geneva Conventions that has really pushed me over the edge.

    So the Bush Administration crossed my own personal Rubicon, when it bragged of having shut down the “torture chambers and rape rooms” even after having “learned” of these atrocities via the Taguba Report. Now we hear that the Administration may have actually ordered and facilitated the atrocities at Abu Gharig. I?m left wondering what kind of event would have to take place in order for other principled Republicans to withdraw their support of the Bush Administration. So let me ask you Bush supporters out there, if torturing prisoners isn?t enough, is there anything short of the suspension of Habeas Corpus that would make you stop supporting the Bush Administration?

  20. Hey, Gary and SM, this is not the pages of Foreign Affairs. Nor do I have the staff of AP letting me in on each new twist in the story as it happens, though we know the Pentagon denies the claim in The New Yorker. Now Hersh has always been a polemicist and it’s worth taking his stuff with a grain of salt–if pointing that out rains on your parade, tough.

  21. “He accused the then-American Ambassador to Chile of being part of a plot to overthrow Allende and the NY Times apologized for it (I tried to overlook Horowitz’s typical digression into some kind of justification for our involvement in the overthrow of a democratically elected government; pathetic and cowardly lack of morality as usual).”

    Well, even the CIA now admits that they sought to “instigate a coup” (their words) to prevent Allende from taking office in 1970. This support ended in the death of Rene Shneider. Furthermore, while the CIA denies direct support of the 1973 coup, it admits that it was “aware of coup-plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and – because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970 – probably appear to condone it” (again the CIA’s own words). Furthermore the CIA reports that they were aware of and reported to “analysts and policymakers” that Pinochet, etc. “were conducting a severe campaign against leftists and perceived political enemies in the early months of the coup” (again, the CIA’s own words).

    You can find the CIA’s report on these matters on their public website at

    The 1970 coup plot was – as the Church Committee detailed – at the behest of Nixon, Kissinger and DCI Helms. According to Helms’ notes, Kissinger and Nixon were “not concerned [about the] risks involved,” and they wanted Helms to “make the economy scream.”

  22. Everything I need to know I learned from Star Trek….

    And you were obeying or disobeying
    orders the night you arranged the
    assassination of Chancellor Gorkon?

    I object -!

    I was unaware of the assassination
    until I boarded his ship!

    You deny Enterprise fired on KRONOS

    Well, I –

    You deny that your men beamed
    aboard KRONOS One and shot the

    I cannot confirm or deny actions
    which I did not witness.

    Captain Kirk, are you aware that
    under Federation law, the Captain
    of a Starship is considered
    responsible for the actions of his

    I am.

    So if it should prove members of
    your crew did in fact carry out
    such an assassination – ?

    Jim! They’re setting us up! Your
    honors, I protest-!

    The defendant will be silent!
    Captain Kirk, you will answer the

    As Captain I am responsible for the
    conduct of the crew under my

  23. Paul Z,

    …photos of the bullshit that actually did occur flying around to every PC in the world.

    Sorry, not mine. Not everyone’s a rubbernecker.

  24. Would it be ok if I ignored the “shoot the messenger” and “hey, look over there” themes, and commented on the issues?

    As these decisions were being made, and even after they’d been implemented, Rumsfeld and others in the administration were looking the American people in the face and assuring us that our armed forces would abide by the Geneva Convention in Iraq.

    Pretty much par for the course.

  25. Hum…
    via Drudge:

    “President Bush and Tony Blair are drawing up plans to speed the pullout of coalition forces from Iraq by giving it full control of its own security as soon as possible, the UK TIMES is splashing in Monday runs… Developing… “

  26. Would it be ok if I ignored the “shoot the messenger” and “hey, look over there” themes, and commented on the issues?

    Sadly, it appears that these are common themes in recent Hit & Run comments. I think it reflects an influx of right wing-nuts. Does Hit & Run have a banner add on Free Republic or something?

  27. WTF just happened on Meet the Press? I think a Bushie aid tried to cut off Colin Powell, and Powell didn’t let him.

  28. Gee Will,
    “Free Markets, Free Minds” does it ring a bell? Of course you can run the board like DU does and not allow advese comment. That’ll sharpen the rhetorical and logical skills of the Reason Crew, just allow those we agree with to post.
    Be honoured, the Wing Nuts want to debate you. Or is it that you don’t care for someone pointing out that Hersh has an agenda and that just because Seymour Hersh SAYS it doesn’t make it so.

  29. Gary Gunnels,

    The problem with “tu quoque” arguments is they cut both ways. The “conservative” who taunts that the Plame affair is the only case in which a liberal is outraged over the outing of a CIA agent is open to the response that the Plame affair is the only case in which conservatives are circling the wagon in defense of the outer. Tu quoque arguments arise, typically, in situations where BOTH sides are acting in contradiction to their professed values, and are therefore equally vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.

    They also assume, without adequate grounds (especially on a libertarian site), an opponent who belongs to the “other side” in a strictly bipolar political discourse (as the reference to Barney Franks shows). But believe it or not, not everybody is either a stereotypical mainstream “liberal” or “conservative,” living in a Crossfire universe. Ever hear of “a plague on both your houses”?

  30. So, were these the same sources that told Hersh that the CIA was responsible for KAL 007 and the Russians couldn’t possibly have known that it was a civilian airliner?

    You’ll forgive me if I just don’t take his word for stuff anymore, just because it happens to support my political opinion.

  31. Kevin Carson: well said.

    I read left and right sources; it would be fair to say I find the right more congenial on matters pertaining to foreign policy. FWIW, this is what Horowitz has posted at his site re: Hersh:

    I’m skeptical about Hersh’s latest, and await further information and discussion.


  32. If anyone wants to make the obvious points about anonymous sources and bureaucratic agendas, that’s fine. But to ignore Hersh’s assertions because he’s Hersh is to act like an ostrich. (Seems like it was only a year and a half ago that the leftists were complaining that Hersh was biased towards the Pentagon’s hawks. Oh, wait — it was a year and a half ago.)

    If this story is untrue, that would probably mean that Hersh’s intelligence sources span a really incredible yarn, which would be an interesting story in itself. (The other possibility is that Hersh just made it up, but I find that very difficult to believe.) More likely the story is basically true but we’re getting one agency’s self-interested spin on it. I won’t be surprised if, along with the Pentagon’s denials today, we eventually start seeing leaks that accept the basic elements of Hersh’s claims but try to cast them in a radically different light.

    Just a guess. We’ll see.

  33. Sandy,

    I’d thought that all we had was two “official” explanations with few observable facts available. What problems do you have with Hersh’s conjectures regarding the incident? If you can point me towards some articles on KAL 007, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

  34. Throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

  35. Ken said: So let me ask you Bush supporters out there, if torturing prisoners isn?t enough, is there anything short of the suspension of Habeas Corpus that would make you stop supporting the Bush Administration?

    Didn’t Lincoln suspend Habeas Corpus and then got re-elected? Just an observation. Good, heartfelt post, Ken.

    Douglas said: Throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

    I actually saw an end-of-the road alcoholic do that way back in the seventies. He’s long dead now. Just another observation.

  36. Not pure, Sandy — just a journalist who stakes his reputation in accuracy. Revealing code names for policies that endorsed sexual humiliation isn’t conjecture — it’s a scoop.

  37. Thanks for the link, Sandy. Very interesting. But don’t worry, I don’t take anybody’s word for anything anymore.

  38. Sandy,

    Upon reviewing that article, I notice this:

    “Osipovich insists that the jetliner was on a spy mission and that there were no civilian passengers aboard.”

    So, I think your assertion that “he knew it wasn’t a spy plane” is unsubstantiated. Obviously, he’s in denial about it now, but we don’t know if he believed it was a civilian craft at the time.

    And I don’t think Hersh asserted that the CIA was responsible for the downing, but rather that a series of miscommunications between us and them contributed to the disaster.

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