Seymour M. Hersh Says Senior Officials Ignored Warnings About Atrocities

The NYT reports that Seymour M. Hersh's new book says the highest level military and civilian officials in the administration — including Rice and Rumsfeld — ignored warnings about abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.

Prison Scandal: New Book Says Bush Officials Were Told of Detainee Abuse: Senior military and national security officials in the Bush administration were repeatedly warned by subordinates in 2002 and 2003 that prisoners in military custody were being abused, according to a new book by a prominent journalist.

Seymour M. Hersh, a writer for The New Yorker who earlier this year was among the first to disclose details of the abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, makes the charges in his book “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib” (HarperCollins), which is being released Monday. …

Mr. Hersh asserts that a Central Intelligence Agency analyst who visited the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the late summer of 2002 filed a report of abuses there that drew the attention of Gen. John A. Gordon, a deputy to Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser.

But when General Gordon called the matter to her attention and she discussed it with other senior officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, no significant change resulted. Mr. Hersh's account is based on anonymous sources, some of them secondhand, and could not be independently verified.

Although a number of senior officials were briefed on the analyst's findings of abuse, the high-level White House meeting did not “dwell on” that question, but rather focused on whether some of the prisoners should not have been held at all, the book says. A White House official confirmed Saturday that this meeting was held and reiterated that the focus, when the matter was referred to Mr. Rumsfeld, was on whether people were being improperly held.

Mr. Hersh also says that a military officer involved in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq learned of the abuses at Abu Ghraib in November and reported it to two of his superiors, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the regional commander, and his deputy, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith.

“I said there are systematic abuses going on in the prisons,” the unidentified officer is quoted as telling Mr. Hersh. “Abizaid didn't say a thing. He looked at me – beyond me, as if to say, 'Move on. I don't want to touch this.' “

But Capt. Hal Pittman, a Central Command spokesman, said in a statement Saturday, “General Abizaid does not recall any officer discussing with him any specific cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib prior to January 2004, nor do any of the officers of the Centcom staff who travel with him.”

Note the non-denial denial: in response to a charge about ignoring a warning about general and systemic abuse, the response is that the General 'does not recall any officer discussing with him any specific cases of abuse.'

Note also that Pentagon is worried about Hersh's book. Earlier today the Washington Note reported that the Pentagon let off a pre-emptive press strike against what it expected Hersh would be saying. The core of that campaign is the zillion whitewash reports issued in the past weeks, all designed to shield senior officials from any examination of their responsibilities.

They should be worried. I don't know if ignoring reports of abuse is technically a war crime under these circumstances — so much depends on exactly what they were told, and how — but it has to be close enough to be worrying. There does come a point where closing your eyes to the evidence is a form of complicity, although I can't say from the NYT article alone that this conduct reaches that high bar.

But whatever you call it, if Seymour Hersh is right again (and his accuracy record is imperfect) ignoring these warnings looks pretty raw.

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