Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Lauren Weinstein
Report: "Rumsfeld and Rice Approved; Bush Knew"

Greetings. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, who exposed so many aspects of the Iraqi prisoner abuse story, now reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice secretly approved the expansion of a clandestine program that encouraged physical coercion, sexual humiliation, and blackmail of Iraqi prisoners, setting the stage for the abuses that these same officials have recently been condemning so publicly.

According to the report, President Bush was kept informed regarding this program. The Department of Defense called the accusations in the story "outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture."

How accepted is this view in the US now?


It's only accepted among crackpots and lunatics. There is plenty of reason to dislike the Bush admin, but this falls right into the Michael Moore/Al Franken/Ann Coulter-camp of playing loose with the facts to further an agenda. Don't stoop to their level.

THE war against terrorism is a fraud. After three weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan.

Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorised by the most powerful - to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious "military" targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees.

Unlike the relentless pictures from New York, we are seeing almost nothing of this. George Bush and Tony Blair have yet to tell us what the violent death of children - seven in one family - has to do with Osama bin Laden.

And why are cluster bombs being used? The public should know about these bombs, which the RAF also uses. They spray hundreds of bomblets that have only one purpose; to kill and maim people. Those that do not explode lie on the ground like landmines, waiting for people to step on them.

If ever a weapon was designed specifically for acts of terrorism, this is it. I have seen the victims of American cluster weapons in other countries, such as the Laotian toddler who picked one up and had her right leg and face blown off. Be assured this is now happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, in your name.

None of those directly involved in the September 11 atrocity was Afghani. Most were Saudis, who apparently did their planning and training in Germany and the United States.

The camps which the Taliban allowed bin Laden to use were emptied weeks ago. Moreover, the Taliban itself is a creation of the Americans and the British. In the 1980s, the tribal army that produced them was funded by the CIA and trained by the SAS to fight the Russians.

The hypocrisy does not stop there. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives of the oil company, Unocal.

WITH secret US government approval, the company offered them a generous cut of the profits of the oil and gas pumped through a pipeline that the Americans wanted to build from Soviet central Asia through Afghanistan.

A US diplomat said: "The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did." He explained that Afghanistan would become an American oil colony, there would be huge profits for the West, no democracy and the legal persecution of women. "We can live with that," he said.

Although the deal fell through, it remains an urgent priority of the administration of George W. Bush, which is steeped in the oil industry.

Bush's concealed agenda is to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin, the greatest source of untapped fossil fuel on earth and enough, according to one estimate, to meet America's voracious energy needs for a generation. Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans hope to control it.

So, not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is now referring to "moderate" Taliban, who will join an American-sponsored "loose federation" to run Afghanistan. The "war on terrorism" is a cover for this: a means of achieving American strategic aims that lie behind the flag-waving facade of great power.

The Royal Marines, who will do the real dirty work, will be little more than mercenaries for Washington's imperial ambitions, not to mention the extraordinary pretensions of Blair himself.

Having made Britain a target for terrorism with his bellicose "shoulder to shoulder" with Bush nonsense, he is now prepared to send troops to a battlefield where the goals are so uncertain that even the Chief of the Defence Staff says the conflict "could last 50 years".

The irresponsibility of this is breathtaking; the pressure on Pakistan alone could ignite an unprecedented crisis across the Indian sub-continent. I am always struck by the absurdity of effete politicians eager to wave farewell to young soldiers, but who themselves would not say boo to a Taliban goose.

In the days of gunboats, our imperial leaders covered their violence in the "morality" of their actions. Blair is no different. Like them, his selective moralising omits the most basic truth. Nothing justified the killing of innocent people in America on September 11, and nothing justifies the killing of innocent people anywhere else.

By killing innocents in Afghanistan and iraq, Blair and Bush stoop to the level of the criminal outrage in New York. Once you cluster bomb, "mistakes" and "blunders" are a pretence. Murder is murder, regardless of whether you crash a plane into a building or order and collude with it from the Oval Office and Downing Street.

If Blair was really opposed to all forms of terrorism, he would get Britain out of the arms trade. On the day of the twin towers attack, an "arms fair", selling weapons of terror (like cluster bombs and missiles) to assorted tyrants and human rights abusers, opened in London's Docklands with the full backing of the Blair government.

If he really wanted to demonstrate "the moral fibre of Britain", Blair would do everything in his power to lift the threat of violence in those parts of the world where there is great and justifiable grievance and anger.

He would do more than make gestures; he would demand that Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestine and withdraw to its borders prior to the 1967 war, as ordered by the Security Council, of which Britain is a permanent member.

HE would call for an end to the genocidal blockade which the UN - in reality, America and Britain - has imposed on the suffering people of Iraq for more than a decade, causing the deaths of half a million children under the age of five.

That's more deaths of infants every month than the number killed in the World Trade Center.

There are signs that Washington is about to extend its current "war" in Iraq; yet unknown to most of us, almost every day RAF and American aircraft already bomb Iraq. There are no headlines. There is nothing on the TV news. This terror is the longest-running Anglo-American bombing campaign since World War Two.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the US and Britain faced a "dilemma" in Iraq, because "few targets remain". "We're down to the last outhouse," said a US official. That was two years ago, and they're still bombing. The cost to the British taxpayer? £800million so far.

According to an internal UN report, covering a five-month period, 41 per cent of the casualties are civilians. In northern Iraq,a woman whose husband and four children were among the deaths listed in the report. He was a shepherd, who was tending his sheep with his elderly father and his children when two planes attacked them, each making a sweep. It was an open valley; there were no military targets nearby.

"I want to see the pilot who did this," said the widow at the graveside of her entire family. For them, there was no service in St Paul's Cathedral with the Queen in attendance; no rock concert with Paul McCartney.

THE tragedy of the Iraqis, and the Palestinians, and the Afghanis is a truth that is the very opposite of their caricatures in much of the Western media.

Far from being the terrorists of the world, the overwhelming majority of the Islamic peoples of the Middle East and south Asia have been its victims - victims largely of the West's exploitation of precious natural resources in or near their countries.

There is no war on terrorism. If there was, the Royal Marines and the SAS would be storming the beaches of Florida, where more CIA-funded terrorists, ex-Latin American dictators and torturers, are given refuge than anywhere on earth.

There is, however, a continuing war of the powerful against the powerless, with new excuses, new hidden agendas, new lies. Before another child dies violently, or quietly from starvation, before new fanatics are created in both the east and the west, it is time for the people of Britain and usa to make their voices heard and to stop this fraudulent war - and to demand the kind of bold, imaginative non-violent initiatives that require real political courage.

The other day, the parents of Greg Rodriguez, a young man who died in the World Trade Center, said this: "We read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us.

"It is not the way to go...not in our son's name."

Eh, I am not so sure. Much stranger things have happened. And I wonder if a government that is unable to hold their soldiers to a minimum of moral standards is really all that much better than a government who tries to get away with abusive policies.

A new Guardian article is up about videotaped abuse at Guantanamo. (Older interviews with released detainees here and here show that the recent Abu Ghuraib abuses didn't seem at all out of character given what the Americans were up to in Guantanamo)

Seems like a systematic thing across the various American gulags in Iraq, Cuba, Afghanistan. Although given the fact that the entire facility at Guantanamo is a gross breach of rights (what the heck is an "illegal combatant"?) it's not that surprising.

And one only has to traipse over to the right-wing blogs like Jeff Jarvis or Instapundit to see that back in the Homeland there is a definite effort to play down the abuse story. Jarvis was calling people "Sand Nazis" recently, a clear slur meant to invoke Sand Nigger while covering his butt from accusations of racism. Sad to see such people turning up at blogger meetups.

I heard a guard talking into his radio, "ERF, ERF, ERF," and I knew what was coming - the Extreme Reaction Force. The five cowards, I called them - five guys running in with riot gear. They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting; in all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed. They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.'

Tarek Dergoul, a British citizen born and brought up in east London and released without charge after almost two years at Guantanamo Bay, was describing one of many alleged assaults he says he suffered in American custody.

Full story at the Observer

If these are such dangerous people, howcome no charges? No trial?

"How accepted is this view in the US now?"

This assumes people are thinking in the US. Come here and listen to AM radio if you want to hear how fascism takes root in a democracy.

Well, Seymour Hersh is NOT some kind of crackpot unknown to Americans. And TalkLeft updates that there are quite a lot of people writing about this story.

President Bush is at an all-time low in his numbers. This probably won't help.

Seymour Hersch has amazing credentials and, since the late 1960s, has been right. He is very careful about sources.

On the other hand the administration's credentials for honesty are rather weak.

I would give Hersch 100:1 odds on being right.

It's the top story on National Public Radio this morning.

First, Seymour Hersch is not always right. He's been wrong, fabulously wrong, on a number of occasions and has made some pretty wild statements. Do a google search and you'll see he isn't always dead on.

But in this case, I suspect he is. The reason is not that he is a good reporter, but that he is getting fed good intelligence.

Hersch didn't "discover" the prisoner abuse story--it came to him sealed with a bow. It was a Pentagon report, and photos in Pentagon custody that made up most of his reporting. He merely had to be able to read what others had dug up before him.

What I think is the real issue, the more interesting political story, is "who is out to get Rumsfeld?" Of course damn near every left-winger, liberal, Democrat and even a few moderate Republicans, but there is someone else out there trying to poison the well. Who is that? Someone very close. Someone on the inside apparently. That's what I really want to know.

Despite all the hatred of Rumsfeld from some quarters, it must be remembered that pre-9/11 the Pentagon was in an insane and vicious fight over the "Reform" plan that Rumsfeld had presented, and what it would mean for a number of "big ticket" defense projects. Many new ships and fighters would be scrapped, and other systems would come into favor as we saw a "new" military structure (rather than our post-Russia heavy division force that is in place now). These battles are well-documented and there is a lot of bad blood between the Military Industrical Complex - The Established Military - and Rumsfeld and his reforming crowd. Somebody definitely has it out for him and it isn't because of the "usual" reasons that most people hate him.

And then there's Colin Powell, Mr. Super-leak....enough said.

It will be interesting to watch it play out. On my Iraq site ( I have a poll running on whether or not he should or should not resign and whether or not he will or will not. Despite being split 50-50 on whether he should, it's pretty much unanimous that he won't. Kind of interesting...

I believe Seymour Hirsh. I don't believe Rumsfeld or Cambone. I think Cambone's role will be made clearer as the story develops.

I also think it's pretty funny putting Ann Coulter in the same bag with Michael Moore and Al Franken. Now there's a catfight I'd pay good money to see (and I'm a Frankenfan).

The Hersh story is getting serious play in the US, he's been right the past two weeks, constantly breaking the story further, and he does have an potent history having broke the My Lai massacre story in Vietnam.

What isn't getting taken too seriously is the hyperbole found in the post you link too, echoed in the headline of this post. Hersh focus in on Rumsfeld and other top generals, with only the slightest hints toward White House involvement. Which doesn't mean they weren't involved, just that Hersh doesn't feel he has the evidence to print hard accusations yet.

So Bush is still protected, no evidence points to him, as usual in this White House. But Rumsfeld? he's probably browsing Craig's List help wanted ads right now....

The Pentagon is denying the report. My guess is this will become too complicated for most Americans to care about. Saddam Hussein destroyed the World Trade Center, remember?

Thank you for your non-US viewpoints, Joi.

The Pentagon is denying the report. My guess is this will become too complicated for most Americans to care about. Saddam Hussein destroyed the World Trade Center, remember?

Thank you for your non-US viewpoints, Joi.

While I can certainly appreciate your non-US viewpoint, I can't help but wonder at your lack of outrage (published outrage, that is...) at the brutal Berg beheading. Did I miss it?

hey, look, over there, there's a rather extraneous talking point to misdirect the convo towards!

Nelson: the Pentagon is *not* denying the report. Its actually a classic evasive non denial:

"Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita issued a statement calling the claims 'outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture.'"

Which at first glance sounds like a denial, but its not. "Outlandish" doesn't mean its not true.
"conspriratorial" does not mean its not true.
"anonymous conjecture" does not mean its not true.
and "filled with error" just means that there are errors in the article, it does not mean the substance of Hirsh's charges are not true.

And since the Pentagon hasn't issued a *substantive* denial, one probably should assume that Hersh is onto something...

The Berg beheading was disgusting. But I'm afraid it's nothing compared the destruction that the US has brought on Iraq and it's people. Iraq was not a threat to the US security - turns out they nothing to do with 911 (der!). No WMD...

But 15,000 Iraqi civillians dead. Saddam's gone - that's good. But I'm guessing they were only afraid oh hime because he might kill them....

Berg was one man. True, the method employed for his death was pretty nasty. But it still pales - in quantity if nothing else - by what the Americans are doing to the Iraqis. And my sympathy for Berg is severely limited by the fact that he should not have been in Iraq anyway.

Some claim we should be outraged about Berg's death because "he was only there on business!" - You don't feel sorry for Bobba Fett when he finally drops into the mouth of the Sarlac monster, do you? He was only there on business, too. But the point is that he was there on business for the bad guys - and the Americans pretty much have pushed themselves into the "bad guy" corner from the beginning of this honorless chapter of their history. (Actually they had a knack for that prior to Iraq, but let's ignore that for the sake of this argument.)

I think the point was Joi has jumped over backwards to post something like four or five stories on the prisoner abuse story, but not a peep on the Berg killing. Does Berg pale to the "devastation in Iraq" or a bunch of naked Iraqi prisoners, ya-da ya-da, probably, whatever, that's a matter of opinion. But is it something of note? Yes, and you would think a "political warblogger" would at least make mention of it.

Maybe, but mostly for completeness' sake as well as because of the odd uproar that went through the US over Berg. Arguably, considering Berg's death a non-issue (or a minor one at best) could be considered quite a valid viewpoint.

"Arguably, considering Berg's death a non-issue (or a minor one at best) could be considered quite a valid viewpoint."

Spoken by someone who probably hasn't actually seen the actual video. Go watch it.

And then comment on your blog about it (something I noticed you haven't done either).

Berg's death is hardly a non-issue. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the mainstream press to acknowledge the convincing evidence that the video is a fake. The average American 7-year-old has seen enough TV violence to ask "Daddy, why is there no blood when they cut off his head?"

I obviously can't speak for everyone in the US, but...

I would not be at all surprised if everyone up to Bush knew and approved of the torture. In fact, I consider it very likely.

However, I would be absolutely astonished if any of the people giving the orders are ever held accountable. Even the soldiers in the photos are only being tried because they're soldiers. If they were FBI, they'd have been promoted.

I haven't seen the actual video, that is correct. The Berg killing is in my "Iraq queue". I just have to find time to post another roundup; I decided a while ago not to post quick little entries on the topic to my weblog but rather somewhat more lengthy "articles" (aka "rants"). Having to write Iraq postings tires me to no end.

I'll get around to it.

I do agree Berg's death is an "issue", if for not other reason than the stir it caused. On the other hand I am perfectly able to see a number of reasons why someone would think of it as a non-issue not worth mentioning.

Yes, and you would think a "political warblogger" would at least make mention of it.


The omission of Berg's death is notable, but it's not necessarily really significant.

The torture in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay was carried out by the American elected government, under the American flag. Like it or not, the people who did it were wearing US flags on their uniforms and were representing the US in a very public and official capacity.

The people who abducted and beheaded a (by all accounts) innocent American citizen weren't voted in by the rest of the Iraqi adult population.

On the one hand we have a rather gruesome terrorist incident carried out by a fringe group. On the other hand we have a growing sense of outrage that the US has not only been executing, but also torturing (sexually or otherwise) Iraqi prisoners, many (some would say most) of whom are completely innocent.

What's even scarier is that as the US frequently represents itself as a 'great democracy', it's perfectly logical for Iraqis to construe that the torture incidents actually roughly approximate the will or ideals of the American people, regardless of what the President might actually say.


You relish too much in your marginalization of the Berg incident.

I am not a Democrat, nor am I a Republican. If anything, I usually manage to offend the zealots of both parties with my mix of beliefs. If you were American, I suspect you would be amongst those folks.

Mike; I'd say you exhausted your credibility right there when you threw me in with American zealots.

I am not American, and I will never be American. Even if I were to ever accept US citizenship - rather unlikely, to say the least - I would not be a different person than I am now; on the other hand, had I grown up in the States, I'd be a completely different individual. Your point is moot.

You have also failed to explain why Berg's death is not a "marginal event". For the sake of this argument, I shall claim that Berg's death, a criminal and gruesome act as it may be, is insignificant because it's the death of one random person in a war that has killed already tens of thousands (I remember 10-15k civilian deaths as a quote). I further submit that even the gruesome nature of Berg's death is no more significant to the world as a whole than any random child which starves in some forgotten part of Africa.

Dave has described rather well why on the other hand the rape and torture conducted by the US military is not insignificant. You are welcome to show why Berg's death is not a "marginal" event when put into this context, why it even deserves mention on the same page except maybe as a footnote in history (ie., "marginal event").

Berg's brutal killing is just another bludgeon the righties can use to direct discussion towards their talking points.

Don't jump through their rhetorical hoops and they get pissy.

Prisoner abuse is just another bludgeon the left will use to direct discussion towards their talking points.

Don't jump through their rhetorical hoops and they get pissy.

I wouldn't say that Berg's death is marginal, or insignificant. (Earlier on I explained why revelations about Abu Gharib etc. are qualitatively different, to his death.)

To the best of my knowledge, he's the first civilian that was personally innocent to be deliberately killed by people fighting against the occupation in Iraq. ('Security contractors' that carry weaponry around and do military work are hardly civilians.) You might say that on the Iraqi side, that's when 'The gloves came off', to borrow a phrase.

The video footage can also be expected to have a huge effect on the hearts and minds of both Iraqis, Americans and other people, if they get to see it. The 10-15 thousand civilian deaths on the Iraqi side have not received much media attention.

Berg's death is significant in determining how the future will develop, but insignificant in measuring the human toll of the war. The 10-15 thousand Iraqi civilian deaths are (in my estimation) insignificant in determining the development of the occupation, but hugely significant in moral/spiritual/judicial terms.

nice theft of my nom-de-plume, pal

This is Joi's site, and he is free to editorialize as he wishes. You don't like it, go put up your own site of interest.

What I have noticed is that most of the photos that appear in the press are of the female soldier who is pointing and laughing at the male genitalia of the prisoners. Not much discussion has been around this gender issue. Is this seen as more of a humiliation for the prisoners concerned, or is it more of an embaressment to the "west" that one of the "fairer sex" is behaving so badly and crudely.

Personally, this sort of behaviour is inexcusable whatever the gender of the prison guards but as the main culprit is a woman is this more a problem because it cannot be hushed up as the "lads letting off steam" but a sign of something more rotten within the attitude of the occupation/liberation forces?

It's not just the national guard folks. This was (allegedly) a coordinated effort of cultural humiliation originating from Cambone and the office of the SecDef. The ng people just got sucked into the fun, as it were.

Sy Hersh's story.

Brilliant and totally spot-on!


"It's vital to remember that these terrorists hate freedom," Rumsfeld
said. "Well, guess what? From now on, we're going to hate it even more.
Do you think terrorists care about due process and fair treatment of
prisoners? Of course not. Why should we give them the upper hand?


"Seneca once said, 'To be feared is to fear: No one has been able to
strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind,'"
Cheney said. "If we want these terrorists to fear the U.S., we as a
people need to be filled with fear. Expect to see more heavily armed,
uniformed officers, both at home and abroad."


Chris: Interesting Cheney quote. "we need people to be filled with fear..." I sort of thought the point was to try to get rid of the fear and be friends and stuff. Fear, shame and humiliation. The cheapest way to get people to do what you want.

I have seen a head removed from a body on a video where it was obviously not faked. The shot was close up, the head and shoulders framed in the shot, and had no pauses in shooting. The victim was bound, and his head was held down by a boot. The cutting started at the jugular with the point of the knife, as the victim started bleeding the assailant cut out the man’s trachea; the soldier bled and choked to death. There was a pool of blood, about 1-2 feet across, but none of the spraying of blood people seem to think will always happen. Then they sawed off his head with the knife. There was blood, but not as much as I would have thought.

I have to add that it disturbed me greatly to see this video, and I'm not a weak person when it comes to blood and death. What got me was how youthful the victim was, and how practiced the act looked. It was sad to think that these young men, victim and assailants alike, knew so much about killing, and did not have any chance of living a more innocent and peaceful life.

Although I think people should see things for themselves, be aware that looking deeply at this type of footage can bring you to places you might not want to go. As it should.

This was said:
It's only accepted among crackpots and lunatics. There is plenty of reason to dislike the Bush admin, but this falls right into the Michael Moore/Al Franken/Ann Coulter-camp of playing loose with the facts to further an agenda. Don't stoop to their level.

First of all, Seymour M. Hersh is above and beyond the Rush/Michael Moore/Al Franken/Ann Coulter-camp. A googleing of his name gives a good number of articles on this famous muckraker before you start throwing mud.

Secondly, reading the article, I find there is very little opinion in it; it is largely known history and a number of corroborating interviews. You need to take that for what it is worth until solid information is found – documents, sworn testimony etc. - but it is far more than just crackpot and lunatic material.

Stop it with the OIL excuses! We (USA) are not at war because of oil. Iraq only produces about 3-6% of the world supply and none of it comes to the USA. The oil there is of poor crude quality. As a veteran of the military I would greatly honor any command from any higher up to use any means to get any info needed in order to win. This includes torture of any kind. Don't forget we are not at war with a foreign countries army but with cold blooded murderers and they deserve nothing less. It sickens me to think that theres no more news about Nichlos Berg, only the american soldiers abusing prisoners, that likely have american blood on their hands.Our govt. will release them and they'll be back on the streets blowing themselves up to kill more americans,but I guess thats alright with some of you. One thing is for sure this country has seen nothing yet. When the real terrorist attacks hit this country all the bleeding hearts will be begging the active and in-active vets for help and security. Bet they won't complain about torture then....Support ALL our troops work and actions! and nothing less!STOP THE DAMN OIL EXCUSES!ITS A PATHETIC EXCUSE.

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Copper Green from Good Reputation Sleeping
May 17, 2004 2:30 AM

THE GRAY ZONE by Seymour M. Hersh More bombshells from The New Yorker, which is quickly becoming a web must-read. Details, according to Sy Hersh, of the 'government approved' program of torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. (link-Joi Ito) "According Read More

Copper Green from Good Reputation Sleeping
May 17, 2004 2:34 AM

THE GRAY ZONE by Seymour M. Hersh More bombshells from The New Yorker, which is quickly becoming a web must-read. Details, according to Sy Hersh, of the 'government approved' program of torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. (link-Joi Ito) "According Read More

Seymour M. Hersh is one of America's premier investigative reporters. In 1969, as a freelance journalist, he wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam. He has won more than a dozen major journalism prizes, including the 1970 Pu... Read More