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Profile: Lawrence Di Rita
Positions that Lawrence Di Rita has held:
- Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
- Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense
Lawrence Di Rita was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US military has drawn up plans three times between June 2002 and January 2003 to launch an air strike against a training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that is said to be producing chemical weapons (see June 2002, November 2002, and January 2003), but months have passed and the White House has not given any formal reply to any of the attack plans. Finally, several weeks before the start of the US invasion of Iraq in late March 2003, the White House indicates that President Bush has rejected any strike on the camp until after the US invasion of Iraq begins. The camp will be attacked on March 20. Bush administration officials will later say the camp was not targeted for a number of reasons, including uncertain intelligence reports and the difficulties of hitting al-Zarqawi within a large camp area. But Gen. John Keane, the US Army’s vice chief of staff at the time, will later call the camp “one of the best targets we ever had.” He and other officials will claim the intelligence on al-Zarqawi’s location was sound and the risk of collateral damage was small due to the camp’s location in a remote mountain area. But Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita will later claim that one reason for not taking action was “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] And CIA official Michael Scheuer will later say, “The reasons the intelligence service got for not shooting al-Zarqawi was simply that the President and the National Security Council decided it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers.… Mr. Bush had Mr. al-Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5/1/2006]
Fox analyst Paul Vallely. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]The Pentagon sends a group of retired military generals and other high-ranking officers—part of its team of “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) on a carefully arranged tour of Iraq (see Summer 2003). The idea is to have the analysts counter the negative images being reported from Iraq about the upsurge in violence from the burgeoning insurgency. The Pentagon also wants the analysts to present a positive spin on Iraq in time to bolster President Bush’s request to Congress for $87 billion in emergency war financing. The group includes four analysts from Fox News, the Pentagon’s go-to media outlet for promulgating its propaganda and spin, one analyst from CNN and ABC, and several prominent members of research groups whose opinion articles appear regularly in the editorial pages of the largest US newspapers. The Pentagon promises that the analysts will be given a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”
Two Very Different Views of Reality - While the situation is rapidly deteriorating for the US—the American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, later writes that the US only has “about half the number of soldiers we needed here,” and has told Bush, “We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat” at a dinner party that takes place on September 24, while the analysts are in Iraq (see September 24, 2003)—the story promoted by the analysts is starkly different. Their official presentation as constructed on a minute-by-minute basis by Pentagon officials includes a tour of a model school, visits to a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave from the early 1990s, and a tour of Babylon’s gardens. Mostly the analysts attend briefings, where one Pentagon official after another provide them with a very different picture of Iraq. In the briefings, Iraq is portrayed as crackling with political and economic energy. Iraqi security forces are improving by the day. No more US troops are needed to combat the small number of isolated, desperate groups of thugs and petty criminals that are spearheading the ineffective insurgency, which is perpetually on the verge of being eliminated. “We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaims. ABC analyst William Nash, a retired general, later calls the briefings “artificial,” and calls the tour “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to former Republican governor George Romney’s famous claim that US officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965. Yet Nash, like the other analysts, will provide the talking points the Pentagon desires to his network’s viewers. Pentagon officials worry, for a time, about whether the analysts will reveal the troubling information they learn even on such a well-groomed and micromanaged junket, including the Army’s use of packing poorly armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets, and the almost laughably poor performance of the Iraqi security forces. One Fox analyst, retired Army general Paul Vallely, later says, “I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south.” But the Pentagon has no need to worry about Vallely or any of the other analysts. “You can’t believe the progress,” Vallely tells Fox News host Alan Colmes upon his return. Vallely predicts that the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months. William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel, tells Fox host Greta Van Susteren, “We could not be more excited, more pleased.” Few speak about armor shortages or poor performances by Iraqi security forces. And all agree with retired general Carlton Shepperd’s conclusion on CNN: “I am so much against adding more troops.”
'Home Run' - The Iraq tour is viewed as what reporter David Barstow will call “a masterpiece in the management of perceptions.” Not only does it successfully promote the administration’s views on Iraq, but it helps fuel complaints that “mainstream” journalists are ignoring what administration officials and war supporters call “the good news” in Iraq. “We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official says in an e-mail to the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers and Peter Pace. The Pentagon quickly begins planning for future trips, not just to Iraq but to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) as well. These trips, and the orchestrated blitz of public relations events that follow, are strongly supported by the White House.
Countering 'Increasingly Negative View' of Occupation - Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita will later explain that a “conscious decision” was made to use the analysts to counteract what Di Rita calls “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts generally have “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war; and the combination of their military expertise and their tremendous visibility make them ideal for battling what Di Rita and other Pentagon and administration see as unfairly negative coverage. On issues such as troop morale, detainee interrogations, inadequate equipment, and poorly trained Iraqi forces, Di Rita will say the analysts “were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen.”
Business Opportunities - Many of the analysts are not only in Iraq to take part in the Pentagon’s propaganda efforts, but to find out about business opportunities for the firms they represent. They meet with civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many who will make decisions about how the $87 billion will be spent. The analysts gather inside information about the most pressing needs of the US military, including the acute shortage of “up-armored” Humvees, the billions needed to build new military bases, the dire shortage of translators, and the sprawling and expensive plans to train Iraqi security forces. Analysts Cowan and Sherwood are two of the analysts who have much to gain from this aspect of their tour. Cowan is the CEO of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Sherwood is the executive vice president of the firm. The company is seeking contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. The company has a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help Iraqi tribal leaders in Al-Anbar province win reconstruction contracts from the Americans. “Those sheiks wanted access to the CPA,” Cowen later recalls, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority. And he is determined to provide that access. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al-Anbar,” he recalls. Fox military analyst Charles Nash, a retired Navy captain, works as a consultant for small companies who want to land fat defense contracts. As a military analyst, he is able to forge ties with senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met before. It is like being “embedded” with the Pentagon leadership, he will recall. He will say, “You start to recognize what’s most important to them…. There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.” An aide to the Pentagon’s chief of public relations, Brent Krueger, will recall that he and other Pentagon officials are well aware of their analysts’ use of their access as a business advantage. Krueger will say, “Of course we realized that. We weren’t naïve about that…. They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level. This has been highly honed.” (Di Rita will deny ever thinking that analysts might use their access to their business advantage, and will say that it is the analysts’ responsibility to comply with ethical standards. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he will say.) [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: William Nash, wvc3 Group, US Department of Defense, Richard B. Myers, Peter Pace, William Cowan, Lawrence Di Rita, Coalition Provisional Authority, Charles Nash, Carlton Shepperd, CNN, Brent T. Krueger, David Barstow, ABC News, Alan Colmes, Fox News, Paul Vallely, George Romney, George W. Bush, Greta Van Susteren, L. Paul Bremer
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
A report published by the Army War College accuses the Bush administration of putting the US in an “unnecessary” war in Iraq—which it calls a “strategic error”—and pursuing an “unrealistic” war against terrorism that may lead to the US fighting wars with nations that pose no real threat. The report, titled “Bounding the Global War on Terrorism,” is compiled by visiting professor Jeffrey Record, a defense specialist and author of six books on military strategy and related issues, a former aide to the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn (D-GA), and a visiting professor at the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. As a result of the Bush administration’s actions, the report finds, the US Army is “near the breaking point.” The report recommends that the “global war on terrorism” be scaled back to focus on the far narrower threat posed by the al-Qaeda terror network. “[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly… its parameters should be readjusted,” Record writes. Iraq “was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al-Qaeda.” The anti-terrorism campaign “is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate US military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security.” The study adds that the administration’s plans to spread democracy throughout the Middle East are baseless: “The potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future. The basis on which this democratic domino theory rests has never been explicated.” It concludes, “The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil.” While the study carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon, or the US government, both SSI director Colonel Douglas Lovelace and the War College commandant, Major General David Huntoon, stand behind it. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says he has not read the study, and adds, “If the conclusion is that we need to be scaling back in the global war on terrorism, it’s not likely to be on my reading list anytime soon.” Daniel Benjamin, a member of the National Security Council staff in the late 1990s, says of the report, “The criticism does not seem out of line with many of the conversations I have had with officers in every branch of the military.” [Record, 12/2003 ; Washington Post, 1/12/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2004; BBC, 1/13/2004] The report was compiled in December 2003 but just now released. [Record, 12/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Lawrence Di Rita, Daniel Benjamin, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, David Huntoon, Jeffrey Record, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Army, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Douglas Lovelace
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A 1996 photograph of one of the Al Qaqaa storage bunkers. [Source: New York Times]The US media learns that Iraq’s interim government reports that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives, used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads, and detonate nuclear weapons, are missing from a former military installation (see October 10, 2004). The facility, Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under US control but in reality is “a no-man’s land,” in the words of the New York Times, “picked over by looters as recently as” October 24. UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had monitored the huge cache of explosives for years. The IAEA says that machine tools usable for either nuclear or non-nuclear purposes are also missing. White House and Pentagon inspectors admit that the explosives disappeared some time after the US-led invasion of Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was informed of the missing explosives within the last month; according to the Times, “[i]t is unclear whether President Bush was informed.” US officials began answering questions about the missing explosives after reporters from the Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes” began asking questions. The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group has been asked to investigate the disappearance.
Similar Explosives Used in Other Terrorist Attacks - The immediate concern, according to US officials, is the explosives’ possible use in major bombing attacks against American and/or Iraqi forces. The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can be used in bombs strong enough to destroy airplanes or large buildings. The Times notes that the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (see After December 21, 1988) used less than a pound of such explosive. Larger amounts of the same kinds of explosives were used in the November 2003 Riyadh bombings (see May 12, 2003) and a September 1999 bombing of a Moscow apartment complex (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The explosives can also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, the primary reason why it had been, until the invasion, monitored by UN inspectors from the IAEA.
Repeated IAEA Warnings - The IAEA had publicly warned about the danger of the Al Qaqaa explosives before the invasion, and after the overthrow of the Iraqi government, IAEA officials specifically told US officials that they needed to keep the facility locked down (see May 2003). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the missing explosives need to be kept in perspective, as US and allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.” Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Rashad Omar, tells Times and CBS reporters: “Yes, they [the 380 tons of explosives] are missing. We don’t know what happened.” Omar says that after the invasion, Al Qaqaa was the responsibility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which served as Iraq’s de facto government until June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). “After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control,” he says. “So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials.” The CPA is defunct; Bush administration officials say they don’t know where the explosives could be. One senior official says that the Qaqaa complex was listed as a “medium priority” site on the CIA’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” says one senior official. Another senior official says that US soldiers gave the Qaqaa facility a cursory inspection during the push towards Baghdad in early April, but “saw no bunkers bearing the IAEA seal.”
Refusal to Allow IAEA Inspections after Occupation - Satellite photos taken in late 2003 showed that two of the ten bunkers containing HMX had exploded, presumably from bombing during the US offensive, but eight remained relatively intact. The Bush administration refused to let the IAEA back into Iraq to inspect and verify the Qaqaa facility or any of the other stockpiles formerly monitored by IAEA officials. By May 2004, the IAEA was warning CPA officials that the facility had probably been looted (see May 2004).
More Unguarded Stockpiles - Iraq is dotted with unguarded stockpiles of explosives, say US military and administration officials. One senior administration official notes, “The only reason this stockpile was under seal is because it was located at Al Qaqaa,” where nuclear work had gone on years ago. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]
A portion of Merritt’s e-mail discussing a ‘core group’ of analysts to ‘carry our water.’ [Source: US Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)Pentagon official Roxie Merritt, the Director of Press Operations, sends a memo to several top Pentagon officials, including Larry Di Rita, the top public relations aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The memo reports on Merritt’s conclusions and proposals in the aftermath of a Pentagon-sponsored trip to Iraq by a number of military analysts. The trip is part of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which uses retired military officers to go on broadcast news shows and promote the administration’s Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The memo is in several sections:
'Background' - “One of the most interesting things coming from this trip to Iraq with the media analysts has been learning how their jobs have been undergoing a metamorphosis. There are several reasons behind the morph… with an all voluntary military, no one in the media has current military background. Additionally we have been doing a good job of keeping these guys informed so they have ready answers when the networks come calling.”
'Current Issues' - “The key issue here is that more and more, media analysts are having a greater impact on the television media network coverage of military issues. They have now become the go to guys not only for breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues. They also have a huge amount of influence on what stories the network decides to cover proactively with regard to the military…”
'Recommendation' - “1.) I recommend we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water. They become part of a ‘hot list’ of those that we immediately make calls to or put on an email distro [distribution] list before we contact or respond to media on hot issues. We can also do more proactive engagement with this list and give them tips on what stories to focus on and give them heads up on issues as they are developing. By providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves…
3.) Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to future plans. This trusted core group will be more than willing to work closely with us because we are their bread and butter and the more they know, the more valuable they are to the networks…
5.) As evidenced by this analyst trip to Iraq, the synergy of outreach shops and media ops working together on these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to exam [sic] ways to improve processes.”
Response from Di Rita - Di Rita is impressed. He replies, “This is a thoughtful note… I think it makes a lot of sense to do as you suggest and I guess I thought we were already doing a lot of this in terms of quick contact, etc… We ought to be doing this, though, and we should not make the list too small…” In 2008, Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald will sum up the plan: “So the Pentagon would maintain a team of ‘military analysts’ who reliably ‘carry their water—yet who were presented as independent analysts by the television and cable networks. By feeding only those pro-government sources key information and giving them access—even before responding to the press—only those handpicked analysts would be valuable to the networks, and that, in turn, would ensure that only pro-government sources were heard from. Meanwhile, the ‘less reliably friendly’ ones—frozen out by the Pentagon—would be ‘weeded out’ by the networks (see May 10-11, 2007). The pro-government military analysts would do what they were told because the Pentagon was ‘their bread and butter.’ These Pentagon-controlled analysts were used by the networks not only to comment on military matters—and to do so almost always unchallenged—but also even to shape and mold the networks’ coverage choices.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]
Chris Matthews. [Source: Montgomery College]Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, asks three of the Pentagon’s most reliable “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—retired generals Montgomery Meigs, Wayne Downing, and Kenneth Allard—on his show to pillory a recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that reveals Pentagon plans for an attack on Iran (see (Early January 2005)). Matthews calls the three “Hardball’s war council.” After the broadcast, Allard writes an e-mail to Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita, in which he says, “As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita denies that the US is flying drones on reconnaissance missions over Iran. He claims that recent news reports about the drones are inaccurate. “I would consider the source and leave it at that. I’m telling you that we’re not doing those kinds of activities,” Di Rita says. “To the best of our knowledge, it isn’t happening: period.” [US Department of Defense, 2/22/2005; Washington File, 2/22/2005]
Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 164] The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, John Barry, Hamid Karzai, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Karl Eikenberry, Lawrence Di Rita, Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, Scott McClellan, US Department of Defense, US Southern Command, Richard A. Boucher, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Pentagon reports that an internal investigation shows no US guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ever flushed a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek recently reported. Furthermore, the rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that broke out after the report was released and claimed the lives of 17 people was directly sparked by the Newsweek report (see May 6-9, 2005). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita informs Newsweek that its report is wrong. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the report, goes back to his anonymous administration source to confirm the story. However, “the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [US Southern Command] report [on prisoner abuse],” Newsweek writes. The story of the Koran being desecrated might have been in other reports, the source tells Isikoff. “Told of what the Newsweek source said, Di Rita explode[s],” the magazine writes. “‘How could he be credible now?’ Di Rita thunders.” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the White House is “vigorously” investigating the report; if true, Hadley says, stern disciplinary action will be taken. Hadley adds that radical Islamic elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan are using the report as an excuse to incite violence. [New York Times, 5/16/2005] Three weeks later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jeremy Callaway, James Leahy, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill, Damien Corsetti, Carolyn A. Wood, Lawrence Di Rita, Mullah Habibullah, New York Times, Steven Loring, US Department of Defense, Selena Salcedo, Thomas Curtis
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
A Koran kept for detainees’ use at Guantanamo. The surgical mask is provided to keep the Koran off the floor, and the guards from touching the book. [Source: GlobalSecurity (.org)]The Pentagon confirms that at least five incidents of deliberate and accidental Koran desecration have occurred at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and White House recently denied a Newsweek report of one such incident. Both lambasted the news magazine for printing the claim without what it called sufficent proof, and blamed Newsweek’s reporting for sparking lethal riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see May 6-9, 2005 and May 15, 2005). While the Pentagon and White House denunciations of the Newsweek report were timed to garner extensive media attention, the Pentagon report is released to the press and the public at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, ensuring that it will not make Friday evening newscasts and, as author Frank Rich will later write, “be buried in the weekend papers.” (The Pentagon denies trying to downplay the report.) In the documented incidents, guards stepped on, kicked, and in one case urinated on Korans owned by the detainees. The urination incident is described as accidental—according to the report, a guard urinated near an outside air vent and his urine was caught in the airstream and carried into a prisoner’s cell. The detainee, who was also splashed, was given a fresh garment and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded. In another instance, guards throwing water balloons got detainees’ Korans wet. In a third instance, a two-word obscenity in English was written on the inside cover of a Koran, though the investigation could not determine whether a guard or a detainee wrote the phrase. In a fourth incident, an interrogator kicked a detainee’s Koran (see February 26, 2002-March 7, 2002). In a fifth incident, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee’s Koran during questioning; the contractor is later fired for misconduct. Four other complaints of Koran desecration are not confirmed. “Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence,” says Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo Joint Task Force. “Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned.” Hood says that no evidence of a Koran being flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek reported, has been found. Hood has already been caught in at least one misstatement; he claimed before the report that four of the five instances took place before January 2003, when written procedures covering handling of religious materials were implemented. The report says that four of those five incidents actually took place after January 2003. Captain Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for the task force, says he cannot explain Hood’s contradictory statement. “Maybe he misspoke,” Weir says. “I’m not sure why he would have put it that way.” Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the Hood report confirms that US guards handle the Koran with respect and dignity. “The Southern Command policy of Koran handling is serious, respectful, and appropriate,” he says. “The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy.” [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 166]
Jed Babbin. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]Three days before a group of military analysts are taken to Guantanamo by the Pentagon for an orchestrated “tour” (see June 24-25, 2005), one planning e-mail from Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence gives weight to the belief that the tour was arranged to prepare the analysts to deliver scripted talking points before the cameras (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Lawrence notes the importance of scheduling the Guantanamo trip to ensure that an analyst for the American Spectator, Jed Babbin, can participate: “He is hosting a number of radio shows this summer. I would have to think he would have every member of Congress on to talk about their trip together—a definite plus for us looking to expand the echo chamber.” Babbin will respond with a Spectator article lambasting Democratic critics of Guantanamo, and will be given an invitation to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News talk show. Pentagon public relations official Lawrence Di Rita is quite pleased by Babbin’s work, and in an e-mail to other Pentagon officials, says: “We really should try to help [Babbin]. He is consistently solid and helpful.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
The Defense Department dispatches emergency coordinators to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi “to provide a wide range of assistance including communications equipment, search and rescue operations, medical teams and other emergency supplies,” according to an Associated Press report. Pentagon representative Lawrence Di Rita says that the states have adequate National Guard units to adequately respond to the hurricane; at least 60 percent of the Guard available in each state. According to Di Rita, the First US Army, based at Fort Gillem near Atlanta, has 1,600 National Guard troops that were there training to go to Iraq, and they will be available to assist the states or evacuate Camp Shelby in Mississippi, if necessary. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005]
Dan Senor. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Fox News analyst Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq [White House, 10/1/2006; Salon, 5/10/2008] , writes an article for the neoconservative magazine Weekly Standard about the upcoming trial of captured Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. Senor writes that the trial will provide “a peek into the depths of human evil and, embarrassingly, if incidentally, into the concurrent indifference of Western nations to Iraqi suffering. Thus far, the accountability of Nuremberg, the Hague, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone has eluded Arab-Muslim leaders. This is about to change.” Senor also says that part of Hussein’s trial strategy will be to attempt to create sympathy for his “humiliation” that will translate into “a spike in the insurgency…” He notes that “an increase in violence is anticipated by Commanding General George Casey too.” [Weekly Standard, 10/2/2005] According to Pentagon documents released as part of the New York Times investigation into the Pentagon propaganda operation surrounding Iraq (see May 9, 2008), Senor routinely asks the advice of Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita about what he should say on his television broadcasts, and submits articles such as this to Di Rita for editing directions. [Salon, 5/10/2008]
Joseph Galloway. [Source: National Public Radio]Veteran war correspondent Joseph Galloway, a stern critic of the Iraq policies of the administration and the Pentagon, journeys to the Pentagon for what he believes to be a one-on-one lunch with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The reporter is surprised to find that Rumsfeld has invited four colleagues along to assist him with Galloway: Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff of the Army; the director of the Joint Staff, Walter Sharp; and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Larry Di Rita. The highlights of the lunch discussion, which is marked by a series of digressions and tangential conversations, are as follows:
Rumsfeld tells Galloway, “I’m not hearing anything like the things you are writing about.” Galloway responds that he often found that people in positions of such power and influence rarely receive the unvarnished truth. Rumsfeld retorts: “Oh, I know that but I talk to lots of soldiers all the time. Why, I have given over 600 town hall meetings and anyone can ask me anything.”
Rumsfeld then shifts gears to visit one of Galloway’s favorite topics: the question of whether the US Army is broken. Far from being in poor shape, Rumsfeld asserts, the Army is “light years better than it was four years ago.” Galloway counters that Rumsfeld’s strategies are nonsensical if they result in Army and Marine soldiers being sent in endless forays down the same highways to die by roadside bombs. The US is playing to the insurgency’s strong suit, Galloway argues. Rumsfeld agrees, and says he has instructed the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, to shift the focus from patrolling to “standing up” the Iraqi defense forces. He has told Iraq’s leaders that the US is losing the stomach for the ever-growing casualty count, “and they understand that and agree with it.” Galloway parries Rumsfeld’s talk with a question about the Army sending bill collectors after wounded soldiers who lost limbs in a bombing, or were “overpaid” for combat duty and benefits. Rumsfeld blames the Pentagon’s computer system, and says the problem is being addressed.
Rumsfeld agrees with one of Galloway’s columns that lambasted the Pentagon for doing enemy body counts. “We are NOT going to do body counts,” Rumsfeld asserts. Galloway retorts that the Pentagon is indeed doing body counts and releasing them, and has been doing so for a year. If you don’t want to do body counts, Galloway says, then stop doing them.
Throughout the conversation, Rumsfeld jots down notes on what he considers to be valid points or criticisms. Galloway writes: “Others at the table winced. They had visions of a fresh shower of the secretary’s famous ‘snowflakes,’ memos demanding answers or action or both.” Before Galloway leaves, Rumsfeld shows him some memorabilia and tells him, “I want you to know that I love soldiers and I care about soldiers. All of us here do.” Galloway replies that concern for the troops and their welfare and safety are his only purpose, “and I intend to keep kicking your butt regularly to make sure you stay focused on that goal.” As Galloway writes, “He grinned and said: ‘That’s all right. I can take it.’” [Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005]
Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” [McClatchy News, 5/15/2008]
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