Saturday, May 15, 2004

What a bunch of SAPs

Seymour Hersh is out with yet another devastating article on the prisoner abuse scandal.

Quick summary: that the scandal at Abu Ghraib was not the abuses themselves, because these kind of interrogation techniques were known of and approved for use against "high value targets" in the war on terror. The scandal was that the program was allowed to grow beyond its original mandate, leading inevitably to the kind of meltdown we are witnessing.

Longer summary...

  1. Shortly after 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld became outraged at the legalistic hand-binding that prevented special forces in the field from acting quickly on intelligence information about "high value targets" (Mullah Omar, bin Laden, etc.)
  2. In response, he established a "Special Access Program" (SAP) of around 100-200 operatives whose mandate was to quickly gather high value information and act on it on a moments notice.
  3. SAP's have been a feature in the Defense Department since the Cold War and have been rated as highly effective in achieving their goals, but they are generally NOT talked about because their methods of operations would probably not pass muster in the public eye (both foreign and domestic). In other words, they are "black" operations, not meant to be seen in the light of day, designed to convert raw information into something that can be used publicly (go "white") when it is solid enough.
  4. While some SAP techniques might be questionable, they have usually been very strictly controlled and used only the most trained individuals and included oversight designed to keep them from expanding beyond the narrow focus they were created for.
  5. After the fall of Saddam, Rumsfeld didn't give much heed to the growing insurgency problem in Iraq (he called them Baathist dead-enders). That started to change with the bombings of the Jordanian and United Nations embassies in August 2003.
  6. By the Fall of 2003 it was clear to even Rumsfeld that things were falling apart in Iraq. It was around this time that the SAP set up after 9/11 was shifted towards dealing with the Iraqi insurgency. This was the first mistake because it violated the notion that SAP's should only be used for their limited purpose and not bent towards other goals.
  7. General Miller, the commander of the prison camp in Gitmo, was brought in at this time by Stephen Cambone, who was essentially the civilian head of the SAP, to help "Gitmoize" the Iraqi prison system.
  8. It was Cambone who made the next mistake by deciding to bring the military intelligence personal at Abu Ghraib and other facilities into the SAP, violating yet another precept of these programs that they should remain small.
  9. Once that door was open it began to creep open even further as civlian contractors and raw military police, the latter having no training in these matters, were included in the "softening up" operations.
  10. As the net of the SAP grew it no longer focused just on "high value targets" and it secrecy and effectiveness became compromised by the inclusion of ill-trained individuals. It was almost inevitable that something would break and it did on January 13th when one young MP reported what was going on to the Army's Criminal Investigations Division and handed over a CD full of pictures.
  11. The report of this quickly went up the line to Rumsfeld. From that point on the most important goal of his and others reactions to the problem was NOT to stop the abuses but instead keep a lid on reports about them in order to protect the SAP.

In other words, it wasn't the abuses themselves that bothered the DOD leadership. It was the fear that a "black" program might become "white". Hersh's article finally makes that fear a reality. Yet it is Rumsfeld and Cambone and the others who should be blamed for this because it was they who approved the expansion of the SAP to the point where such exposure was almost inevitable.

Perhaps their greatest fear now is that it will be them who is blamed for fucking it up so badly.

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