Any wonder that the Bush administration wanted to supress them?
As argued in the Economist:
A few low-level American guards stupid enough to have themselves photographed torturing and humiliating prisoners have been charged. A few dozen others have been reprimanded or discharged. No intelligence officers who conducted the interrogations, nor anyone higher up the chain of command, have been charged. Official investigations have been launched. None has blamed any senior official.
J'accuse; Investigative journalism The Economist October 23, 2004
A searing critique of the Bush administration
FOR over three decades, Seymour Hersh has been a pain in the neck to American presidents and he is proving no less of one to George Bush. Mr Hersh's dogged style of investigative journalism has produced brilliant scoops—he revealed the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and this year in the New Yorker he did much to uncover the story of American torture at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. As important, his writing offers a kind of real-time alternative history to the official version of events. His latest book is a blend of articles from the New Yorker since the September 11th attacks along with new material. It makes disturbing reading. Mr Hersh portrays an administration whose top officials are not just duplicitous—a charge which can be laid against plenty of their predecessors—but gravely incompetent, blind to facts they dislike, determined to ignore advice they do not wish to hear and lamentably ignorant about large chunks of the world.
Such criticism that appears in the thick of a presidential campaign is bound to be attacked as biased, or politically motivated. Mr Hersh is not coy about his view that the Bush administration has mishandled both the war on terrorism and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the sheer quantity of detail makes the book impossible to dismiss as mere polemic. Mr Hersh's reporting is based on anonymous sources, something the Pentagon pounced on in an extraordinary press release before the book's release. Yet unlike Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, his chief American rival as an investigative journalist, Mr Hersh attributes almost every piece of information to an individual, and he describes that person's position or experience in some way. Mr Woodward's two books covering the same period, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack", have plenty of dramatic flourish and recreated conversations, and are certainly entertaining. However, the sober tone of Mr Hersh's book, the careful marshalling of evidence and constant attributions: all lend it an undeniable credibility. What is more, the author spends almost as much time quoting senior officials defending the administration's policy and actions as he does others criticising them. Readers get to hear both sides of the story.
The picture that emerges from this account is perhaps a familiar one: that of a Bush administration as much at war with itself as with al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Yet Mr Hersh's narrative is less about the battle between the Departments of State and Defence, which has been well charted, than that between the top layer of political appointees at the Pentagon and the White House and the senior and middle-ranking career officials in the military and intelligence services. If Mr Hersh is to be believed, a growing crowd of serving and retired officials despair at the blunders and the opportunities missed by Mr Bush and his closest advisers—in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the rest of al-Qaeda, in efforts at controlling nuclear proliferation, in dealings with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, and in trying to improve homeland security.
The Bush administration's response to the torture committed by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib illustrates a pattern of behaviour described again and again in Mr Hersh's book (even though only about a fifth of the book actually deals with the story of Abu Ghraib). Soon after September 11th, Mr Bush issued a secret presidential order setting up covert teams of commandos to scour the globe to capture, interrogate and kill terrorists. Such teams were authorised to operate outside the law. Mr Bush later issued an order declaring that any captured al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters would not be deemed prisoners of war covered by the Geneva Conventions, and that in the war on terror he had the right to suspend the conventions whenever he wished. Donald Rumsfeld, Mr Bush's defence secretary, expressed repeated disdain for the conventions.
Teams of lawyers within the government, most of them political appointees, formulated new legal policies that redefined torture as limited to the pain equivalent to "major organ failure or death". They argued that in any case the president, as the commander-in-chief in the war on terror, could not be bound by international treaties or federal laws forbidding torture. When interrogations of prisoners at Guantánamo yielded little in the way of intelligence, Mr Rumsfeld authorised new, harsher interrogation techniques. The general who developed these techniques was sent to Iraq, to "improve" interrogations there as well, since Iraq's insurgency was growing, and the American forces there had little knowledge of whom they were fighting. Torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib soon became routine.
Before all this became public, repeated complaints about what was happening at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo were made to senior administration officials by the International Red Cross, human-rights groups, a number of CIA and military officers, and even by a group of Pentagon lawyers. When photographs and videos of the torture at Abu Ghraib fell into the hands of Mr Hersh and an American television station last April, Mr Rumsfeld first brushed the issue aside, then professed himself shocked. Mr Bush denied all knowledge and blamed some bad apples.
A few low-level American guards stupid enough to have themselves photographed torturing and humiliating prisoners have been charged. A few dozen others have been reprimanded or discharged. No intelligence officers who conducted the interrogations, nor anyone higher up the chain of command, have been charged. Official investigations have been launched. None has blamed any senior official. Asked about the clear evidence of widespread torture, Mr Bush said simply that "the instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law." He later declared that "freedom from torture is an inalienable human right" and that the United States "remains steadfastly committed to upholding the Geneva Conventions."
It is this brazenness which amazes Mr Hersh, a man who has spent a lifetime exposing the deceptions of politicians. And yet even for such a veteran reporter, there is something puzzling, even terrifying, about Mr Bush. When he denies, or just ignores, a fact, is he lying, or does he simply say whatever he finds convenient, and then come to believe it? Mr Hersh asks the question, but he cannot answer it.
GRAPHIC: Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.