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In a secret memo, Gen. George Casey, Jr., director of the US military’s Joint Staff, warns Gen. Michael DeLong at Central Command (Centcom) that the “CIA has advised that the techniques the military forces are using to interrogate high value detainees (HVDs)… are more aggressive than the techniques used by CIA who is [sic] interviewing the same HVDs.” DeLong replies to Casey that the techniques being used are “doctrinally appropriate techniques” in line with Army regulations and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s direction. (Hersh 6/17/2007) It will later come out that the CIA was using techniques on these detainees widely considered to be torture, such as waterboarding. But little is known about military treatment of these detainees or the techniques they used.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner asks Pentagon officials to testify before his committee. The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, briefs the committee behind closed doors. Expressing anger at the fact he was not informed earlier of problems at Abu Ghraib, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, says: “Accountability is essential. So the question for me is, what did Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Pentagon know, when did they know it and what did they do about it?” Biden says in a statement. “If the answers are unsatisfactory, resignations should be sought,” referring to Rumsfeld and others. (CNN 5/5/2004)
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says that the violence in Iraq has reached the point of civil war and that his country is nearing a “point of no return.” Allawi, who leads a 25-member coalition of representatives in the Iraqi National Assembly, says: “It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people through the country, if not more.” Answering claims that Iraq is not locked in such a conflict, Allawi says, “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.” General George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, contradicts Allawi, claiming, “We’re a long way from civil war.” Vice President Dick Cheney, part of an administration that is marking the three-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces (see March 19, 2003) by presenting a unified front, echoes Casey’s remarks, and adds that the war must be viewed in a broader context. “It’s not just about Iraq, it’s not about just today’s situation in Iraq,” he says. “It’s about where we’re going to be 10 years from now in the Middle East and whether or not there’s going to be hope and the development of the governments that are responsive to the will of the people, that are not a threat to anyone, that are not safe havens for terror or manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction.” Cheney blames the news media for the perception that the war is going badly: “I think it has less to do with the statements we’ve made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there’s a constant sort of perception, if you will, that’s created because what’s newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad,” he says. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compares the Iraq war to the two great conflicts of his generation, World War II and the Cold War. “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis,” he writes in an op-ed published by the Washington Post. “It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination.” (Sanger and Shanker 3/19/2006)
A committee made up of ministers and politicians from the main Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish blocs begins final negotiations on a proposed oil law that will govern the development of Iraq’s oil sector. The latest draft of the oil law was completed several months ago (see July 2006). While Iraqi legislators have yet to see law, it has already been reviewed by the US government and major oil companies (see July 2006), as well as the International Monetary Fund (see September 2006). According to the New York Times, “Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander here, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, have urged Iraqi politicians to put the oil law at the top of their agendas, saying it must be passed before the year’s end.” The major issue of contention concerns how oil revenue will be distributed. Most Sunni communities are located in provinces where there is little or no oil. Consequently, they are arguing that revenue should be controlled by the central government and then distributed equitably among Iraq’s provinces. Their position is supported by the Shiites. But the Kurds, who live in the oil-rich north, strongly disagree arguing that the constitution guarantees the regions absolute authority in those matters. (Wong 12/9/2006)
In its final report, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommends significant changes to Iraq’s oil industry. The report’s 63rd recommendation states that the US should “assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise” and “encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.” The recommendation also says the US should “provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law.” (Iraq Study Group 2006, pp. 57 ) The report makes a number of recommendations about the US occupation of Iraq, including hints that the US should consider moving towards a tactical withdrawal of forces from that beleaguered nation. President Bush’s reaction to the report is best summed up by his term for the report: a “flaming turd.” Bush’s scatological reaction does not bode well for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s own hopes that the administration will use the ISG report as a template for revising its approach to Iraq. This does not happen. Instead, Vice President Dick Cheney organizes a neoconservative counter to the ISG’s recommendations, led by the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan. Kagan and his partner, retired general Jack Keane, quickly formulate a plan to dramatically escalate the number of US troops in Iraq, an operation quickly termed “the surge” (see January 10, 2007). The only element of the ISG report that is implemented in the Bush administration’s operations in Iraq is the label “a new way forward,” a moniker appropriated for the surge of troops. Administration officials such as Rice and the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, quickly learn to swallow their objections and get behind Bush’s new, aggressive strategy; military commanders who continue to support elements of the ISG recommendations, including CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid and ground commander General George Casey, are either forced into retirement (Abizaid) or shuttled into a less directly influential position (Casey). (Blumenthal 1/10/2007)
In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. (USA Today 1/5/2007; Wolfson 1/5/2007)
General George Casey, the outgoing commander of US forces in Iraq, faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic Senators during his testimony before the Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tells Casey that “things have gotten markedly and progressively worse” during Casey’s 2 1/2-year tenure, “and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating. I regret that our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.” Casey is slated to become the Army Chief of Staff. McCain, a strong supporter of the “surge” of US forces into Iraq, has proposed a Senate resolution including stringent benchmarks to gauge the progress of the Iraqi government and military. McCain’s resolution and other nonbinding, bipartisan proposals that would express varying degrees of disapproval of Bush’s plan will soon be debated on the Senate floor. (Washington Post 2/2/2007)
Admiral William J. Fallon takes over the United States Central Command (Centcom), replacing the retiring General John P. Abizaid. Fallon, a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot, formerly led the US Pacific Command (Pacom). Fallon now commands the US forces throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, and is in charge of strategic and tactical operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon is the first naval officer to command Centcom. Fallon was nominated for the position by President Bush in January, and was easily confirmed by the Senate in February. (Baker 3/16/2007)
Fallon In Place to Oversee Strike on Iran? - Many observers see Fallon’s new command as a sign that the Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Fallon’s position is not a promotion, but a lateral transfer—as commander of Pacom, he actually commanded more forces than he does at Centcom, and Fallon will not have the direct control of the forces in Iraq, which remain under the day-to-day command of General David Petraeus. Fallon is a naval officer, with no real experience in commanding large numbers of ground troops, but a great deal of experience in commanding and deploying carrier groups. Centcom’s primary responsibility is on the ground, battling insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nation’s Michael Klare observes, “If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you’d want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that’s not on the agenda, if you’re thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you’d want at Centcom.” Fallon’s experience is in air and naval operations, the kind of operations that would lead any US strikes against Iran. (Klare 1/10/2007) Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang says of Fallon’s appointment, “It makes very little sense that a person with [Fallon’s naval] background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially ‘ground’ wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character. The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign.” (Unger 3/2007)
Fallon Won't Countenance Attack on Iran - However, other events indicate Fallon may not be as gung-ho for a war with Iran as some now perceive. In February, Fallon privately expressed his opposition to the proposed increase of US carrier groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three, and told administration officials an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch” (see February 2007).
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” (Alexander 11/30/2008)
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