White Washing Abu Ghraib

There is a lot to this Foreign Affairs interview with Stanley McChrystal (and lots to churn the stomach), but I wanted to briefly note one very dumbfounding thing he said. Gideon Rose asked him about torture. And he responded that his unit didn’t torture anyone at Abu Ghraib.

So what we thought of as an exception, [torture,] they thought of as the rule?

That’s right. They thought that was the broader reality. And there were hundreds of foreign fighters that came in [to Iraq] because they were responding to Abu Ghraib. Using torture is ultimately self-defeating. It’s morally wrong, and it’s a strategic mistake.

Do you have any regrets or moral qualms in retrospect about things that happened under your command in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere?

Yeah. When I took over [the Special Operations] Command, we were still very new to running operations, holding detainees, and so forth. We weren’t manned with the right interrogators; we didn’t have the right facilities. People were doing their best, but we were doing what I’d consider an unsatisfactory job. _**We weren’t actively torturing people, but we weren’t treating people the way that we should have been.**_ We started cleaning that up right away, correcting that. My biggest regret is that it took us about nine months before we got it to the point where it should have been from the beginning. That’s slower than it should have been.

Emphasis mine. Let’s assume that, in contrast to how the interview is presented, McChrystal is not talking about Abu Ghraib itself but only Camp Nama, the facility run by McChrystal’s Task Force 6-26 (or TF-121 depending on the timeframe). He said in an earlier response that torture was the work of a few bad apples: “When the pictures came out in the spring of 2004, many Americans felt our government was being honest — that we had a problem with a platoon operating in the prison mistreating prisoners.”

But The New York Times profiled what this facility under McChrystal’s command did, well before the revelations of what happened at Abu Ghraib came to light.

The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib.

The abuses at Camp Nama continued despite warnings beginning in August 2003 from an Army investigator and American intelligence and law enforcement officials in Iraq. The C.I.A. was concerned enough to bar its personnel from Camp Nama that August.

To repeat: the CIA, of all agencies, was so worried about the horrific abuses at this camp that they refused to even visit it.

Yet, McChrystal has the balls to tell Gideon Rose that the American people felt the government was being “honest” in coming clean only about Abu Ghraib. When Human Rights Watch published the accounts of soldiers who served under McChrystal on these task forces, they reported repeated, systemic torture — including to death. But don’t worry, he assures us in this interview, after nine months and a politically damaging public disclosure he got around to stopping it.

What McChrystal is doing in this interview is nothing less than crass revisionism about his own role in the horrible abuses that contributed to all of Iraq rising up against us. That we lucked out when al Qaeda overplayed its hand is immaterial: the practices McChrystal helped to innovate in Iraq were a direct cause of thousands of US soldiers (and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians) dying horribly. And he is given an almost entirely free pass to whitewash it in a prestigious journal.

I suddenly feel very sick.

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