CHAIN OF COMMAND
The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
By Seymour M. Hersh
Published by: Allen Lane
Often described as the only "superpower", the United States is, in fact, a banana republic led by a coterie of mischief-makers with dark motives. Its secret services, indeed its entire government administration, leaks like a sieve. Its military is no better than Dad's Army when it comes to real fighting; and its Congress is too cowed to operate the checks-and-balances envisaged in the Constitution.
This is the picture that emerges from Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."
Made up of articles published in The New Yorker, the book's main theme is a seething hatred of George W Bush.
Sometimes it hints at interesting, even explosive information, while dwelling at length on matters of little consequence.
For example, Hersh claims that Osama bin Laden was in Tehran on 31 July 1996 to create an anti-American alliance. Elsewhere, Hersh suggests that at least one foreign government was involved in the attacks against New York and Washington in September 2001. If true, this could alter many assumptions, including those of the 9/11 Congressional Committee that ruled out any foreign government involvement. Hersh devotes just a couple of paragraph to what merits a whole book. On the other hand he devotes 11 pages to a lunch that Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official, had with Saudi businessmen, thus exposing himself to conflict of interest charges.
Hersh uses the method of medieval scholastics: first choose your belief, then seek proofs!
As soon as he has made an assertion he cites a "source" to back it. In every case this is either an un-named former official or an unidentified secret document passed to Hersh in unknown circumstances.
The "source" comes under different labels: a former CIA analyst, a former aide to someone, a person who was present at something, someone who heard it from someone else.
If Hersh talks about Syria, he immediately gets a " Syrian source"; if Germany is involved, hey presto " a German source" appears. By my count Hersh has anonymous " sources "inside 30 foreign governments and virtually every department of the US government.
Here is a typical chain of Hershian "sourcing": someone described as " a former analyst" tells Hersh of what he was told by a former colleague who heard from a former CIA official who had heard Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley telling his boss Condoleezza Rice something. The question is: why not check with Hadley or Rice?
Hersh asserts that the abuse of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad was not the result of " the criminal inclinations of a few army reservists, but in the reliance of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations and the use of coercion."
He then proceeds to " prove" this with dozens of testimonies by un-named " sources" and" top secret" papers that, if they existed, must have been stolen from the government.
But the book itself refutes Hersh's conspiracy theory.
He shows that the US army learned of abuse at Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2003. In autumn General Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ordered General Sanchez, the commander in Iraq, to investigate.
General Taguba did the investigation and reported in February 2004. Early in April an Article 3 hearing , the military equivalent of a grand jury, was held and charged several officers with abuse. It was the leaking of the army's investigation that tipped off CBS which broke " the story" on 28 April.
Had there been any order " from above" to mistreat prisoners, for reasons that Hersh does not specify, it is unlikely that the US military would have ordered an enquiry.
Since then there have been eight investigations of the charges in the Pentagon plus months of hearings at the Senate and the House of Representatives. A special enquiry headed by two former defence secretaries Harold Brown (Democrat) and James Schlesinger (Republican) has reported that there was "no policy that encouraged prisoner abuse" in Iraq.
But Hersh is not satisfied. He prefers his "alternative history".
Hersh starts his book by promising to "expose" Bush's alleged misdeeds on the basis of "documented facts" but ends up with an admission of ignorance:
"There is so much about this presidency that we don't know, and may never learn. Some of the most important questions are not even being asked."
One might wonder why Hersh does not ask those "most important questions", whatever they might be.
British journalists often claim that while they write "news", their American colleagues write "stories." Hersh shows that this may well be more than a joke by the British about their American cousins. END