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Context of 'Late January-Mid-March 2004: President Bush Informed of Abu Ghraib Abuse, Takes No Known Action'

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In preparation for the upcoming “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After), Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, who has what he thinks are secret ambitions for the presidency (see September 21, 1974 and After), convinces President Ford to name George H. W. Bush as CIA director because of that position’s political liabilities. When Bush accepts the position, Rumsfeld says this will “sink the son of a b_tch for good.” During his Senate confirmation hearings, Bush will publicly be asked to promise that he won’t be Ford’s running mate in 1976. “Bush thought that was a total violation of his Constitutional rights,” Pete Seeley, who will become Bush’s press secretary in 1981, will recall. “He was not happy. But he was always a team player and he did as he was asked.” Bush always believes Rumsfeld planted this question. Bush will never forgive Rumsfeld for trying to sabotage his political aspirations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

President-elect George W. Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld in Washington, and offers him the position of secretary of defense. Insiders are amazed that Bush would even consider Rumsfeld, the chief of staff for former President Ford (see September 21, 1974 and After), after Rumsfeld’s open contempt and enmity towards the elder Bush, the “Team B” onslaught against the elder Bush’s CIA (see Late November 1976 and Late November, 1976), and his attempts to keep Bush off the presidential tickets in 1976 and 1980 (see Before November 4, 1975). “Real bitterness there,” a close friend of the Bush family later says. “Makes you wonder what was going through Bush 43’s head when he made [Rumsfeld] secretary of defense.” The Bush family’s great friend and fixer, James Baker, even tries to dissuade Bush from choosing Rumsfeld, telling him, “All I’m going to say is, you know what he did to your daddy.” But Bush chooses Rumsfeld anyway. Not only does Rumsfeld have a long and fruitful relationship with Vice President Cheney (see 1969), but Rumsfeld, described as always an ingratiating courtier by author Craig Unger, plays on Bush’s insecurity about his lack of experience and his desire to be an effective commander in chief. Rumsfeld is also a key element of Cheney’s long-term plan to unify power in the executive branch (see 1981-1992), to the detriment of Congress and the judiciary. [Unger, 2007, pp. 186-187]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, James A. Baker

Timeline Tags: US Military

The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agent who received the Abu Ghraib prison photographs from Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004), calls his boss, a colonel, who takes them to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. [Signal Newspaper, 7/4/2004] Within three days, a report on the photos makes its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informs President Bush, though it is not clear exactly when Bush is informed (see Late January-Mid-March 2004). [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] Within the Pentagon, few people are informed—unusually few—according to Hersh, who will later write that knowledge of the abuses were “severely, and unusually restricted.” A former intelligence official will tell him: “I haven’t talked to anybody on the inside who knew; nowhere. It’s got them scratching their heads.” Rumsfeld and his civilian staff, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and Gen. John P. Abizaid, reportedly try to suppress the issue during the first months of the year. “They foresaw major diplomatic problems,” according to a Pentagon official. [New Yorker, 5/17/2004] According to one former intelligence official, the Defense Secretary’s attitude is: “We’ve got a glitch in the program. We’ll prosecute it.” The former official explains to Seymour Hersh, “The cover story was that some kids got out of control.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, New Yorker, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Criminal Investigation Division, John P. Abizaid, Ricardo S. Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

According to journalist Seymour Hersh, “Within three days” of when army investigators are given photographs depicting Abu Ghraib prison abuse on January 13, 2004, “a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush” (see January 13-16, 2004). [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] But Rumsfeld is vague in later public testimony about just when he first informs Bush. He suggests it could have been late January or early February. He explains that he routinely met with Bush “once or twice a week… and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” But he remembers that in mid-March, he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib. But Hersh later comments that regardless of when Bush was first informed, “Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reevaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Seymour Hersh, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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