By Charles Kaiser
The next time John McCain or David Gregory or some other Washington sage demands to know why President Obama hasn’t already acceded to General Stanley A. McChrystal’s demand that we immediately send 40,000 additional troops to the bottomless cesspool known as Afghanistan (just imagine: A Commander-in-Chief who thinks that generals are supposed to work for him, rather than the other way around), consider these facts:
Pat Tillman, Senior, had a very different view of the cover-up of his son’s death in which McChrystal was a principal participant. In a letter to the Washington Post, Tillman wrote,
The Army reported that information‘was slow to make it back to the United States.’ To the contrary, the information was sent almost immediately, but there was one set of ‘facts’ for the military and another for my family. As to the military's claim that it kept the family informed, I was briefed three times with a sales pitch of made-up “facts” and assurances of investigative integrity. With respect to the Army's reference to ‘mistakes in reporting the circumstances of [my son's] death’: those ‘mistakes’ were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly) and disgraceful — conduct well beneath the standard to which every soldier in the field is held. I have absolute respect and admiration for Army Rangers acting as such. As to their superior officers, the West Point-Army honor code is: ‘I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.’ They should reissue the booklet.
The reference of the interrogator to the failure of officers at Nama to use their real names describes one of the most serious breakdowns in the chain of command sanctioned by the Bush administration. The purpose of this anonymity, of course, was to ake it as difficult as possible to prosecute officers for the war crimes which they had sanctioned. And the strategy was extremely successful.
In 2006, a superb story by New York Times reporters Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall reported that soldiers from McChrystal’s Task Force 6-26 had been accused by the son of one of Hussein's bodyguards of forcing him to strip, punching him in the spine until he fainted, putting him in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him, and kicking him in the stomach until he vomited.
“Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005,” the Times reported, “after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.”
McChrystal refused to be interviewed by The Times, which also reported that the general’s soldiers had decorated the post with signs reading “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.” The signs “reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: ‘If you don't make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.’ ”
The Times also said, “the abuses [at Nama] appeared to have been unsanctioned, but some of them seemed to have been well known throughout the camp. For an elite unit with roughly 1,000 people at any given time, Task Force 6-26 seems to have had a large number of troops punished for detainee abuse. Since 2003, 34 task force members have been disciplined in some form for mistreating prisoners, and at least 11 members have been removed from the unit.”
Despite all of this excellent reporting in the Times, when McChrystal was chosen to be the new American commander in Afghanistan earlier this year, the same newspaper published a worshipful profile, which described the general as someone who had “moved easily from the dark world [of killing terrorists] to the light.” The Man in the News article mentioned McChrystal’s involvement in the Tillman only inpassing: “one blot on his otherwise impressive military record.”
The story made no mention at all of the involvement of McChrystal’s men in torture, but it did quote a retired general as saying that the new commander was “lanky, smart, tough, a sneaky stealth soldier” who has “all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.”
Now the General who orchestrated one of the previous administration’s most famous cover-ups, and whose men were specialists in torture and assassination, has been reborn with a brand new preoccupation with the fate of civilians in Afghanistan.
As The Times of London observed a couple of weeks ago, “This compassion [for civilians] was a long way from the reputation McChrystal had enjoyed as America’s ruthless ‘chief terrorist pursuer’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, caught up in a scandal over torture and prisoner abuse. His transformation into a ‘scholar-soldier’ is perhaps one of his greatest achievements in a remarkable career.”
There is a searing irony to the fact that McChrystal is the man President Obama selected to re-invigorate the American effort in AfghanistanÐand that the general has now gone public, in London, with a demand for 40,000 additional troops for this quagmire. (That was such an egregious abuse of the chain-of-command, that even Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a mild reprimand.)
The presidential candidate who campaigned on the promise of a sharp break with the shameful abuses of the Bush administration now seems to have made himself hostage to one of the men most closely identified with all of them.
Originally posted at http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/blog/McChrystal-Obama-NewYork%20Times
Return to charleskaiser.com