The Gray Zone

by Seymour M. Hersh

How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib.

The New Yorker -- Issue of 2004-05-24

Posted 2004-05-15


The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in

the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but

in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of

Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret

operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al

Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq.

Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American

intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of

elite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the

war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present

American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's

operation, known inside the intelligence community by

several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged

physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi

prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence

about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A.

official, in confirming the details of this account

last week, said that the operation stemmed from

Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of

America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from

the C.I.A.

Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress

to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from

explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an

unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that

he was telling the public all that he knew about the

story. He said, "Any suggestion that there is not a

full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the

damage it has done, I think, would be a

misunderstanding." The senior C.I.A. official, asked

about Rumsfeld's testimony and that of Stephen Cambone,

his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, "Some

people think you can bullshit anyone."

The Abu Ghraib story began, in a sense, just weeks

after the September 11, 2001, attacks, with the

American bombing of Afghanistan. Almost from the start,

the Administration's search for Al Qaeda members in the

war zone, and its worldwide search for terrorists, came

up against major command-and-control problems. For

example, combat forces that had Al Qaeda targets in

sight had to obtain legal clearance before firing on

them. On October 7th, the night the bombing began, an

unmanned Predator aircraft tracked an automobile convoy

that, American intelligence believed, contained Mullah

Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader. A lawyer on duty at

the United States Central Command headquarters, in

Tampa, Florida, refused to authorize a strike. By the

time an attack was approved, the target was out of

reach. Rumsfeld was apoplectic over what he saw as a

self-defeating hesitation to attack that was due to

political correctness. One officer described him to me

that fall as "kicking a lot of glass and breaking

doors." In November, the Washington Post reported that,

as many as ten times since early October, Air Force

pilots believed they'd had senior Al Qaeda and Taliban

members in their sights but had been unable to act in

time because of legalistic hurdles. There were similar

problems throughout the world, as American Special

Forces units seeking to move quickly against suspected

terrorist cells were compelled to get prior approval

from local American ambassadors and brief their

superiors in the chain of command.

Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he

authorized the establishment of a highly secret program

that was given blanket advance approval to kill or

capture and, if possible, interrogate "high value"

targets in the Bush Administration's war on terror. A

special-access program, or sap-subject to the Defense

Department's most stringent level of security-was set

up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon.

The program would recruit operatives and acquire the

necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep

its activities under wraps. America's most successful

intelligence operations during the Cold War had been

saps, including the Navy's submarine penetration of

underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and

construction of the Air Force's stealth bomber. All the

so-called "black" programs had one element in common:

the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to

conclude that the normal military classification

restraints did not provide enough security.

"Rumsfeld's goal was to get a capability in place to

take on a high-value target-a standup group to hit

quickly," a former high-level intelligence official

told me. "He got all the agencies together-the C.I.A.

and the N.S.A.-to get pre-approval in place. Just say

the code word and go." The operation had across-the-

board approval from Rumsfeld and from Condoleezza Rice,

the national-security adviser. President Bush was

informed of the existence of the program, the former

intelligence official said.

The people assigned to the program worked by the book,

the former intelligence official told me. They created

code words, and recruited, after careful screening,

highly trained commandos and operatives from America's

elite forces-Navy seals, the Army's Delta Force, and

the C.I.A.'s paramilitary experts. They also asked some

basic questions: "Do the people working the problem

have to use aliases? Yes. Do we need dead drops for the

mail? Yes. No traceability and no budget. And some

special- access programs are never fully briefed to


In theory, the operation enabled the Bush

Administration to respond immediately to time-sensitive

intelligence: commandos crossed borders without visas

and could interrogate terrorism suspects deemed too

important for transfer to the military's facilities at

Guantanamo, Cuba. They carried out instant

interrogations-using force if necessary-at secret

C.I.A. detention centers scattered around the world.

The intelligence would be relayed to the sap command

center in the Pentagon in real time, and sifted for

those pieces of information critical to the "white," or

overt, world.

Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials,

including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman

of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were "completely read

into the program," the former intelligence official

said. The goal was to keep the operation protected.

"We're not going to read more people than necessary

into our heart of darkness," he said. "The rules are

'Grab whom you must. Do what you want.'"

One Pentagon official who was deeply involved in the

program was Stephen Cambone, who was named Under-

Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in March, 2003.

The office was new; it was created as part of

Rumsfeld's reorganization of the Pentagon. Cambone was

unpopular among military and civilian intelligence

bureaucrats in the Pentagon, essentially because he had

little experience in running intelligence programs,

though in 1998 he had served as staff director for a

committee, headed by Rumsfeld, that warned of an

emerging ballistic-missile threat to the United States.

He was known instead for his closeness to Rumsfeld.

"Remember Henry II-'Who will rid me of this meddlesome

priest?'" the senior C.I.A. official said to me, with a

laugh, last week. "Whatever Rumsfeld whimsically says,

Cambone will do ten times that much."

Cambone was a strong advocate for war against Iraq. He

shared Rumsfeld's disdain for the analysis and

assessments proffered by the C.I.A., viewing them as

too cautious, and chafed, as did Rumsfeld, at the

C.I.A.'s inability, before the Iraq war, to state

conclusively that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of

mass destruction. Cambone's military assistant, Army

Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, was also

controversial. Last fall, he generated unwanted

headlines after it was reported that, in a speech at an

Oregon church, he equated the Muslim world with Satan.

Early in his tenure, Cambone provoked a bureaucratic

battle within the Pentagon by insisting that he be

given control of all special-access programs that were

relevant to the war on terror. Those programs, which

had been viewed by many in the Pentagon as sacrosanct,

were monitored by Kenneth deGraffenreid, who had

experience in counter-intelligence programs. Cambone

got control, and deGraffenreid subsequently left the

Pentagon. Asked for comment on this story, a Pentagon

spokesman said, "I will not discuss any covert

programs; however, Dr. Cambone did not assume his

position as the Under- Secretary of Defense for

Intelligence until March 7, 2003, and had no

involvement in the decision-making process regarding

interrogation procedures in Iraq or anywhere else."

In mid-2003, the special-access program was regarded in

the Pentagon as one of the success stories of the war

on terror. "It was an active program," the former

intelligence official told me. "It's been the most

important capability we have for dealing with an

imminent threat. If we discover where Osama bin Laden

is, we can get him. And we can remove an existing

threat with a real capability to hit the United States-

and do so without visibility." Some of its methods were

troubling and could not bear close scrutiny, however.

By then, the war in Iraq had begun. The sap was

involved in some assignments in Iraq, the former

official said. C.I.A. and other American Special Forces

operatives secretly teamed up to hunt for Saddam

Hussein and- without success-for Iraqi weapons of mass

destruction. But they weren't able to stop the evolving


In the first months after the fall of Baghdad, Rumsfeld

and his aides still had a limited view of the

insurgency, seeing it as little more than the work of

Baathist "dead-enders," criminal gangs, and foreign

terrorists who were Al Qaeda followers. The

Administration measured its success in the war by how

many of those on its list of the fifty-five most wanted

members of the old regime-reproduced on playing cards-

had been captured. Then, in August, 2003, terror

bombings in Baghdad hit the Jordanian Embassy, killing

nineteen people, and the United Nations headquarters,

killing twenty-three people, including Sergio Vieira de

Mello, the head of the U.N. mission. On August 25th,

less than a week after the U.N. bombing, Rumsfeld

acknowledged, in a talk before the Veterans of Foreign

Wars, that "the dead-enders are still with us." He went

on, "There are some today who are surprised that there

are still pockets of resistance in Iraq, and they

suggest that this represents some sort of failure on

the part of the Coalition. But this is not the case."

Rumsfeld compared the insurgents with those true

believers who "fought on during and after the defeat of

the Nazi regime in Germany." A few weeks later-and five

months after the fall of Baghdad-the Defense Secretary

declared,"It is, in my view, better to be dealing with

terrorists in Iraq than in the United States."

Inside the Pentagon, there was a growing realization

that the war was going badly. The increasingly

beleaguered and baffled Army leadership was telling

reporters that the insurgents consisted of five

thousand Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein. "When you

understand that they're organized in a cellular

structure," General John Abizaid, the head of the

Central Command, declared, "that . . . they have access

to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you'll

understand how dangerous they are."

The American military and intelligence communities were

having little success in penetrating the insurgency.

One internal report prepared for the U.S. military,

made available to me, concluded that the

insurgents'"strategic and operational intelligence has

proven to be quite good." According to the study:

Their ability to attack convoys, other vulnerable

targets and particular individuals has been the

result of painstaking surveillance and

reconnaissance. Inside information has been passed

on to insurgent cells about convoy/troop movements

and daily habits of Iraqis working with coalition

from within the Iraqi security services, primarily

the Iraqi Police force which is rife with sympathy

for the insurgents, Iraqi ministries and from within

pro-insurgent individuals working with the CPA's so-

called Green Zone.

The study concluded, "Politically, the U.S. has failed

to date. Insurgencies can be fixed or ameliorated by

dealing with what caused them in the first place. The

disaster that is the reconstruction of Iraq has been

the key cause of the insurgency. There is no legitimate

government, and it behooves the Coalition Provisional

Authority to absorb the sad but unvarnished fact that

most Iraqis do not see the Governing Council"-the Iraqi

body appointed by the C.P.A.-"as the legitimate

authority. Indeed, they know that the true power is the


By the fall, a military analyst told me, the extent of

the Pentagon's political and military misjudgments was

clear. Donald Rumsfeld's "dead-enders" now included not

only Baathists but many marginal figures as well-thugs

and criminals who were among the tens of thousands of

prisoners freed the previous fall by Saddam as part of

a prewar general amnesty. Their desperation was not

driving the insurgency; it simply made them easy

recruits for those who were. The analyst said, "We'd

killed and captured guys who had been given two or

three hundred dollars to 'pray and spray'"-that is,

shoot randomly and hope for the best. "They weren't

really insurgents but down-and-outers who were paid by

wealthy individuals sympathetic to the insurgency." In

many cases, the paymasters were Sunnis who had been

members of the Baath Party. The analyst said that the

insurgents "spent three or four months figuring out how

we operated and developing their own countermeasures.

If that meant putting up a hapless guy to go and attack

a convoy and see how the American troops responded,

they'd do it." Then, the analyst said, "the clever ones

began to get in on the action."

By contrast, according to the military report, the

American and Coalition forces knew little about the

insurgency: "Human intelligence is poor or lacking . .

. due to the dearth of competence and expertise. . . .

The intelligence effort is not coordinated since either

too many groups are involved in gathering intelligence

or the final product does not get to the troops in the

field in a timely manner." The success of the war was

at risk; something had to be done to change the


The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by

Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in

the Army prison system who were suspected of being

insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey

Miller, the commander of the detention and

interrogation center at Guantanamo, who had been

summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison

interrogation procedures. The internal Army report on

the abuse charges, written by Major General Antonio

Taguba in February, revealed that Miller urged that the

commanders in Baghdad change policy and place military

intelligence in charge of the prison. The report quoted

Miller as recommending that "detention operations must

act as an enabler for interrogation."

Miller's concept, as it emerged in recent Senate

hearings, was to "Gitmoize" the prison system in Iraq-

to make it more focussed on interrogation. He also

briefed military commanders in Iraq on the

interrogation methods used in Cuba-methods that could,

with special approval, include sleep deprivation,

exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing

prisoners in "stress positions" for agonizing lengths

of time. (The Bush Administration had unilaterally

declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of

international terrorist networks to be illegal

combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the

Geneva Conventions.)

Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they

expanded the scope of the sap, bringing its

unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos

were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The

male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to

sexual humiliation.

"They weren't getting anything substantive from the

detainees in Iraq," the former intelligence official

told me. "No names. Nothing that they could hang their

hat on. Cambone says, I've got to crack this thing and

I'm tired of working through the normal chain of

command. I've got this apparatus set up-the black

special-access program-and I'm going in hot. So he

pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing

last summer. And it's working. We're getting a picture

of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is

flowing into the white world. We're getting good stuff.

But we've got more targets"-prisoners in Iraqi

jails-"than people who can handle them."

Cambone then made another crucial decision, the former

intelligence official told me: not only would he bring

the sap's rules into the prisons; he would bring some

of the Army military-intelligence officers working

inside the Iraqi prisons under the sap's auspices. "So

here are fundamentally good soldiers-military-

intelligence guys- being told that no rules apply," the

former official, who has extensive knowledge of the

special-access programs, added. "And, as far as they're

concerned, this is a covert operation, and it's to be

kept within Defense Department channels."

The military-police prison guards, the former official

said, included "recycled hillbillies from Cumberland,

Maryland." He was referring to members of the 372nd

Military Police Company. Seven members of the company

are now facing charges for their role in the abuse at

Abu Ghraib. "How are these guys from Cumberland going

to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn't know what

it's doing."

Who was in charge of Abu Ghraib-whether military police

or military intelligence-was no longer the only

question that mattered. Hard-core special operatives,

some of them with aliases, were working in the prison.

The military police assigned to guard the prisoners

wore uniforms, but many others-military intelligence

officers, contract interpreters, C.I.A. officers, and

the men from the special-access program-wore civilian

clothes. It was not clear who was who, even to

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, then the commander

of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and the officer

ostensibly in charge. "I thought most of the civilians

there were interpreters, but there were some civilians

that I didn't know," Karpinski told me. "I called them

the disappearing ghosts. I'd seen them once in a while

at Abu Ghraib and then I'd see them months later. They

were nice-they'd always call out to me and say, 'Hey,

remember me? How are you doing?'" The mysterious

civilians, she said, were "always bringing in somebody

for interrogation or waiting to collect somebody going

out." Karpinski added that she had no idea who was

operating in her prison system. (General Taguba found

that Karpinski's leadership failures contributed to the


By fall, according to the former intelligence official,

the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough.

"They said, 'No way. We signed up for the core program

in Afghanistan-pre-approved for operations against

high- value terrorist targets-and now you want to use

it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled

off the streets'"-the sort of prisoners who populate

the Iraqi jails. "The C.I.A.'s legal people objected,"

and the agency ended its sap involvement in Abu Ghraib,

the former official said.

The C.I.A.'s complaints were echoed throughout the

intelligence community. There was fear that the

situation at Abu Ghraib would lead to the exposure of

the secret sap, and thereby bring an end to what had

been, before Iraq, a valuable cover operation. "This

was stupidity," a government consultant told me.

"You're taking a program that was operating in the

chaos of Afghanistan against Al Qaeda, a stateless

terror group, and bringing it into a structured,

traditional war zone. Sooner or later, the commandos

would bump into the legal and moral procedures of a

conventional war with an Army of a hundred and thirty-

five thousand soldiers."

The former senior intelligence official blamed hubris

for the Abu Ghraib disaster. "There's nothing more

exhilarating for a pissant Pentagon civilian than

dealing with an important national security issue

without dealing with military planners, who are always

worried about risk," he told me. "What could be more

boring than needing the cooperation of logistical

planners?" The only difficulty, the former official

added, is that, "as soon as you enlarge the secret

program beyond the oversight capability of experienced

people, you lose control. We've never had a case where

a special-access program went sour-and this goes back

to the Cold War."

In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who

spent much of his career directly involved with

special- access programs, spread the blame. "The White

House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the

Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone," he said. "This

is Cambone's deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the

program." When it came to the interrogation operation

at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to

Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the

consultant added, "but he's responsible for the checks

and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we've

changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and

created conditions where the ends justify the means."

Last week, statements made by one of the seven accused

M.P.s, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, who is expected to

plead guilty, were released. In them, he claimed that

senior commanders in his unit would have stopped the

abuse had they witnessed it. One of the questions that

will be explored at any trial, however, is why a group

of Army Reserve military policemen, most of them from

small towns, tormented their prisoners as they did, in

a manner that was especially humiliating for Iraqi men.

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to

sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war

Washington conservatives in the months before the

March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was

frequently cited was "The Arab Mind," a study of Arab

culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by

Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at,

among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and

who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page

chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo

vested with shame and repression. "The segregation of

the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the

other minute rules that govern and restrict contact

between men and women, have the effect of making sex a

prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world," Patai

wrote. Homosexual activity, "or any indication of

homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of

sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are

private affairs and remain in private." The Patai book,

an academic told me, was "the bible of the neocons on

Arab behavior." In their discussions, he said, two

themes emerged-"one, that Arabs only understand force

and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame

and humiliation."

The government consultant said that there may have been

a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual

humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought

that some prisoners would do anything-including spying

on their associates-to avoid dissemination of the

shameful photos to family and friends. The government

consultant said, "I was told that the purpose of the

photographs was to create an army of informants, people

you could insert back in the population." The idea was

that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and

gather information about pending insurgency action, the

consultant said. If so, it wasn't effective; the

insurgency continued to grow.

"This shit has been brewing for months," the Pentagon

consultant who has dealt with saps told me. "You don't

keep prisoners naked in their cell and then let them

get bitten by dogs. This is sick." The consultant

explained that he and his colleagues, all of whom had

served for years on active duty in the military, had

been appalled by the misuse of Army guard dogs inside

Abu Ghraib. "We don't raise kids to do things like

that. When you go after Mullah Omar, that's one thing.

But when you give the authority to kids who don't know

the rules, that's another."

In 2003, Rumsfeld's apparent disregard for the

requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying

out the war on terror had led a group of senior

military legal officers from the Judge Advocate

General's (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within

five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of

the New York City Bar Association's Committee on

International Human Rights. "They wanted us to

challenge the Bush Administration about its standards

for detentions and interrogation," Horton told me.

"They were urging us to get involved and speak in a

very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue.

The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and

it's going to occur." The military officials were most

alarmed about the growing use of civilian contractors

in the interrogation process, Horton recalled. "They

said there was an atmosphere of legal ambiguity being

created as a result of a policy decision at the highest

levels in the Pentagon. The jag officers were being cut

out of the policy formulation process." They told him

that, with the war on terror, a fifty-year history of

exemplary application of the Geneva Conventions had

come to an end.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed on January 13th,

when Joseph Darby, a young military policeman assigned

to Abu Ghraib, reported the wrongdoing to the Army's

Criminal Investigations Division. He also turned over a

CD full of photographs. Within three days, a report

made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President


The inquiry presented a dilemma for the Pentagon. The

C.I.D. had to be allowed to continue, the former

intelligence official said. "You can't cover it up. You

have to prosecute these guys for being off the

reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they

were covered by the special-access program? So you hope

that maybe it'll go away." The Pentagon's attitude last

January, he said, was "Somebody got caught with some

photos. What's the big deal? Take care of it."

Rumsfeld's explanation to the White House, the official

added, was reassuring: "'We've got a glitch in the

program. We'll prosecute it.' The cover story was that

some kids got out of control."

In their testimony before Congress last week, Rumsfeld

and Cambone struggled to convince the legislators that

Miller's visit to Baghdad in late August had nothing to

do with the subsequent abuse. Cambone sought to assure

the Senate Armed Services Committee that the interplay

between Miller and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez,

the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had only a casual

connection to his office. Miller's recommendations,

Cambone said, were made to Sanchez. His own role, he

said, was mainly to insure that the "flow of

intelligence back to the commands" was "efficient and

effective." He added that Miller's goal was "to provide

a safe, secure and humane environment that supports the

expeditious collection of intelligence."

It was a hard sell. Senator Hillary Clinton, Democrat

of New York, posed the essential question facing the


If, indeed, General Miller was sent from Guantanamo

to Iraq for the purpose of acquiring more actionable

intelligence from detainees, then it is fair to

conclude that the actions that are at point here in

your report [on abuses at Abu Ghraib] are in some

way connected to General Miller's arrival and his

specific orders, however they were interpreted, by

those MPs and the military intelligence that were

involved.. . .Therefore, I for one don't believe I

yet have adequate information from Mr. Cambone and

the Defense Department as to exactly what General

Miller's orders were . . . how he carried out those

orders, and the connection between his arrival in

the fall of '03 and the intensity of the abuses that

occurred afterward.

Sometime before the Abu Ghraib abuses became public,

the former intelligence official told me, Miller was

"read in"-that is, briefed-on the special-access

operation. In April, Miller returned to Baghdad to

assume control of the Iraqi prisons; once the scandal

hit, with its glaring headlines, General Sanchez

presented him to the American and international media

as the general who would clean up the Iraqi prison

system and instill respect for the Geneva Conventions.

"His job is to save what he can," the former official

said. "He's there to protect the program while limiting

any loss of core capability." As for Antonio Taguba,

the former intelligence official added, "He goes into

it not knowing shit. And then: 'Holy cow! What's going


If General Miller had been summoned by Congress to

testify, he, like Rumsfeld and Cambone, would not have

been able to mention the special-access program. "If

you give away the fact that a special-access program

exists,"the former intelligence official told me, "you

blow the whole quick-reaction program."

One puzzling aspect of Rumsfeld's account of his

initial reaction to news of the Abu Ghraib

investigation was his lack of alarm and lack of

curiosity. One factor may have been recent history:

there had been many previous complaints of prisoner

abuse from organization like Human Rights Watch and the

International Red Cross, and the Pentagon had weathered

them with ease. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services

Committee that he had not been provided with details of

alleged abuses until late March, when he read the

specific charges. "You read it, as I say, it's one

thing. You see these photographs and it's just

unbelievable. . . . It wasn't three- dimensional. It

wasn't video. It wasn't color. It was quite a different

thing." The former intelligence official said that, in

his view, Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials

had not studied the photographs because "they thought

what was in there was permitted under the rules of

engagement," as applied to the sap. "The photos," he

added, "turned out to be the result of the program run


The former intelligence official made it clear that he

was not alleging that Rumsfeld or General Myers knew

that atrocities were committed. But, he said, "it was

their permission granted to do the sap, generically,

and there was enough ambiguity, which permitted the


This official went on, "The black guys"-those in the

Pentagon's secret program-"say we've got to accept the

prosecution. They're vaccinated from the reality." The

sap is still active, and "the United States is picking

up guys for interrogation. The question is, how do they

protect the quick-reaction force without blowing its

cover?" The program was protected by the fact that no

one on the outside was allowed to know of its

existence. "If you even give a hint that you're aware

of a black program that you're not read into, you lose

your clearances," the former official said. "Nobody

will talk. So the only people left to prosecute are

those who are undefended-the poor kids at the end of

the food chain."

The most vulnerable senior official is Cambone. "The

Pentagon is trying now to protect Cambone, and doesn't

know how to do it," the former intelligence official


Last week, the government consultant, who has close

ties to many conservatives, defended the

Administration's continued secrecy about the special-

access program in Abu Ghraib. "Why keep it black?" the

consultant asked. "Because the process is unpleasant.

It's like making sausage-you like the result but you

don't want to know how it was made. Also, you don't

want the Iraqi public, and the Arab world, to know.

Remember, we went to Iraq to democratize the Middle

East. The last thing you want to do is let the Arab

world know how you treat Arab males in prison."

The former intelligence official told me he feared that

one of the disastrous effects of the prison-abuse

scandal would be the undermining of legitimate

operations in the war on terror, which had already

suffered from the draining of resources into Iraq. He

portrayed Abu Ghraib as "a tumor" on the war on terror.

He said, "As long as it's benign and contained, the

Pentagon can deal with the photo crisis without

jeopardizing the secret program. As soon as it begins

to grow, with nobody to diagnose it-it becomes a

malignant tumor."

The Pentagon consultant made a similar point. Cambone

and his superiors, the consultant said, "created the

conditions that allowed transgressions to take place.

And now we're going to end up with another Church

Commission"-the 1975 Senate committee on intelligence,

headed by Senator Frank Church, of Idaho, which

investigated C.I.A. abuses during the previous two

decades. Abu Ghraib had sent the message that the

Pentagon leadership was unable to handle its

discretionary power. "When the shit hits the fan, as it

did on 9/11, how do you push the pedal?" the consultant

asked. "You do it selectively and with intelligence."

"Congress is going to get to the bottom of this," the

Pentagon consultant said. "You have to demonstrate that

there are checks and balances in the system." He added,

"When you live in a world of gray zones, you have to

have very clear red lines."

Senator John McCain, of Arizona, said, "If this is

true, it certainly increases the dimension of this

issue and deserves significant scrutiny. I will do all

possible to get to the bottom of this, and all other


"In an odd way," Kenneth Roth, the executive director

of Human Rights Watch, said, "the sexual abuses at Abu

Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse

and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is

authorized." Since September 11th, Roth added, the

military has systematically used third-degree

techniques around the world on detainees. "Some jags

hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of

mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next

war," Roth told me. "We're giving the world a ready-

made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld

has lowered the bar."