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Ex-Iraq commander accuses Bush Administration of 'gross incompetence'

By John Byrne

03/05/08 "Raw Story" -- - In a new memoir set to be published May 6, the former commander of US forces in Iraq provides new intimate details of the goings-on at high levels of the Bush Administration in the first year of the Iraq war.

His sharp tongued conclusion: "Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty."

An excerpt from Sanchez's book, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, published in TIME, buries the quotation on the third page of the article.

Sanchez commanded the US military in Iraq from 2003-2004. The three-star general was relieved of his commander in 2004 following the Abu Ghraib scandal, and in 2005, was told his career was over and he wouldn't be promoted to a fourth star.

The primary reason appears to be his involvement in authorizing harsh tactics for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners.

In a memo acquired by the ACLU through a freedom of information act request, Sanchez authorized techniques to be used against prisoners which included "environmental manipulation," such as heating or cooling a room or using an "unpleasant smell," isolating prisoners, and disrupting sleep patterns. Sanchez later denied ever authorizing interrogators to "go to the outer limits" and called the ACLU "...a bunch of sensationalist liars, I mean lawyers, that will distort any and all information that they get to draw attention to their positions."

Six months after he was told he would not receive a promotion -- in April 2006 -- he says he was called in for a meeting with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In his book, he writes:

"Ric, it's been a long time," Rumsfeld said, greeting me in a friendly manner. "I'm really sorry that your promotion didn't work out. We just couldn't make it work politically. Sending a nomination to the Senate would not be good for you, the Army, or the department."

"I understand, sir," I replied.

Rumsfeld then went on to offer Sanchez a post in Africa.

In what Sanchez maintains was an effort by Rumsfeld to shrug off blame for mistakes in Iraq's first year, he says that the Secretary penned a memo which blamed failures on him.

"I stopped reading after I read that last statement, because I knew it was total BS," he writes. "After a deep breath, I said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, the problem as you've stated it is generally accurate, but your memo does not accurately capture the magnitude of the problem. Furthermore, I just can't believe you didn't know that Franks's and McKiernan's staffs had pulled out and that the orders had been issued to redeploy the forces."

Starting to get a little worked up," he adds, "I paused a moment, and then looked Rumsfeld straight in the eye. "Sir, I cannot believe that you didn't know I was being left in charge in Iraq...."

After the meeting ended, I remember walking out of the Pentagon shaking my head and wondering how in the world Rumsfeld could have expected me to believe him. Everybody knew that CENTCOM had issued orders to drawdown the forces. The Department of Defense had printed public affairs guidance for how the military should answer press queries about the redeployment. There were victory parades being planned. And in mid-May 2003, Rumsfeld himself had sent out some of his famous "snowflake" memorandums to Gen. Franks asking how the general was going to redeploy all the forces in Kuwait. The Secretary knew. Everybody knew.

He goes on to detail a report prepared by the Pentagon's Joint Warfighting Center. The Pentagon commissioned the report -- and it validated Sanchez's assertions that he was not to blame and that decisions had been made at other levels.

"Say, did you guys ever complete that investigation?" I asked.

"Oh, yes sir. We sure did," came the reply. "And let me tell you, it was ugly."

"Ugly?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. 'This is not going anywhere,' he said. 'Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don't talk to anybody about it.'"

"You mean he embargoed all the copies of the report?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, he did...'

...It turned out that the investigative team was so thorough, they had actually gone back and looked at the original operational concept that had been prepared by CENTCOM (led by Gen. Franks) before the invasion of Iraq was launched. It was standard procedure to present such a plan, which included such things as: timing for predeployment, deployment, staging for major combat operations, and postdeployment. The concept was briefed up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President of the United States.

And the investigators were now telling me that the plan called for a Phase IV (after combat action) operation that would last twelve to eighteen months...

"That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq," he concludes. "There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it."

"In the meantime," he adds, "hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty."

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