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Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

by Seymour M. Hersh

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Since September 11, 2001, Seymour M. Hersh has riveted readers -- and outraged the Bush Administration -- with his explosive stories in The New Yorker, including his headline-making pieces on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Now, Hersh brings together what he has learned, along with new reporting, to answer the critical question of


Since September 11, 2001, Seymour M. Hersh has riveted readers -- and outraged the Bush Administration -- with his explosive stories in The New Yorker, including his headline-making pieces on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Now, Hersh brings together what he has learned, along with new reporting, to answer the critical question of the last four years: How did America get from the clear morning when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center to a divisive and dirty war in Iraq?

In Chain of Command, Hersh takes an unflinching look behind the public story of the war on terror and into the lies and obsessions that led America into Iraq. Hersh draws on sources at the highest levels of the American government and intelligence community, in foreign capitals, and on the battlefield for an unparalleled view of a critical chapter in America's recent history. In a new afterword, he critiques the government's failure to adequately investigate prisoner abuse -- at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere -- and punish those responsible. With an introduction by The New Yorker's editor, David Remnick, Chain of Command is a devastating portrait of an administration blinded by ideology and of a president whose decisions have made the world a more dangerous place for America.

Editorial Reviews

In 2004, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in articles published in The New Yorker. Chain of Command offers an unflinching look behind the Bush administration's story of its "war on terror," focusing on intelligence failures and the lies and obsessions that led America into Iraq. In addition to all Hersh's New Yorker writings since 2001, the book includes several previously unpublished stories, including new revelations about Abu Ghraib.
Michiko Kakutani
Whether consumed in this volume or in the pages of The New Yorker, Mr. Hersh's work is necessary reading for anyone remotely interested in what went wrong and continues to go wrong in Iraq, and how the Bush administration came to take America to war there in the first place.
— The New York Times
Michael Ignatieff
Hersh has vacuumed up all their doubts and anger at the policy they were charged to execute. Put Woodward together with Hersh and an abyss opens up, dividing the decision elite's view of the road to war -- ideological, pristine, hard-edged and clear -- and the foot soldiers' view -- messy, incompetent, confused and sometimes downright immoral &8230; This book reminds us why tough, skeptical journalism matters so much: it helps to keep us free.
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review

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Chain of Command
The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

Chapter One

Torture at Abu Ghraib

1. A Guantánamo Problem

In the late summer of 2002, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst made a quiet visit to the detention center at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where an estimated six hundred prisoners were being held, many, at first, in steel-mesh cages that provided little protection from the brutally hot sun. Most had been captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan during the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration had determined, however, that they were not prisoners of war, but "enemy combatants," and that their stay at Guantánamo could be indefinite, as teams of C.I.A., F.B.I., and military interrogators sought to pry intelligence out of them. In a series of secret memorandums written earlier in the year, lawyers for the White House, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department had agreed that the prisoners had no rights under federal law or the Geneva Conventions. President Bush endorsed the finding, while declaring that the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees were nevertheless to be treated in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions -- as long as such treatment was also "consistent with military necessity."

Getting the interrogation process to work was essential. The war on terrorism would not be decided by manpower and weaponry, as in the Second World War, but by locating terrorists and learning when and where future attacks might come. "This is a war in which intelligence is everything," John Arquilla, a professor of Defense Analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and a consultant to the Pentagon on terrorism, told me. "Winning or losing depends on it." And President Bush and his advisers still needed information about the September 11, 2001, hijackings: How were they planned? Who was involved? Was there a stay-behind operation inside the United States?

But the interrogations at Guantánamo were a bust. Very little useful intelligence had been gathered, while prisoners from around the world continued to flow into the base and the facility constantly expanded. The C.I.A. analyst had been sent there to find out what was going wrong. He was fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Islamic world. He was held in high respect within the agency and was capable of reporting directly, if he chose, to George Tenet, the C.I.A. director. The analyst did more than just visit and inspect. He interviewed at least thirty prisoners to find out who they were and how they ended up in Guantánamo. Some of his findings, he later confided to a former C.I.A. colleague, were devastating.

"He came back convinced that we were committing war crimes in Guantánamo," the colleague told me. "Based on his sample, more than half the people there didn't belong there. He found people lying in their own feces," including two captives, perhaps in their eighties, who were clearly suffering from dementia. "He thought what was going on was an outrage," the C.I.A. colleague added. There was no rational system for determining who was important and who was not. Prisoners, once captured and transported to Cuba, were in permanent legal limbo. The analyst told his colleague that one of the first prisoners he had interviewed was a boy who was asked if he "did jihad" -- participated in a holy war against America. "The kid says 'I never did jihad. I'd have done it if I could, but I had no chance. I just got thrown into jail.' "

The analyst filed a report summarizing what he had seen and what he had learned from the prisoners. Two former Administration officials who read the highly classified document told me that its ultimate conclusion was grim. The wrong people were being questioned in the wrong way. "Organizations that operate inside a country without outside direction are hard to find, and we've got to figure out how to deal with them," one of the former officials, who worked in the White House, explained. But the message of the analyst's report was that "we were making things worse for the United States, in terms of terrorism." The random quizzing of random detainees made it more difficult to find and get useful information from those prisoners who had something of value to say. Equally troubling was the analyst's suggestion, the former White House official said, that "if we captured some people who weren't terrorists when we got them, they are now."

That fall the analyst's report rattled aimlessly around the upper reaches of the Bush Administration until it got into the hands of General John A. Gordon, the deputy national security adviser for combatting terrorism, who reported directly to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser and the President's confidante. Gordon, who had retired from the military as a four-star general in 2000, had been head of operations for the Air Force Space Command and had also served as a deputy director of the C.I.A. for three years. He was deeply troubled and distressed by the analyst's report, and by its implications for the treatment, in retaliation, of captured American soldiers. Gordon, according to a former Administration official, told colleagues that he thought "it was totally out of character with the American value system," and "that if the actions at Guantánamo ever became public, it'd be damaging to the President." The issue was not only direct torture, but the Administration's obligations under federal law and under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, that barred torture as well as other "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The C.I.A. analyst's report, in Gordon's view, provided clear evidence of degrading treatment. Things in Cuba were getting out of control.

At the time, of course, Americans were still traumatized by the September 11th attacks, and were angry. After John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who joined the Taliban, was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, his American interrogators stripped him, gagged him, strapped him to a board, and exhibited him to the press and to any soldier who wished to see him ...

Chain of Command
The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
. Copyright © by Seymour Hersh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Seymour M. Hersh has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, four George Polk Awards, and more than a dozen other prizes, many of them for his work at the New York Times. In 2004, he won a National Magazine Award for public interest for his pieces on intelligence and the Iraq war. He lives in Washington, D.C. Chain of Command is his eighth book.

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