“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”
Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I.
Finally, a period of re-evaluation. Too bad it took a war crimes scandal to bring it about, and that the entire Iraqi misadventure was a criminal fraud to being with.
But here we are, with calls from Congress for the resignation of the once popular, infallible Donald Rumsfeld, and the absence of that permanent, arrogant smirk from George Bush’s face, as he disingenuously apologizes to the hitherto demonic Arab world. We are even engaged, it seems, in that most un-American activity: self-criticism.
This window of moment will not last for long, for even as we examine our policies and policy-makers, US Army snipers are peering out of minarets, picking off civilians on the bloody streets of Fallujah and Najaf, and a dozen other anonymous outposts in Iraq. So while the opportunity presents itself, let’s be quick about this, and ask the overarching question: How did we get from 9/11 to Abu Ghoryab?
From my point of view that of a literary critic the corporate media was one of several determining factors. In particular, I blame the journalists who chose not to call for restraint in the aftermath of the Twin Towers, but who filled their columns and articles not with calls for restraint, but for swift revenge. In one sense, that of impulse, theirs was a perfectly human response. But in another sense, that of reasoned logic, it was suspect for journalists are educated people, and they ought to understand the lessons of history. Many would be familiar, for example, with cautionary words with which Homer began the Iliad: “The Wrath of Achilles is my theme, that fatal wrath which, in fulfillment of the will of Zeus, brought the Achaeans so much suffering and sent the souls of many noblemen to Hades, leaving their bodies as carrion for dogs and passing birds.”
But there was no reference to “the fatal wrath” in the journals and magazines that mother our minds. Instead, the vast majority of publications incited the Bush Regime to pursue a violent course of action that, as we know in hindsight, was planned even before Bush’s pseudo-election. Fist came the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan, then the promulgation, six months before the invasion of Iraq, of “The National Security Strategy of the United States,” through which the Bush Regime conferred upon itself the divine right to devastate any nation it disliked, or had vast oil fields that it coveted. This first-degree-murder strategy made, at the time, about seventy percent of Americans feel confident that Bush was a man of resolve, with their best interests at heart.
This popular support was due, in no small part, to the constant barrage of righteous saber rattling, aimed at the malleable public, by the corporate media.
Simply stated, it was no mistake.
“You give me an incident and I’ll give you a war.”
Publisher W. R. Hearst
Of all the journalists who walk the national security beat, none is as well informed, as well connected, or as well respected as Seymour Hersh. To his credit, he has been exposing government wrongdoing since 1970, when he wrote about the My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam. His dry, detached writing style lends credence to what he reports, but and he is not alone in this respect the voices he chooses to quote are often full of passionate rhetoric, and it is through this device that he leads us to certain seemingly preconceived conclusions.
To wit: In sorting through the rubble of the World Trade Towers for leads as to how such a calamity might have occurred, Hersh interviewed a number of often anonymous sources for a 1 October 2001 article in The New Yorker. For those who do not recall the article, it contained an implicit clarion call for unleashing the CIA on Osama bin Laden and his Al Qeada accomplices.
Hersh chose to quote one anonymous “general” as saying: “We must now make a difficult transition from reliance on law enforcement to the preemptive.”
Upon reflection, is it not eerily prescient how that word “preemptive” would soon become central to Bush Administration policy?
The “general” went on to say that it was time to stop hiring “computer geeks” straight out of college, and, he implied, it was time to get some killers on the team. “This is about going back to deep, hard dirty work, with tough people going down dark alleys with good instincts,” Hersh quoted the general as saying.
However, according to Hersh’s primary sources, the CIA didn’t have any men like that anymore. The CIA was, to paraphrase Hersh’s sources, basically a bunch of palace eunuchs.
As we were told in Hersh’s October 1991 article, Bill Clinton’s CIA Director, John Deutch, was the villain who had castrated the CIA. In 1995, when a CIA employee was linked to the murder of “an American innkeeper and the Guatemalan husband of an American lawyer,” Deutch issued a “scrub order” that prevented the CIA from hiring murderers. After 9/11, this “scrub order” seemed absurd. If it takes a thief to catch a thief, then it takes a killer to kill a killer. The logic was irrefutable, and suddenly the corporate media was begging the military and the CIA to adopt the torture, detention, and assassination techniques of the Israelis and as early as October 2001, Hersh, for some reason, was helping to provide a pretext for doing exactly that.
“Today’s C.I.A. is not up to the job,” Hersh alerted us. It had “become increasingly bureaucratic and unwilling to take risks,” and under Clinton, it “promoted officers who shared such values.”
We were at risk and unable to strike back against terrorists, because the CIA had stopped putting tough agents in the field, Hersh reported, and was relying on technology and friendly foreign services to do the dirty work. He said that in the new war on terror, it was no longer feasible to assign CIA agents undercover as diplomats or cultural attaches at American embassies in major cities. Having said that, he drew a blueprint of exactly what was to come: “in Afghanistan,” he said, “or anywhere in the Middle East or South Asia, a C.I.A. operative would have to speak the local language and be able to blend in. The operative should seemingly have nothing to do with any Americans, or with the American embassy, if there is one. The status is known inside the agency as “nonofficial cover,” or NOC. Exposure could mean death.”
Is this not a recipe for the type of “contractors” who flooded Iraq after the invasion and occupation? The only difference is that a CIA agent under “non-official cover” is no longer referred to as a NOC, but as an OGA, for Other Government Agency.
Before I continue to put in context the persuasive impact of what Hersh said two and half years ago, when he was prodding America to unleash its dogs of war, let me remind you that the agents who drew the CIA into the line of fire over the systematic use of torture at Abu Ghoryab prison as a result, ironically, of Hersh’s most recent “explosive” article in The New Yorker were two individuals who fit the “nonofficial cover” bill exactly: Mr. John Israel, a contract US civilian interpreter, working for the company CACI, and ostensibly attached to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade; and Mr. Steven Stephanowicz, a contract US civilian interrogator, also working for CACI, but not attached to Military Intelligence, and certainly working for the CIA.
The whereabouts of Messrs. Stephanowicz and Israel are currently unknown, and CACI doesn’t have to tell, because: 1) as we are told by Hersh, “Exposure could mean death,” and 2) because, their trail leads to the CIA people who hired them; and the one thing Bush cannot accept, is having heroic a CIA agent brought up on a murder rap.
Try, if you can, to imagine a trial by jury, or tribunal, in which a CIA officer was sentenced to death for killing an Iraqi civilian.
Then come quickly to your senses, and realize that CIA officers have a license to kill, just as Army snipers can assassinate Iraqi civilians with impunity. The fact is, the war crime of murder is not punishable by death under the Bush Regime, for it was the Bush Regime that lifted all the moral and legal restraints on its soldiers and spies in the first place. So far, murdering Iraqis carries with it only a less than honorable discharges.
Speaking of dishonorable discharges, the press was crying for blood in the days after 9/11, and fruitcakes like svelte Ann Coulter were calling anyone who wasn’t a “traitor!” In this respect, Seymour Hersh was running out in front of the pack. On 1 October 2001, he asked the “hard” (overarching is a better word) question about the “lengths the C.I.A. should go to.” As a suggestion, he referred to a tactic used by the Jordanians against the horrible terrorist Abu Nidal. “The Jordanians did not move directly against suspected Abu Nidal followers but seized close family members instead-mothers and brothers. The Abu Nidal suspect would be approached, given a telephone, and told to call his mother, who would say, according to one C.I.A. man, “Son, they’ll take care of me if you don’t do what they ask.” As Hersh reported the official added. “You have to get their families under control.”
It was rising to that level of savagery, the CIA man said, “or sitting around making diversity quilts.”
So much for family values.
Seriously, the power of suggestion is one of the subtlest tools a journalist can use to provoke a preconceived response from a reader. Which raises the question: might one of the murder suspects at Abu Ghoryab have read Hersh’s article and taken the anonymous CIA officer’s advice literally? Probably not. Or is it possible that the big brains at CIA Central read Hersh’s article and decided to employ Jordanian tactics? Very unlikely. Or is it possible that the CIA had already decided on this course of action, and was using Hersh (unwittingly, of course) as part of a psychological warfare, “black propaganda” campaign to put the American people in the proper, bloodthirsty frame of mind?
Just to remind everyone, Vice-President Dick Cheney defended CIA Director George Tenet after Hersh broke the Abu Ghoryab scandal, and said that Tenet had Bush’s “full confidence.” This is important to note, for it establishes the chain of command, which leads from Bush, through Cheney, through Tenet, to the CIA people who did hire Messrs. Stephanowicz and Israel; and even more to the point, it illustrates how policies made by Bush and company flow through the corporate media to the public, and become directly responsible for the kidnapping, illegal detention, torture, rape and murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraqi.
Seymour and the Circle Jerk
None of this preemptive policy making would have been possible without popular support, and garnering that precious commodity is the responsibility of the corporate media. People like Seymour Hersh, who on 1 October 2001 explained that the hunt for bin Laden had been hampered because the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center “was not authorized to recruit or handle agents overseas.” Perhaps, he seemed to be suggesting, 9/11 would not have occurred if the CT Center had had such an authorization? This is a suggestion that, if true, would not sit well in any patriotic reader’s subconscious mind.
Hersh then chose to cite former CIA officer Robert Baer, an avid supporting for unleashing the CIA, who heaped praise on former CIA officer Duane Clarridge for running the CT Center properly under Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director, William Casey. This was in the mid-1980s, when mining foreign ports and forming death squads was permitted. But, Hersh tells us, Clarridge was eventually fired because the things he was doing were “too risky.”
Hersh, however, did not choose to use the word “illegal” to describe what Clarridge did, nor did he choose to mention that Clarridge, who may be one of his anonymous sources, was indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, but pardoned by lame duck President G. H. W Bush in December 1992.
It’s also important to know that Hersh, in a 20 December 2001 article for The New Yorker, reported that Duane Clarridge, along with General Wayne Downing (“who ran a Special Forces command during the Gulf War,” and was a nominee to head the Office of Homeland Security), had helped Ahmad Chalabi draw up an attack plan for Iraq. Chalabi, of course, is the discredited leader of the Iraqi National Congress (and mentor to New York Times reporter Judy Miller), upon whose word the Bush Regime based many of its claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
With this piece of information, a link is established between Hersh’s sources and the nation’s policy makers. We know that he has access to them, and that he disseminates their plans and strategies, in a context that subtly tends to support them
In this same December 2001 article, Hersh claims that in 1998, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, along with Richard Perle and the “Iraq Hawks” in the Bush Regime Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Feith urged Clinton to support Chalabi’s insurgents. Ironically, Hersh also says that in 2001, Perle and Woolsey “inspired a surge of articles and columns calling for the extension of the Afghan war into Iraq.”
Again, Hersh is careful in what he doesn’t say. For example, former CIA Director (and unofficial “black propaganda” minister) R. James Woolsey was, in 1985, one of seven directors of the Titan Corporation. In 2002, Titan employed Adel Nakhla, who was assigned by Titan as a civilian translator to the 205th MI Brigade. Notably, Nakhla is named as a “suspect” in the Taguba Report, which Seymour Hersh analyzed and then presented to the public in an article for The New Yorker, even before the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff had, by his own account, had a chance to read it.1
Curiously, this writer knows of one former CIA contract officer who, before joining the Titan Corporation, worked as a Phoenix Coordinator in Vietnam in 1967. This same individual served in 1974 as a congressional liaison officer for CIA officer Donald Gregg. As Vice-President George H. W. Bush’s National Security Advisor, Gregg helped to create the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center under Duane Clarridge in 1986. Gregg had managed the Phoenix Program in III Corps in Vietnam in 1970.
This unstated connection to the Phoenix Program, which was a major factor in the May Lai Massacre, is also significant in understanding what Hersh wants us to infer from his articles on national security issues. Specifically, as Hersh informed us in a December 2003 article in The New Yorker (titled “MOVING TARGETS: Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?”), the CIA had formed a new Special Forces group, designated Task Force 121, to neutralize Baathist insurgents, by capture or assassination. According to Hersh, many of the anonymous officials he interviewed for his article feared that the new operation, called “preëmptive manhunting” by one of them, had “the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program.”
“Phoenix,” Hersh went on to say, without mentioning the CIA, “was the code name for a counter-insurgency program that the U.S. adopted during the Vietnam War, in which Special Forces teams were sent out to capture or assassinate Vietnamese believed to be working with or sympathetic to the Vietcong. In choosing targets, the Americans relied on information supplied by South Vietnamese Army officers and village chiefs.”
What Hersh omits from his description of Phoenix, is that the CIA officers who managed the program relied for their information not on “South Vietnamese Army officers and village chiefs,” but on their own unilateral assassination squads, and a gulag archipelago of secret interrogation centers manned by members of the South Vietnamese secret police and contract CIA officers, like the individual who supplied the blacklist for the village of My Lai. Had Hersh included this most important piece of information, the public’s attention would have been directed towards the CIA’s interrogation practices, and the location and operations of its existing secret interrogation centers in Iraq. But the scandal at Abu Ghoryab, although then well known to insiders, would not have been a sensational scoop.
The Phoenix Program “got out of control,” Hersh reported. “According to official South Vietnamese statistics, Phoenix claimed nearly forty-one thousand victims between 1968 and 1972; the U.S. counted more than twenty thousand in the same time span. Some of those assassinated had nothing to do with the war against America but were targeted because of private grievances. William E. Colby, the C.I.A. officer who took charge of the Phoenix Program in 1968 (he eventually became C.I.A. director), later acknowledged to Congress that “a lot of things were done that should not have been done.”
Two things require our attention here. First, why has no one in the press, or Congress, devoted the same degree of attention to the CIA’s death squads roaming around Iraq, as they have to the Abu Ghoryab scandal? We know from CNN’s David Ensor that ” An Iraqi prisoner who died in November while being interrogated by a CIA officer and contract translator arrived at Abu Ghraib (sic) prison with “broken ribs and breathing difficulties” after being arrested by Navy SEALs, U.S. officials said Thursday. Unnamed Pentagon officials were quoted Wednesday saying the man had been delivered to the prison in “good health.”
We know from Hersh that Phoenix is policy in Iraq, and that it got out of control in Vietnam. We also know that Navy SEALs are one of CIA’s primary unilateral facets of its Phoenix-style Program in Iraq but there’s no accounting for the number of Iraqis killed, abducted or tortured through the Program. Why not? Why not reporting in it? Must we wait for some Navy SEL to be brought up on murder charges first?
The other thing that would be helpful to understand, in analyzing Hersh’s reporting, is the nature of his relationship with William Colby. It is believed that they formed a rapport in 1974, while Colby was director of the CIA. At the time, Hersh had learned of the existence of documents connecting the CIA to Operation Chaos, which, under CIA Counter-Intelligence chief James Angleton, spied on tens of thousands of US citizens. As the story was about to break, Angleton offered to tell Hersh of other CIA misdeeds if he “would hold off on the (Chaos) story.” According to historian John Prados, Hersh immediately warned Colby that Angleton “was off the reservation.” What Colby said in response is unknown, but from that moment on, Hersh seemed to have entered into a quid-pro-quo with the upper echelons of the underground agency.
As Reeky used to say to Loocy, “You got a lot of ‘splaining to do,” Mr. Hersh.
The Company Man
According to Seymour Hersh, Titan Corporation Director, former CIA Director, and unofficial “black propaganda” minister R. James Woolsey was satisfied with an unstable but “loosely federalized democracy” in Iraq, the type that Chalabi and Clarridge recommended, while Pentagon planners wanted a plan that included “feasibility.”
Guess which one we got?
Not that it matters. Iraq doesn’t need to be “free” in the sense that US citizens understand the word. They aren’t free from unreasonable searches or arrests. As any “radical cleric” will tell you, they certainly aren’t free to criticize their overlords.
The plan doesn’t matter, as any “Iraq Hawk” in the Bush Regime will tell you, nor does this month’s “explosive” story about the multiplicity of American military atrocities in Iraq. There are so many other buried stories, one can only guess at the extent of the war crimes that have, and are being committed. Which leads us to the conclusion that once the Hawks had invaded and occupied Iraq, the only thing they really needed was an unbridled CIA now totally over 500 officers with its own secret detention and interrogation facilities, and assassination squads, and, most importantly, control over the information that reaches the Iraqi and American public.
Taking care of business in Iraq is Harris Inc., “a Florida-based communications company that won a $96 million Pentagon contract in January to develop the media” in Iraq, according to Lee Keath of the Associated Press (5/3/2004). Until recently, Harris ran the Al-Iraqiya newspaper and a number of radio stations. The CIA made sure to take over all media outlets in Iraq during the invasion, and when it thought that the dust had settled, it allowed American corporations to take over the management of what was left, with one notable exception. That exception was a newspaper run by the “radical cleric” Muqtada Al-Sadr, who had the balls to vehemently opposed the American occupation of his homeland most likely as a result of the US policy of illegal detention and torture of Iraqi civilians in Abu Ghoryab prison, and the disappearances (unsolved murders) of several hundred if not thousand more. So US Proconsul Paul Bremer shut down his presses, thus inciting Muqtada and the Mehdi Fedayeen into open rebellion.
Inspired by Muqtada, the Iraqi figurehead publisher at the Harris-managed Al-Iraqiya newspaper quit, and said that “he was taking almost his entire staff with him because of American interference in the publication.”
If only such a publisher and staff existed in America!
Instead we have a media represented by Seymour Hersh, whose sophisticated and well-written “scoops” keep us on our toes, waiting for the next shoe to drop, while the revolution saunters by.
Hersh, of course, isn’t to blame for America’s preemptive strategy for fighting the phantom war on terror. That is a projection of our president’s sadistic personality, and his message of hatred that appeals to what is perverse in American culture of knowingly doing what is wrong, for the sake of power over others, but denying it to one’s self. In this way Bush’s immorality has, in the name of righteous sake, been adopted by the soldiers and spooks he has sent to fight a war on behalf of giant corporations.
As Gilbert Achcar explained in a fine article in CounterPunch, the “middle does not link the bottom with the top” of American society. That’s the job of Company Men like Seymour Hersh. In this way, policy made by a ruling elite trickles down without the responsibility that should accompany it. Even though Bush let the dogs out, others of inconsequence will pay for his war crimes. And therein lies the tragedy of this tale.
DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968, is newly published by Verso. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at www.DouglasValentine.com and http://members.authorsguild.net/valentine