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Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 13, 2004
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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." Its 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 Baghdads Abu Ghraib prison. Hersh reveals the depravities purportedly occurring at Guantánamo and argues that Donald Rumsfeld wasnt 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 administrations 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." Hershs 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 Americas intelligence, military, political and diplomatic worlds.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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".