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War stories (continued)

Q: Is the Abu Ghraib story drawing to a close?

A: [Laughs] Sure, it is. Itís one of the great successes of the Bush administration. They had a bunch of phony-baloney investigations, and they were all leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post in the week before the Republican convention. And then John Warnerís Senate Armed Services Committee had hearings. Hereís how they have hearings: the guys who wrote the report come in and talk about it with senators who havenít read it until that morning or havenít read it at all. Thereís no investigation of the procedures involved. The only report worth its salt was the first one by [Major General Antonio] Taguba, which said, right away, this all started in Afghanistan, and itís much bigger.

The men and women who abused prisoners ó like Chip Frederick and Lynndie England ó are certainly guilty of horrible behavior. But let me say something. We send our children to war. When we do, the officers in charge of them are in loco parentis. Theyíre there not only to protect them from bullets and bombs and mines. There is nothing as stupid and as dangerous as an 18- or 21-year-old kid with a weapon in a war zone, and the officers are there to protect them from themselves. But these people could do what they did for three or four months, and it got stopped when? It got stopped in January of this year, when one of the kids involved produced a CD-ROM.

We know now ó the record is very clear ó that [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld hears about it within a week, and he tells the president. By the middle of January, everybody knows. What happens over the next four months? Nada. Until I and CBS produce pictures, and I produce the investigation, and the story blows sky high. So for those three and a half to four months, did the president of the United States or Rumsfeld or Cheney say, "Oh my God, this is outrageous, letís clean it up"? No. They said and did nothing. After it got to be a public issue, they announced they were going to name a new general to run Abu Ghraib, and they began the prosecution of seven or eight of the GIs in the photos ó I call them the bad seeds. If you think thatís all there is to this, forget it. Itís a lot more complicated. The mistreatment of prisoners began within the first month of the war, and was never stopped, and was known to the highest command. Thatís what I wrote my book about.

There is a special unit that was set up by Rumsfeld in December 2001 or January 2002, I donít know the exact date. Theyíve been "disappearing" people for three years. I wrote this first for the New Yorker, and I added much more detail in the book. Reporters from major newspapers have told me independently that theyíve learned quite a bit about it, but nobodyís managed to write about it yet. We were snatching and running, grabbing anyone around the world Rumsfeld thought was possibly knowledgeable of 9/11, throwing them into Egypt or Singapore, getting their information. And that policy was brought into Abu Ghraib. Itís a scandal that newspapers havenít picked up more on it. Planes still flying. The people involved are not identified as Americans ó they carry foreign passports, and the aircraft is unmarked. The planes stopped flying from May to the middle of June, after the Abu Ghraib story broke, and it started again by July. Bush got away with it. Score one for the propaganda machine.

Q: Youíre a reporter, not a policymaker. But if you had to offer some advice on how to wage the war on terrorism more effectively, what would it be?

A: Youíve got to go back to work on the Middle East, on being an interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians. Go back to square one. If Bush is re-elected, I think one of the things the Europeans will do is, theyíll set up another group whose whole purpose will be to combat the United States, because they really donít like us. They really donít like us, particularly the Germans and the French. And I think one of the things theyíll do is start talking about developing their own solution to the Middle East. I can guarantee that thereíll be a sense that they have to mobilize against America. Theyíve had it with Bush, big time.

Q: You raise a question in Chain of Command that strikes me as incredibly important ó but unless Iím mistaken, you pose it rhetorically. Hereís how you put it: "The FBI, the CIA, and the other intelligence agencies have yet to effectively address what may be the most important challenge of September 11th: How does an open society deal with warnings of future terrorism?" Whatís the answer?

A: Itís a complicated question, and Iíve thought a lot about it. One of the things is, you do really have an obligation to play a leadership role with the American people. As traumatic as 9/11 was, you have to make it clear that it doesnít simply justify anything. We were hit grievously, but other countries have suffered terrorism as well ó and one reason we were hit grievously is that we were unprepared for this kind war. We have to improve our capability, which has happened. Whether Bush has done badly or not, we are better prepared because weíre more vigilant. Also, donít use fear, as the Bush administration did, as a political device. You really have to tell Americans, terrorism is here to stay, weíre not immune, but we donít think Al Qaeda is buried in every city and town. But the administration did none of that ó they just evoked fear and terror, and thatís what theyíre doing in the campaign now. Thatís what Iíd do for starters. Work on the rhetoric.

Adam Reilly can be reached at areilly[a]phx.com

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Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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