Copper Green

Seymour Hersh reports that Donald Rumsfeld personally ordered the expansion of aggressive interrogation — including sexual humiliation — from a few select al-Qaeda prisoners to Iraqi captives generally.

Hersh, Part III: Rumsfeld personally ordered the rules of interrogation previously directed only at the top Al-Qaeda suspects applied more broadly. If Hersh really has this one — and he’s claiming lots of intelligence-community sources, not just one — then Rumsfeld is, or at least deserves to be, toast.

The code-name “Copper Green” should make it relatively easy for Congress to find out what was going on, especially since, if Hersh has the story right, there are several people in the CIA who know what was going on and are fulminatingly angry about it. Hersh reports that the CIA officially withdrew from the program. If so, there must be a paper trail. And he says that senior officers of the Army JAG corps approached the President of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on International Human Rights to ask him to do something about interrogation practices. That, too, shouldn’t be hard to check.

Hersh also asserts that “Copper Green” — which he says originated as a program to capture or kill to Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures — was classified-way-beyond-Top-Secret Special Access Program, and that some of the interrogators working at Abu Ghraib had been put under Copper Green auspices. If that’s right, the defense attorneys at the coming courts-martial are going to have some cards to play. Obviously, the interrogators are key witnesses. Equally obviously, they can’t testify in open court about I-could-tell-ya-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-ya material.

The Pentagon is denying it all : no surprise there. Update Michael Froomkin parses Di Rita’s prose and finds that it doesn’t actually deny the facts Hersh alleges.

I wonder whether Rumsfeld can get Tenet to deny it? If Tenet says it’s not true, I wouldn’t be too quick to call him a liar. Hersh is a good reporter, but he’s gotten over-enthusiastic in the past.

Note that Hersh doesn’t just charge that Rumsfeld ordered an expansion of the number of people subject to the most aggressive forms of questioning, and that his order contributed to a situation in which the non-com reserve MPs could think they were authorized to act as they did, and in which no one in authority put a stop to it before Spec. Darby dropped a dime on the CID. Hersh says that Rumsfeld specifically ordered the use of sexual humiliation.

Hersh even manages to weave the picture-taking (though not necessarily the full obsenity of the Abu Ghraib photos) into a coherent strategy:

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.

[As I read the law, sexual humiliation, or even rape (unless it involves “severe physical pain or suffering”) isn’t defined as torture under our domestic law. Too bad; 20 years might be enough to allow the officials responsible for what happened to appreciate the wrongfulness of their acts. I’d suggest an amendment to the law.]

[Correction Several readers more learned in the law than I tell me that rape, and probably even the lesser forms of sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib, would almost certainly be covered as war crimes under 18 U.S.C. 2441, which incorporates the Geneva Conventions into domestic law. I hope so.]

Note that the Army announced yesterday that it was cutting back on the use of aggressive questioning techniques in Iraq. Maybe that’s just bureaucratic barn-door closing and CYA, but maybe it reflects a judgment that a little bit of torture is almost as hard to maintain as a little bit of pregnancy.

Phil Carter is suspending judgment, which seems prudent. I doubt he’ll have many imitators, though. And he’s right: “the truth is out there,” and one way or another it’s likely to come in, sooner rather than later.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

One thought on “Copper Green”

  1. The Bigger Picture

    Seymore Hersh and the Newsweek investigative team have similar stories to tell — the administration has tried, consistently, since 9/11 to both expand the range of acceptable interrogation techniques and the class of persons to which such techniques a…

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