No Comment — June 2, 2009, 4:49 pm

Unsatisfactory Answers from General McChrystal

Those who expected to hear Stanley McChrystal come clean on what he knows about mistreatment of prisoners in the custody of JSOC units that reported to him in the Iraq war were disappointed. General Petraeus has recently developed a reputation for telling it straight. But his new subordinate for Afghanistan seems to have a penchant for Pentagon circumlocutions.

The concerns have focused on abuse of prisoners in Iraq, where the Pentagon agreed that the Geneva Conventions were fully applicable. Major Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who led the successful effort to nail the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, put it this way:

“Gen. McChrystal, he was there in Iraq often, and he may have been separated from these things by couple layers [of subordinates] but it would’ve been his responsibility to know what was going on.”

So how does McChrystal respond to these questions? “We must at all times obligation treat detainees humanely… Military necessity does not permit us” to deviate from those obligations, says Senator Carl Levin, reading form McChrystal’s prepared statement. That’s the classic Bush-era bob-and-weave. In the Bush years we learned that “humanely” meant next to nothing: in Bush-speak, as long as you give the prisoner medical attention, a clean place to sleep, and a bowl of lentils, you can feel free to beat him senseless or perform still more hideous tortures. McChrystal’s words are chosen to appear to put some distance between himself and this legacy, but they don’t.

Here’s Spencer Ackerman’s take on the questioning:

“I do not and have not condone the mistreatment of detainees and I never will.” McChrystal said he investigated every abuse allegation. But the interrogation structure was inadequate for his task forces. “We stayed within all the established and authorized guidelines, they were there when I took command,” McChrystal says. He says “constant improvement” turned something “acceptable and legal” into something “I could be more proud of” as time wore on. Concedes that he initially was informed by Rumsfeld’s memorandum authorizing “stress positions, use of dogs and nudity” and said that “some of [those techniques] were used.” He said he was uncomfortable with those authorized techniques and worked to reduce their usage.

It’s long been reported that in the Rumsfeld Pentagon, Undersecretary Stephen Cambone secured a series of special rules of engagement for JSOC units that authorized much more than the practices discussed in the hearing. Those rules, whatever they were, are the “established and authorized guidelines” McChrystal’s talking about. Of course, all of this is a way of reenforcing the conclusions that Levin’s committee already reached with respect to Washington’s direct control over and responsibility for the introduction of harsh techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hopefully one or more of these senators will now press McChrystal for the particulars on those “established and authorized guidelines” that were provided to his JSOC task forces. And perhaps we can also see some evidence for the claim that McChrystal took action to ameliorate the conditions of prisoners by retreating from the use of some of the harsher (and, incidentally, flagrantly illegal) techniques. Even so, like other generals of the Rumsfeld era, McChrystal seems remarkably unaccepting of his command responsibility for what went on. McChrystal entered the hearing room with serious questions hanging over his head, and he said nothing to dispel them.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average number of new microwave food products introduced every day In 1987:

2

Cocaine addicts prefer $500 in cash now to $1,000 worth of cocaine later.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today