Making more hash

Reader Dafydd ab Hugh writes:

When Joel Mowbray wrote his FrontPage article [linked below], “Sly Sy At It Again,” he mentioned that Seymour Hersh was often a little, well, careless with his facts. Mowbray cited a few examples, but he missed a true whopper from Hersh just a week ago… and in the “bombshell” story that could be considered the direct precursor to Hersh’s current story, “The Gray Zone,” the one that sparked Mowbray’s response.
“The Gray Zone” argues that Donald Rumsfeld himself “expanded a secret operations unit into Iraq” that “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq.”
In Hersh’s story from a week ago, the tendentiously titled “Torture At Abu Ghraib,” Hersh characterized (without quotation) the executive summary of the report by MG Antonio M. Taguba. In this article, Hersh wrote the following:

The Taguba study noted that more than sixty per cent of the civilian inmates at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society, which should have enabled them to be released.
Karpinski’s defense, Taguba said, was that her superior officers “routinely” rejected her recommendations regarding the release of such prisoners.

Note that Hersh claims the Taguba Report says that “more than sixty per cent” of the inmates were considered not to be a threat to society and should have been released.
However, the actual executive summary of the Taguba Report — now widely available on the Internet — says no such thing anywhere in its fifty-three pages. Instead, it says the following:

U.S. Army report on Iraqi prisoner abuse: Executive summary of Article 15-6 investigation of the 800th: Military Police Brigade by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba: FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS (PART TWO), Point 24: There are currently three separate release mechanisms in the theater-wide internment operations. First, the apprehending unit can release a detainee if there is a determination that their continued detention is not warranted. Secondly, a criminal detainee can be released after it has been determined that the detainee has no intelligence value, and that their release would not be detrimental to society. BG Karpinski had signature authority to release detainees in this second category. Lastly, detainees accused of committing “Crimes Against the Coalition,” who are held throughout the separate facilities in the CJTF-7 AOR, can be released upon a determination that they are of no intelligence value and no longer pose a significant threat to Coalition Forces. The release process for this category of detainee is a screening by the local US Forces Magistrate Cell and a review by a Detainee Release Board consisting of BG Karpinski, COL Marc Warren, SJA, CJTF-7, and MG Barbara Fast, C-2, CJTF-7. MG Fast is the “Detainee Release Authority” for detainees being held for committing crimes against the coalition. According to BG Karpinski, this category of detainee makes up more than 60% of the total detainee population, and is the fastest growing category. However, MG Fast, according to BG Karpinski, routinely denied the board’s recommendations to release detainees in this category who were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release.

The term “60% of the total detainee population” does, in fact, appear in the report… but it refers to the category of “detainees accused of committing ‘Crimes Against the Coalition,'” not to the category of prisoners who should be released. This is made completely obvious by the last sentence, where MG Fast is accused of denying recommendations “to release detainees in this category who were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release.”
If the category already meant those prisoners who were no longer a threat, why would Taguba have to add that they weren’t releasing those in that category who were also no longer a threat? Clearly, the Taguba Report is saying that sixty percent of the civilian population of Abu Ghraib comprised prisoners accused of committing crimes against the Coalition — not that sixty percent should have been released.
This is such a terrible misreading, and so easily disproven by access to the report itself, that I cannot believe it was unintentional, a mere slip of Sy Hersh’s fingers. It’s a core charge against the American military — not only did they “torture” (Hersh’s word) prisoners, but sixty percent of those prisoners shouldn’t even have been there!
Why would Hersh write something so easily disproved by simple access to the source document? Well, I cannot read his mind… but I will note that when Hersh published “Torture At Abu Ghraib,” the Taguba Report itself was not available anywhere, and there was no reason to believe that the Bush Administration would so quickly declassify it so that it could appear in newspapers across the Web for easy download… so Hersh had no reason to believe that anyone would actually be able to look for himself to see whether Hersh was telling the truth. He didn’t think anyone would be able to double-check his characterizations.
Make of it what you will, but I have just caught Hersh in a real whopper from just one week ago, and on exactly the same topic, in service to a vile, partisan libel against the American military…a libel extended now directly to the secretary of defense.


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