Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Boykin, Schoomaker and Cambone: A Bushian trifecta

In the comments to my recent post about the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker and his connections both to the Waco fiasco and the Iraqi prison scandal, Praktike (one of my cohorts at American Street) immediately asked: What about Jerry Boykin?

Of course, I had discussed Boykin alongside Schoomaker previously in a post examining their respective roles in Waco, as well as the current situation in al-Najaf, where the Sadrists are behaving like Branch Davidians. And Praktike was right -- Boykin was certain to be involved in the problems at Abu Ghraib.

Indeed, Praktike linked us to a 2003 DoD interview interview with the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, a fellow named Stephen Cambone:
Then there is the office that General Boykin leads and it is there as intelligence and warfighting support and it is an office that is designed to assure that the types of capabilities we have just been talking about here, whether it is people, or it is resources or it is materiel, or it is information, is moved forward to the people who need it at various levels of command and operation in order for them to execute their mission. So it is what it says, it is a support office.

In other words, Boykin's role in facilitating intelligence on the ground put him in prime position to be involved in extracting information from prisoners at Abu Ghraib, who were widely seen as important sources of information regarding the growing insurgency.

Yesterday came the confirmation of this:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by U.S. officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.

A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.

Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to "soften up" detainees before interrogation -- a charge the Pentagon denies.

There are, of course, profound implications for this revelation:
Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the U.S. war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam.

"This will be taken as proof that what happened at Abu Ghraib (prison) is evidence of a broader culture of dehumanizing Arabs and Muslims, based on the American understanding of the innate superiority of Christendom," said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, a U.S.-based quarterly magazine.

Most of the commentary on Boykin's connection to the Abu Ghraib scandal have referenced his previous history regarding his inappropriate remarks about Islam vis-a-vis Christianity, and rightfully so. These include Jack Balkin's spot-on observation (via Atrios).

It is apparent, indeed, that both Boykin and Schoomaker -- the former of whom is involved in military intelligence in Iraq, and the latter in charge of the military policemen at Abu Ghraib -- are significant figures in the prison scandal, and the judgment of both men is in serious question, as it should be.

But the other aspect of both Boykin's and Schoomaker's past records that deserves examination in light of these newest revelations is the fact that, as I detailed previously, both of these men played significant roles in the decision by FBI personnel to resort to a full-out frontal assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco in 1993 -- an unnecessary and forced decision with horrendous consequences.

I cited a piece by religious-studies scholar Jean Rosenfeld that examined the factual record of what happened regarding the use of the military at Waco:
Even before the President's request, Commander Rogers and the FBI had arranged to bring two Army Special Forces officers to Washington. They are referred to in the Justice report as the "current and former commanders of Delta Force" who met with Janet Reno on April 14. They were selected for the meeting "because of their tactical training and experience." Danforth reveals that one of these officers was Brig. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker of the III Army Corps at Ft. Hood. The other was an Army Special Forces colonel from Ft. Bragg who remains unnamed in the government reports. [Note: This colonel was later identified as Boykin.]

On February 28 Gen. Schoomaker advised Texas governor, Ann Richards, about military equipment. On March 1 he drove to Waco, met with HRT commander Rogers, and "discussed the situation in general terms." At Rogers' request, Gen. Schoomaker returned to Waco on April 13 for an aerial tour of Mt. Carmel. Rogers and Schoomaker then flew to Ft. Bragg to pick up a Special Forces colonel and continued on to Washington to answer Janet Reno's questions about the FBI's plan to gradually insert gas into the Davidian residence. On the way to Washington, Commander Rogers asked Gen. Schoomaker to comment on the gassing plan, and Gen. Schoomaker declined. Gen. Schoomaker also told Janet Reno that he could not "grade" the specific tactics of the gassing plan, because that would be illegal. Gen. Schoomaker and the colonel did tell the Attorney General, however, that if the HRT were military troops under their command they would:

-- Recommend that the HRT team "stand down" for rest and retraining

-- Focus on "taking out" the leader (Koresh)

-- Conduct a rapid, total, and violent gassing and demolition of Mt.Carmel

This plan, as Rosenfeld reported, was actually the one enacted by FBI personnel shortly after the assault began on April 19, overriding the less assaultive plan approved by Janet Reno and FBI superiors.

Also of interest, of course, is the apparent likelihood that both Boykin and Schoomaker lied to the congressional subcommittee investigating the Waco disaster, denying that they were ever present at the Mount Carmel site, when in fact the record is clear that at least Schoomaker did in fact visit the scene:
One of the two officers later testified before the Subcommittees that he had never been to the Branch Davidian residence before April 13, and the other testified that he had not ever been to Mt. Carmel, but the Danforth interim and final reports place General Schoomaker at Waco on March 1 and April 13. From the government's own reports, one can piece together a pattern of consultation between Delta Force and the FBI on March 1 and on April 13-14, 1993.

Boykin appears not to have visited the scene, but was actively involved in providing Delta Force advice to the FBI personnel at Waco, so his denials are somewhat misleading.

The thread that weaves both of these men into the highest levels of the Pentagon, however, is the same man interviewed about Boykin last year: Stephen Cambone.

Digby has already pointed out that Cambone, as reported by Time, was also the man in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. (Cambone also appeared at a joint news conference in which he discussed the bad intelligence that gave George W. Bush an excuse to invade Iraq.) This may or may not have affected the regimen at Abu Ghraib; but certainly, given his track record, there is more than ample reason to question his competence.

Michael at Reading A1 (the New York Times Front Page Project) has cottoned to Cambone's significance:
Friday's Senate testimony contains the answer to the question I asked last week, namely, who was responsible for sending Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the Gitmo commandant, to Iraq last summer to make a report on prison interrogation practices?

It was, of course, none other than Cambone. Michael cites the NYT report:
In impromptu testimony before the Senate committee on Friday, Mr. Cambone explained why General Miller had been sent to Iraq.

"We had then in Iraq a large body of people who had been captured on the battlefield that we had to gain intelligence from for force-protection purposes," said Mr. Cambone, who had been summoned from a group of aides sitting behind Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to respond to a senator's question. "He was asked to go over, at my encouragement, to take a look at the situation as it existed there."

And provides even more background:
Cambone is a hard-core neocon, with a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont University (the neocon finishing school), a PNACer, a Rumsfeld protege during the Clinton interregnum (identified as staff director of the PNAC's so-called Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile defense) and since then has pretty much been sitting on the Rumster's right hand at DoD. Here's an excerpt from his profile on the extremely valuable Right Web, which fleshes out the institutional politics of Cambone's current position:

Before taking over as the undersecretary of defense for intelligence in early 2003, Stephen Cambone, considered one of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s key aides, served on a number of influential government and nongovernmental defense review studies. He served on both the National Institute for Public Policy’s Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control study team as well as the Project for the New American Century’s 2001 “Rebuilding America’s Defense” report team. Both studies seem to have served as blueprints for the defense policies initiated by the administration of George W. Bush. Cambone also served on two Rumsfeld-chaired studies commissioned by Congress dealing with space weapons and the missile threat to the United States.

When Cambone was tapped to be the first ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence, some observers saw it as a Rumsfeld power grab. According to veteran defense analyst John Prados (, April 14, 2003), Rumsfeld’s appointment of Cambone "will allow the Defense Department to consolidate its intelligence programs in a way that could undermine CIA head George Tenet’s role."

It's important to remember how Cambone described his office's function in the DoD interview:
Now the entire, my entire organization is a staff organization. It is not a line organization. We don't do intelligence. I think that is an important thing for all of you to understand. The intelligence is done by the intelligence community -- DIA, CIA, NSA and NIMA soon to be NGA -- provide it. The analysts go through it. They provide the finished product. Our job is to communicate to, on the one hand, the intelligence community what the Department's needs are and on the other to make sure that the combatant commanders get their needs met from the community. And so the office that General Boykin heads is designed specifically to support the combatant commands in making certain that they are receiving the kind of support that they need and that their needs are transmitted to the community.

Seymour Hersh described last year how Cambone played a major role in expanding the presence of Special Forces in the DoD and expanding its role in the "war on terror."
Cambone also shares Rumsfeld's views on how to fight terrorism. They both believe that the United States needs to become far more proactive in combatting terrorism, searching for terrorist leaders around the world and eliminating them. And Cambone, like Rumsfeld, has been frustrated by the reluctance of the military leadership to embrace the manhunting mission. Since his confirmation, he has been seeking operational authority over Special Forces. "Rumsfeld’s been looking for somebody to have all the answers, and Steve is the guy," a former high-level Pentagon official told me. "He has more direct access to Rummy than anyone else."

Hersh goes on to detail Cambone's close relationship with Jerry Boykin, a former Delta Force commander, and how Boykin is playing a key role in Iraq. It also points out:
Another former Special Forces commander, Army General Peter Schoomaker, was brought out of retirement in July and named Army Chief of Staff.

The piece also explains why this particular president may find an emphasis on Special Forces so appealing:
At present, there is no legislation that requires the President to notify Congress before authorizing an overseas Special Forces mission. The Special Forces have been expanded enormously in the Bush Administration. The 2004 Pentagon budget provides more than six and a half billion dollars for their activities—a thirty-four-per-cent increase over 2003. A recent congressional study put the number of active and reserve Special Forces troops at forty-seven thousand, and has suggested that the appropriate House and Senate committees needed to debate the “proper overall role” of Special Forces in the global war on terrorism.

The totality of the picture that is beginning to emerge from the Abu Ghraib situation is deeply disturbing: A military leadership culture that seeks to operate with a minimum of accountability, while adhering to an ethos deeply enamored of brutality and force, quick to dispense with such niceties as international law and DoD regulations against torture.

In other words, a leadership that is not only incompetent but morally bankrupt as well. And they may have made the United States an international outlaw.

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