195 of 207 people found the following review helpful
Eric J. Lyman
- Published on Amazon.com
Over the last year I've read or become familiar with more than a dozen of the latest crop of books published to criticize or support the White House's policies, and Chain of Command is the best of the bunch. As would be expected, Seymour Hersh's writing is as always clean and angry and compelling. And the conclusions the investigative reporting icon draws are well thought out and more than a little frightening.
In short: if you can read only one book in this genre this year, you've found it.
A reader examining Mr. Hersh's work for the first time here may not realize how far ahead of the curve he has been in exposing scores of intelligence failures, poorly thought out national security initiatives, and the horrible Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Many of Mr. Hersh's points were treated with suspicion when they were made, only to be accepted as common wisdom when the full story became known (though the book's editors would have done well to make that clearer, but more on that in a moment).
His main point in Chain of Command is all these issues -- the selective evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction, the sidestepping of the federal bureaucracy and the diminished importance of Congress, the misuse of intelligence, the abuse of human rights abroad, foreign policy zealotry, and so on (I might add elections-related shenanigans from four years ago) -- amount to a kind of coup d'état, and it's hard to argue against his points.
Clearly, Mr. Hersh is outraged in Chain of Command, but what earns my respect the most if the fact that his anger is not partisan, but instead based on what he seems to see as a widening gulf between what is happening in the U.S. and because of the U.S. and what comes out of the mouths of senior government officials. Mr. Hersh is an old-fashioned muckraker and proud of it.
Now allow me to quibble for a moment.
The vast bulk of Chain of Command was distilled from around 20 articles Mr. Hersh wrote for the New Yorker, though editors updated a few subjects and juggled the order a bit, most obviously to emphasize new reporting regarding Abu Ghraib. I would have argued in favor of printing the original articles as they were published, in chronological order and with dates on them -- something that would have elegantly presented the material without begging the question of what was known when. The updated information could have easily been presented in a short epilogue to each chapter or to the whole book.
Additionally, Mr. Hersh on a few occasions threatens to undermine some of his credibility by relying on speculation on subjects like prison conditions at Guantánamo, and by making only passing references to minor evidence that could weaken his arguments, on subjects such as troop movements between Afghanistan and Iraq. But he never crosses the line in a way that has damned many of the other books out this political season, thanks in a large part to his solid reputation launched when he broke the story about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 35 years ago.
But these points are very, very minor compared to the points this very important book makes. I rarely give five-star ratings to books, but I have no second thoughts in doing that here.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In this well-documented, revelatory book, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has fearlessly chronicled a very rocky road between 9/11 and the disclosure of prison abuses at Abu Ghraib. On a deeper level, this book brings to light the questions around accountability when such obvious abuses are exposed, questions that bear certain similarities to the ones faced by those judging the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Does the responsibility rest with the soldiers executing the abuses, or does it go up to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, both of whom Hersh says were made aware of the situation? As horrific as 9/11 was, it was an idealistic notion that a tragedy of such magnitude would produce an epiphany that would inspire the government to bring the nation closer to its founding democratic principles. Hersh proves that quite the opposite has evolved, as he has been doing in the New Yorker, breaking stories that have shocked and repelled on America's war on terror. Breaches are numerous and detailed with dramatic precision in his book - military missteps in the hunt for al-Qaida, abuses at Guantanamo, the Pentagon's manipulation of intelligence, and in the most graphic images from the war, the humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. What was initially hoped to be a sad one-off incident has become the touchstone for what Hersh sees as fundamentally wrong with CIA intelligence and the US military infrastructure. He makes a convincing argument for whom should take responsibility for the prison abuses. Senior military and national security officials in the Bush administration were repeatedly warned by subordinates in 2002 and 2003 that prisoners in military custody were being abused.
Hersh draws on numerous sources - most legitimate, some apocryphal - at senior levels of the government and intelligence community, from foreign officials, and from those on the battlefield, all of whom substantiate his investigation. Sadly the message appears to be that the buck does not seem to stop anywhere. While the investigation faults the Army for "failing to provide leadership," senior commanders in Baghdad and the top commander himself, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, as well as senior Pentagon officials, "were found to have had no role in ordering or permitting the abuse." The message is muddled to the rest of us - it is the system's fault, not the fault of those running it. The book sadly reveals that a lack of leadership equals exoneration of the leaders. There comes a point where closing one's eyes to such evidence is a form of complicity, that ignoring the warnings may be closer to a war crime than anyone cares to admit. In raw terms, Hersh brings the brutality of the post 9/11 journey this nation has taken, and while there have been moments of inspiration, the road has unfortunately been riddled with lapses that spread the imperial hubris this country denies globally rather than the greater good of democracy. This is essential reading on what the war on terrorism has brought us, completing a triumvirate that includes Senator Bob Graham's "Intelligence Matters" and a senior CIA officer's treatise, "Imperial Hubris".
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
K. A. Shelton
- Published on Amazon.com
As was to be expected, most of those who criticize this book here(and several appear to be the same person) make clear that they have not read it. Why read when you have Sean Hannity to explain the world to you?
First, the idea that Hersh sympathizes with Al Qaeda is a slander. Hersh does suggest the war in Afghanistan was a mistake, because, he argues, there were elements within the Taliban who could have been bribed to hand over Bin Laden. Agree or disagree with Hersh, he still begins on the fundamental principle that Al Qaeda is an enemy that must be defeated. It is only the means that differ. To compare such a position to Jane Fonda (who openly supported a North Vietnamese victory) is outrageous. What makes this book fascinating is that it is not a stream of extreme leftist drivel about empire, but a carefully compiled collection of dissenting voices from within the intelligence, defense and diplomatic services. (Which does not mean, of course, that their analyses is automatically right.)
Neither does Hersh smear the soldiers. While he is unflinching in recounting the crimes that occurred, the entire point of the book is to put those crimes into a larger context, one that cannot help but make one feel a certain sympathy for the soldiers (without excusing them). They were often untrained to handle interrogations and were being told that they needed to perform these acts in order to help stop the daily attacks that were killing their fellow soldiers. One of the heroes in this book is the National Guard officer who refused to follow a Military Intelligence officer's command that he order his soldiers to keep prisoners awake. The Guard officer explained that he was not going to put his men in the position of performing such a duty without the proper training, for fear they might get "creative." Hersh's contempt is for those higher up in the chain of command (get the title?) who did put soldiers in such positions, where abuses were bound to occur (if not directly ordered), and then left those same soldiers to take all the blame. The pseudo patriotism and overblown rhetoric of those who have attacked this book is frightening because it embodies perfectly the mentality of this administration: come to a conclusion based upon ideology, seek out the facts that support that conclusion, when reasonable criticism is raised, impugn the critic personally, and then - as the bill comes due and facts on the ground show up the inaccuracy of your original conclusion - meet that reality with ever greater levels of self delusion. They forget, we are a democracy, our nation is ultimately only that which we make of it. It is the sum of our actions. Taking that principle seriously is the beginning of true patriotism.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Loyd E. Eskildson
- Published on Amazon.com
Hersh begins by recounting the findings of a respected CIA analyst sent to Guantanamo - over 60% of those there didn't belong and were being turned into terrorists by the abuse. The ultimate rationale for the abuse, Hersh believed, was President Bush's authorization of special operation "grab or assassinate" squads - the logic was "If I can shoot them, anything else must be covered as well." The Pentagon investigation was a whitewash.
The CIA came under a lot of criticism after 9/11 - one operative's explanation was that "most case officers live in Virginia, and rely on other nations' for information." Another said "operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen." The agency had only two Arabic speakers, and had scrubbed hundreds of "assets" with possible criminal/human rights problems. The focus had shifted from results to inter-agency feuding, achieving diversity, and CYA.
Meanwhile, FBI computers were not compatible from one location to another, and Internet access was greatly limited. Moussaoui's trial was bungled by Secretary Ashcroft's insistence on the death penalty, resulting in no leverage with which to extract information. Just after his arrest, FBI headquarters had denied a request to examine Moussaoui's computer on the grounds that it might not be allowed - despite having succeeded about 13,000 times previously and been denied only once.
Afghanistan War: At Kunduz the U.S. allowed the evacuation of Taliban-supporting Pakistanis and friends to avoid their massacre by Northern Alliance soldiers, and the resulting political threat to President Musharraf. The U.S. was supposed to get access to Taliban for interrogation - didn't happen, and official channels deny the evacuation to this day. About 4 - 5 thousand are believed to have escaped.
"There are more cops in New York City" than American soldiers in Afghanistan" - Richard Clarke. He also criticized the fact that it took seven weeks to get boots on the ground after the bombing began, resulting in many escaping. Secretary Rumfeld was trying to prove his theory that a relatively small number of soldiers plus airpower would suffice, saving resources for Iraq, and avoiding becoming bogged down like the Russians. The result (so far) resembles Vietnam - the U.S. never loses a battle, but loses the war. The President of Afghanistan is in reality, more like the Mayor of Kabul as security throughout the country is risky, at best, and opium production is up by about a factor of twenty vs. the Taliban low.
Planning for Iraq was fractured by conflict between State and the Pentagon leaders. Primary "evidence" for the WMD claim was the "yellowcake sale from Niger to Iraq," and the "purchase of aluminum tubes for enriching uranium." IAEA concluded two weeks before the Iraq War that documents regarding the yellowcake sale were obvious fakes; the U.S. had the documents for months previously and had delayed handing them over. Ambassador Wilson came to the same conclusion after an 8-day trip to Niger. V.P. Cheney's response was to attack the messengers. Similarly, other experts had concluded that the aluminum tubes were not suitable for enriching uranium.
V.P. Cheney also lied about what the Kamel brother defectors had said, claiming that they substantiated that a "massive stockpile of WMD was never accounted for." Reality is that they said "the stockpile had been destroyed." They also cast doubt on Dr. Hamza's (defecting Iraqi nuclear scientist) claims of a nascent bomb, stating that he had been "useless," and that Iraq had let him go (rather than him escaping). (An American associate also claimed that Hamza had resorted to exaggerating when his initial book proposal was ignored.)
Pumping up the case of war (several sources reported that Bush had made up his mind a year ahead of time) also relied on Chalabi's efforts to promote certain defectors. Rumsfeld had created a third major intelligence agency (in addition to the CIA and DIA) that would be free of all the conservative constraints. Thus, whatever supported the Administration's case was immediately forwarded to Bush (and also sometimes leaked), while contrary information was ignored or classified.
Six times Rumsfeld met with top generals planning the Iraq invasion and requested that they scale down the number of troops. Meanwhile, favorable assumptions did not pany out - the Shiites in southern Iraq did not revolt againt Hussein, Iran did not support the U.S., and Turkey blocked access from the north.
Subsequently Syria offered intelligence regarding al Qaeda, and was turned down by the U.S. - more inter-agency squabbling and the Pentagon's desire to invade there next.
I thought I knew all the errors already - turns out the scope of mendacity was even greater than I thought. Citizens interested in honest government should read this book.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Marc L. Lauterbach
- Published on Amazon.com
Having recently read this book after purchasing it at my local book store, I decided to log onto Amazon.com to see what other readers thought of it. At first I was a little surprised to see the rating so low, but I quickly ascertained the reason for this. [...]
In this book "Chain of Command" Seymore Hersh turns his intense journalistic eye on the workings of the post 9-11 terror prison network and proceeds to dissect virtually every development in the anti-terror Special Access Programs since the attacks on NYC and the Pentagon. While Hersh may have a political agenda and may be of a liberal bent, the fact that so many of the heros of his book are politicans (both liberal and conservative), soldiers, marines, contractors, and federal agents is telling. Instead of making sweeping generalizations or accepting administration statements at face value, he delicately probes each turn and development in the evolution of the SAP and anti-terror project. As such, when he makes statements such as his belief that elements within the Pentagon and the administration are directly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and in Afghanistan, he does so with the assurance that he is grounded in the facts of the case.
Contrary to what critics maintain, Hersh is not merely regurgitating slant (as so many conservatives would have us believe) but is merely reporting the facts as they surfaced. An example of this is Rumsfeldt's quotation that the Abu Ghraib scandal wouldn't hurt the administration and that he wasn't worried about it, coupled with Rumsfeldt's sudden about-face a few days later. Of course, conservative defenders of the administration might maintain that this is because Rumsfeldt was unaware of the situation, Hersh also points out that the Abu Ghraib investigations had been an open secret for months and that it is hard to believe that the upper levels of the administration knew nothing about it.
In short, this book is a fine and refreshing breath of something which has been clearly lacking in recent years: actual, investigative JOURNALISM which, while interested in obtaining as much information and as many views as possible, is not afraid to deploy a keen sense of critical thinking and analysis. In an era in which journalism and media coverage has become obsessed with an idea of articifial "neutrality" and as such has suspended judgement and disbelief in favor of merely repeating anything anyone says without question, Seymore Hersh has the courage to sit down and actually analise the various arguements he comes across with an open mind. As such, it can come as little surprise that the best conservative commentators (such as the ones below) can do is assasinate his character and accuse him of hating America and siding with the terrorists.
As to the assertion of the commentator below...
1) The Schlesinger panel did NOT absolve the army or higher ups and did not lay the blame at the feet of the small group of soldiers. Rather, it found (among other things) that Rumsfeld and his entourage was deliberatly responsible for confusion as to what was and was not permissible in terms of interrogation techniques, leading to abuses at Abu Ghraib. Accoring to the report "there is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."
2) Getting wired, having electrodes placed on your genetalia, being covered in faeces, being bitten by attack dogs, being water boarded, being sodomized with a chem light, being forced to perform sex acts in public and against your will is NOT a "little college fraternity prank," it is a war crime. If you think that Abu Ghraib is a college dorm, you are way off.
3) Hersh's point is that the army and Sanchez specifically DID NOT act in Janurary, or at least, not in a manner that solved anything. Sure, Sanchez comissioned an investigation or two, but the fact of the matter is that these investigations went nowhere, their conclusions were ignored, and that nothing happened to correct the problem until the photos went public. Perhaps if you'd actually read the book and actually cared about thinking critically, you'd know this.