Since September 11, 2001, Seymour M. Hersh has riveted readers -- and outraged the Bush Administration -- with his stories in The New Yorker magazine, including his breakthrough pieces on the Abu Gharaib prison scandal. Now, in Chain of Command , he brings together this reporting, along with new revelations, to answer the critical question of the last three years: how did America get from the clear morning when hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to a divisive and dirty war in Iraq Hersh established himself at the forefront of investigative journalism thirty-five years ago when he broke the news of the massacre in My Lai, Vietnam, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Ever since, he's challenged America's power elite by publishing the stories that others can't or won't tell. In Chain of Command , Hersh takes an unflinching look behind the public story of President Bush's "war on terror" and into the lies and obsessions that led America into Iraq.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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July 31, 2005
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Excerpt from Chain of Command by Seymour M. Hersh
In the late summer of 2002, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst made a quiet visit to the detention center at the U.S. Naval Base at Guant namo Bay, Cuba, where an estimated six hundred prisoners were being held, many, at first, in steel-mesh cages that provided little protection from the brutally hot sun. Most had been captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan during the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration had determined, however, that they were not prisoners of war, but "enemy combatants," and that their stay at Guant namo could be indefinite, as teams of C.I.A., F.B.I., and military interrogators sought to pry intelligence out of them. In a series of secret memorandums written earlier in the year, lawyers for the White House, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department had agreed that the prisoners had no rights under federal law or the Geneva Conventions. President Bush endorsed the finding, while declaring that the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees were nevertheless to be treated in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions as long as such treatment was also "consistent with military necessity."
Getting the interrogation process to work was essential. The war on terrorism would not be decided by manpower and weaponry, as in the Second World War, but by locating terrorists and learning when and where future attacks might come. "This is a war in which intelligence is everything," John Arquilla, a professor of Defense Analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and a consultant to the Pentagon on terrorism, told me. "Winning or losing depends on it." And President Bush and his advisers still needed information about the September 11, 2001, hijackings: How were they planned? Who was involved? Was there a stay-behind operation inside the United States?
But the interrogations at Guant namo were a bust. Very little useful intelligence had been gathered, while prisoners from around the world continued to flow into the base and the facility constantly expanded. The C.I.A. analyst had been sent there to find out what was going wrong. He was fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Islamic world. He was held in high respect within the agency and was capable of reporting directly, if he chose, to George Tenet, the C.I.A. director. The analyst did more than just visit and inspect. He interviewed at least thirty prisoners to find out who they were and how they ended up in Guant namo. Some of his findings, he later confided to a former C.I.A. colleague, were devastating.