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

December 2016

Separated at Birth

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Priest in the Trees

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lightness

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With Child

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Standing Rock Speaks

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Prose by Any Other Name

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley
Article
Swat Team·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views."
Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Article
Escape from The Caliphate·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"When Matti invited me on a tour of the neighborhood, I asked about security. 'The message has already been passed to ISIS that you’re here,' he said. 'But don’t worry. I guarantee I could bring even you in and out of the Islamic State.'"
Photograph (detail) by Alice Martins
Article
In This One·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Medicare’s popularity, however, comes with almost no understanding of what the program is and how it works."
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Damages sought, in a defamation suit, by a Chicago landlord from a tenant who complained about mold via Twitter:

$50,000

The British House of Lords voted to limit the right of parents to spank their children.

The Mall of America hired its first black Santa, a real estate company valued Mr. and Mrs. Claus’s North Pole home at $656,957, and it was reported that the price of the gifts from “Twelve Days of Christmas” went up by more than $200 in 2016, to $34,363.49.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today