Rumsfeld’s Secret Army

“Outlandish, conspiratorial and filled with error and anonymous conjecture,” said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita the other day, and, no, he wasn’t talking about the campaign of lies that preceded the invasion and conquest of Iraq, but of Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker scoop exposing Operation “Copper Green.”

Citing CIA and other high-level officials, Hersh detailed the “special access program” that eventually led to the Abu Ghraib horror show. In pursuing the “war on terrorism,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Stephen A. Cambone, his undersecretary of intelligence, created what amounted to a secret army whose task, as one insider put it, is to “Grab whom you must. Do what you want.”

Headlines proclaimed the Pentagon’s vehement denials, but if we look at what DiRita said, and – having lived through the Clinton years – give it a very close and literal reading, it turns out there’s a awful lot of wiggle room between the lines:

“No responsible official at the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses as witnessed in the recent photos and videos.”

But what if it was unintended? In that case, the existence of such a program may not be inconceivable at all. If DiRita’s statement can even be called a denial, it is phrased in such a way as to exculpate the culprits in advance as more evidence of “Copper Green” begins to surface.

Washington-speak is unique among languages in that a confession can be phrased like a denial. And this column was barely begun before new evidence buttressing Hersh’s story surfaced: in Newsweek, which published a memo written by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales urging the Bushies to formally discard the Geneva Convention because it “substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.” The Act provides for penalties for “U.S. officials” that “includes the death penalty” for violations, in part defined as “grave breaches” of the Convention. Since “it was difficult to predict with confidence” just how a future Justice Department might choose to apply and interpret the law, Gonzales warned, the administration had better watch its back.

Gonzales defends himself by claiming that none of this applies to what happened at Abu Ghraib prison – only to the Afghan theater and Guantanamo – that the memo makes no specific mention of Iraq, and the Geneva Convention does apply in Iraq. Yet MSNBC News cites “defense sources” as saying that the memo was utilized as the legal rationale for the “do what thou wilt” strategy in Iraq:

“Sources told NBC News that Rumsfeld never directly ordered tougher interrogations. But they said he frequently raised the issue with Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, and directed Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone last August to determine whether the same aggressive techniques that produced some successes at Guantanamo Bay should also be used in Iraq.”

The timeline is incriminating: it was only a few weeks later that the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, put the squeeze on his subordinates, ordering them to come up with ways to wring more information out of suspected insurgents and their supporters. In mid-November, Sanchez turned over de facto control of Abu Ghraib prison to Col. Thomas. M. Pappas, whose 205th Military Intelligence Brigade was effectively conscripted into Rumsfeld’s secret army.

Just as the Pentagon was going into spin-control mode, the New York Times reported that Pappas, in previously secret testimony, admitted that military intelligence officers instructed MPs in how to interrogate prisoners. Meanwhile, Lynndie England, the soldier seen holding a leash tied to a prisoner’s neck in a photo published around the world, revealed fresh horrors: detainees were forced to crawl through broken glass and wear Maxi Pads, she said, adding “Everyone in the company from the commander down” knew about the abuse.

More ominously, the Los Angeles Times revealed sickening details of the grisly murder of a prisoner at the hands of his CIA interrogators at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales’s watch-your-back legal advice was eerily prescient.

The coup de grace came when a key witness in the investigation, Sgt. Samuel Provance, told ABC News:

"There’s definitely a cover-up. People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet."

Provance, who ran the top-secret computer system used by the prison, said it was the interrogators from U.S. military intelligence who directed the goings on at Abu Ghraib, and that they freely admitted this to him:

"Anything [the MPs] were to do legally or otherwise, they were to take those commands from the interrogators. One interrogator told me about how commonly the detainees were stripped naked, and in some occasions, wearing women’s underwear, if it’s your job to strip people naked, yell at them, scream at them, humiliate them, it’s not going to be too hard to move from that to another level."

When Maj. Gen. George Fay undertook his internal investigation of the matter, Provance was interviewed, but the General didn’t much care to be told about the key role played by military intelligence officers: he was only interested in the MPs. Speaking out against orders from military authorities, Provance complains:

"I feel like I’m being punished for being honest. You know, it was almost as if I actually felt if all my statements were shredded and I said, like most everybody else, ‘I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t see anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ then my life would be just fine right now."

From the evidence presented so far, it is clear that the footsoldiers in Rumsfeld’s secret army are not alone in their responsibility for the war crimes committed at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Not only Lynndie England and the other Army reservists charged, but also Col. Pappas, Stephen Cambone, and all the architects of Operation Copper Green are among the guilty parties, and ought to be brought to justice.

The War Party is reeling under the impact of these multiple shocks. Several have gone “wobbly,” as Maggie Thatcher once said of Bush I, and I predict they’ll go even wobblier – because more shocks are coming.

The Plame investigation, being conducted by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald, seems to be nearing completion, with the possibility of an indictment looming on the horizon. And the anthrax investigation – remember that? – has apparently been revived, with the trail finally leading authorities in a direction long pointed to in this space. The political implications are explosive, and spell more bad news for the War Party.

But don’t underestimate their power. Look at what they’ve achieved. What we’re dealing with here is the gang that pulled off a veritable coup d’etat and seized the reins of government, hijacking the American ship of state in the wake of 9/11. In Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward cites Colin Powell as saying that the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-neocon cabal went around the strictures built into the system and set up their own “separate government.” This explains Operation "Copper Green": every government, after all, must – except that, in this case, it’s a secret government, one not answerable to the people, and, concomitantly, it had to have a secret army, one that fights and kills in the shadows. An army, one might add, much like the Al Qaeda network it was supposedly founded to destroy – ruthless, with worldwide reach, and certainly not concerned with the niceties of the Geneva Convention.

Given the philosophy and stated policies of our rulers – who openly proclaimed that all the old rules were thrown out the window after 9/11 – what happened at Abu Ghraib was inevitable. As Nietzsche put it:

“He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you stare persistently into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you.”

They thought they were beyond good and evil, beyond judgement and the possibility of being caught. They wore their hubris like a badge of honor, daring the gods to strike them down for their blasphemy. And the gods, it seems, have finally struck. Too bad those thunderbolts won’t reach their targets until a whole lot more innocents are slaughtered.


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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].