Release the Hounds!


As the Abu Ghraib stink wears off, Sanchez is back in line for promotion

Defense Dept.


Low friends in high places: Above, Ricardo Sanchez chats with Don Rumsfeld in ’03 at Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad. The only book on the shelf between them (see inset) is Rudy Giuliani‘s Leadership. Below, Sanchez with his arm around Katherine Harris during the congresswoman’s ’03 tour of Iraq. You may remember Harris as the Florida secretary of state who appointed George W. Bush president in 2000.
U.S. House

As long as this current eructation of American imperialism lasts, there’ll always be a Lynndie England. The Abu Ghraib scandal, in other words, may be forgotten, but it’s not gone.

Despite that, this morning comes a New York Times report that the Pentagon is considering promoting Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The inveterate butt-kisser who authorized illegal, immoral, and unmilitary interrogation procedures at Abu Ghraib—on behalf of the Pentagon’s crazed civilians—escaped direct blame in the Abu G investigations.

Or so the Times says. The story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker is laid to unnamed “Pentagon and military officials.” It’s clearly a trial balloon by the Pentagon to see how strong the public’s gag reflex is. Judging by the way the Times presented this story, it’s pretty clear that the reporters think we’ll swallow anything.

Certainly it makes sense, from the Bush regime’s perspective, to put Sanchez in charge of our Southern Command. Just think: U.S. Latino kids shooting at Latin Americans—people of color killing people of color is considered in some quarters a win-win situation.

The Times, of course, made some of those points, but in not exactly the same manner:

General Sanchez, said by Pentagon and military officials to have been in line for the Southern Command job before the detainee-abuse scandal broke, even now cannot expect such speedy approval, despite his compelling background. Army officials say he is an inspiration for young Hispanics, who are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak trend for Army recruiting. The percentage of Hispanics among all new recruits has increased to about 13 percent from 8 percent in the past decade.

“General Sanchez, as a role model, is extremely important,” said a senior Army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of General Sanchez’s uncertain future. “The Army sells growth, opportunity and development. We cannot ignore what our population makeup is.”

Beyond that factor, though, the officer emphasized that General Sanchez, with his knowledge of Latin America and fluency in Spanish, would bring valuable advantages in commanding a region that is becoming more volatile.

Hey, if it isn’t volatile enough right now, wait until we send troops.

Anyway, Schmitt and Shanker also said this about Sanchez’s prospective promotion:

Such a move, which has been urged by senior Army officers and civilian officials now that an Army inquiry has cleared General Sanchez of wrongdoing, seems to reflect a growing confidence that the military has put the abuse scandal behind it.

Sorry, not until a full investigation.

Nevertheless, Schmitt and Shanker, buying into the phony and facile public-relations concept that the military can actually put a scandal “behind it” without the fully felt grief of a probe, add:

[W]ith the most senior officers cleared of wrongdoing, there is a belief among many at the Pentagon and in the military that the scandal may be receding in the rear-view mirror of public opinion.

Look closer, fellas. Many of us are giving you the finger.

But this is a smart move by SecDef Don Rumsfeld. Once again, from Schmitt and Shanker:

[The promotion of Sanchez] is one of two changes being considered that would involve new posts for senior generals who had previously been ruled out for nominations to the commands because of Senate outrage over Abu Ghraib, the officials say.

Yes, once again the Senate is about to be has been outmaneuvered by Bush’s handlers. The senators will be too embroiled in judicial matters—such as perhaps a new Chief Justice of the U.S. to replace William Rehnquist—to give a shit about Sanchez. Abu G was two or three catastrophes ago, for crises’ sake.

But before Abu G “recedes” any farther in our rear-view mirror, keep in mind that objects in such mirrors are closer than they appear.

So we still have time to clear up some misconceptions in the Times‘ lame piece. To say that Sanchez was “cleared,” for example, is plain wrong.

As Elise Ackerman of Knight-Ridder (which routinely kicks the Times‘ ass in most matters Iraqi) wrote last August 26:

Lt. Gen. Anthony Jones, who was asked to investigate the culpability of higher-ranking officers, said he found Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, responsible for failing “to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation procedures.”

General Paul Kern, who oversaw the so-called Fay-Jones investigation of Abu G abuses and misdeeds, was quoted by Ackerman as saying, “We discovered serious misconduct and a loss of moral values.” And he wasn’t just talking about Lynndie England and Chuck Graner.

Ackerman’s story gave Sanchez and other top dogs their due, noting:

Jones and the other generals said the top commanders “performed above expectations,” given the overall challenge of dealing with a violent insurgency and a lack of resources.

The problem, however, is that the military went out of its way to split hairs when it came to responsibility. Ackerman quoted Kern as saying:

“We did not find General Sanchez culpable, but we did find him responsible.”

That may be double-dealing bullshit, but it still doesn’t sound like “cleared” to me.

Typically, this morning’s New York Times story practically ignores the fact that the issue of Sanchez’s promotion not only came up long ago—before the November election—but was written about way back then by other reporters at other newspapers. John Hendren of the Los Angeles Times wrote a smart piece about it last October 15, saying that, according to two senior Defense officials, Rumsfeld and General Richard “Quag” Myers “have privately told colleagues they are determined to pin a fourth star on Sanchez.” Hendren added:

Rumsfeld and others recognize that Sanchez remains politically “radioactive,” in the words of a third senior defense official, and would wait until after the Nov. 2 presidential election and investigations of the Abu Ghraib scandal have faded before putting his name forward.

Hendren already had the whole story back in October:

An appointment would encourage a confrontation in the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans who would have to approve the nomination have criticized Sanchez’s oversight of Abu Ghraib and the conduct of the war.

“If they really felt comfortable about this and felt it was justifiable, they would do it before the election,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who was skeptical of the timing.

A senior Senate Republican aide was more blunt.

“I would say that he would have a snowball’s chance,” the aide said, on condition of anonymity. “Somebody needs to be held accountable…. He failed in his leadership role.”

Earlier this year, Sanchez was Rumsfeld’s choice to take over the U.S. Southern Command, a post that would have elevated the three-star general to four stars. But his name was never formally offered after Senate Armed Services Committee members challenged Sanchez’s role in overseeing the war and the Abu Ghraib prison affair.

And even if Sanchez is shunted off to Latin America to direct future misadventures there, his promotion wouldn’t likely help our current situation in that other hemisphere. As Hendren wrote last October:

A Sanchez promotion could also engender criticism in the Middle East, where Abu Ghraib has become an anti-American rallying cry.

“It’ll just be one more thumb in the eye of the Iraqis and the Arab world,” said Charles V. Pena, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. “If Sanchez gets another star, it’s just more evidence that we’re not trying to deal with the hearts and mind issues inside Iraq or the larger Islamic world.”

Yet another point that the New York Times, apparently, believes has receded from view.

But, see, there’s still the issue of whether Sanchez was “cleared.” No matter how the New York Times tries to spin it, the guy was not cleared. How the hell do you think we wound up terrorizing Iraqis with dogs? Once again, Hendren pointed out last October:

[Sanchez] personally approved some of the controversial interrogation tactics that have been criticized as abusive to prisoners, according to classified portions of a recent report to Congress by Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, obtained by the [L.A.] Times. A year ago [the fall of 2003], Sanchez changed the interrogation policy three times in less than 30 days, confusing interrogators as to what was permissible, Fay wrote.

I suppose that also “clears” Sanchez.

Let’s let a former Defense secretary describe the situation, as Hendren did, and the New York Times didn’t:

In a Sept. 9, [2004] report to Congress, former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger found that Sanchez was “responsible” for creating an environment that contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but not directly “culpable.”

Schlesinger defended Sanchez against formal censure, suggesting that his career was effectively over.

“Gen. Sanchez likely would have gotten his fourth star, and now is unlikely to get his fourth star,” Schlesinger said. “That is a kind of comment on failed responsibility.”

Or, in the words of this morning’s New York Times, Sanchez was “cleared.”

Except that the reporters who wrote that apparently forgot that even their own newspaper has carried information—facts, not opinions—saying something quite different.

This past January 5, during the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Alberto Gonzales’s nomination as attorney general, Senator Pat Leahy brought up the following quote from the Schlesinger report, according to the hearing transcript in the New York Times:

“Lieutenant General Sanchez signed a memo authorizing a dozen interrogation techniques beyond standard Army practice, including five beyond those applied at Guantanamo.”

Leahy added:

He did so, quote, “using reasoning from the president’s memo of February the 7th, 2002.”

Oh, I see. It was “cleared” by Gonzales and Bush.