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Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib Hardcover – September 13, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Seymour Hersh has been a legendary investigative reporter since 1969 when he broke the My Lai story in Vietnam. His considerable skill and well-placed sources inside the government, intelligence community, military, and the diplomatic corps have allowed him access to a wide range of information unavailable to most reporters. Chain of Command is packed with specific details and thoughtful analysis of events since the attacks of September 11, 2001, including intelligence failures prior to 9/11; postwar planning regarding Afghanistan and Iraq; the corruption of the Saudi family; Pakistan's nuclear program, which spread nuclear technology via the black market (and admitted as such); influence peddling at the highest levels; and the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, among other topics. The book collects and elaborates on stories Hersh wrote for The New Yorker, and includes an introduction by the magazine's editor, David Remnick, on Hersh's background and his sources.

Part of Hersh's skill lies in uncovering official reports that have been buried because government or military leaders find them too revealing or embarrassing. Chain of Command is filled with such stories, particularly regarding the manner in which sensitive intelligence was gathered and disseminated within the Bush administration. Hersh details how serious decisions were made in secret by a small handful of people, often based on selective information. Part of the problem was, and remains, a lack of human intelligence in critical parts of the Middle East, but it also has much to do with the considerable infighting within the administration by those trying to make intelligence fit preconceived conclusions. A prime example of this is the story about the files that surfaced allegedly detailing how Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in order to build nuclear weapons. Though the files were soon proven to be forgeries, the Bush administration still used them as evidence against Saddam Hussein and therefore part of the reason for invading Iraq. In these pages, Hersh offers readers a clearer understanding of what has happened since September 11, and what we might expect in the future. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Based on previously published articles and supplemented by fresh revelations, this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker and has authored several books (The Dark Side of Camelot, etc.), charges the Bush administration with being propelled by ideology and hamstrung by incompetence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas. One former intelligence official observes that the Bush administration staffers behaved "as if they were on a mission from God," while another laments, "The guys at the top are as ignorant as they could be." It’s no surprise, then, that the dissenters want to talk or that the Hersh, who has a reputation for integrity and enviable inside access, ferrets them out, assembling critiques from diverse, mostly unidentified sources at home and abroad. According to Hersh, the dire conditions that "enemy combatants" suffered at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, presaged detainee abuses at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Hersh reveals the depravities purportedly occurring at Guantánamo and argues that Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t the only one responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib: "the President and Vice President had been in it, and with him, all the way." The book also covers some familiar ground, exploring pre-9/11 intelligence oversights and the administration’s misconception that Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Israel, Turkey and the Kurds would jump on the democracy bandwagon after the invasion of Iraq. But Hersh reserves his sharpest words for President Bush, suggesting the "terrifying possibility" that "words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real." Hersh’s critics may dismiss these explosive, less than objective conclusions. For others, however, this sobering book is the closest anyone without a security clearance will get to operatives in the inner sanctums of America’s intelligence, military, political and diplomatic worlds.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (September 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060195916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060195915
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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197 of 209 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on January 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By K. A. Shelton on December 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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