By Sam Stein
McChrystal Survived Tillman Cover-Up And Detainee Abuse, But Not Rolling Stone's Profile
June 23, 2010
Stanley McChrystal, the general and chief architect of
the counterinsurgency operations in
relieved of his command on Wednesday, following a
series of disparaging quotes that he and his aides made
about the president and civilian leadership.
It was a remarkable conclusion to a frantic two-day
period of frenzied coverage, climaxing with a Rose
Garden appearance in which the president explained his
rationale. In the end, it will remain a confounding
episode for both historians and politicos alike. It was
not McChrystal's connections to a scarring episode of
detainee abuse and the cover-up of a revered soldier's
death or his disparagement of the vice president's
was a series of interviews with Rolling Stone magazine,
of all things.
"The conduct represented in the recently published
article," said President Obama, "does not meet the
standard that should be set by a commanding general."
Indeed, as Obama spoke in front of a throng of
reporters at the Rose Garden, it seemed nearly surreal
to imagine that a freelance reporter -- fortuitously
embedded with McChrystal during an alcohol-filled bus
due to volcanic activity in
wheels in motion. McChrystal, after all, had made
gaffes before, including publicly mocking Joe Biden's
preference for a limited troop presence in
("Chaos-stan" he chided). More than that, he had been
either intimately connected or directly tied to two
very controversial episodes in recent military history.
And no one seemed to notice.
McChrystal was the head of Special Operations command
star Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire. He
approved the paperwork awarding Tillman a Silver Star
for dying in the line "of enemy fire" -- and he was
"accountable for the inaccurate and misleading
assertions" contained therein, according to an
investigation -- despite knowing (or at least
suspecting) that Tillman had died in an episode of
fratricide. That episode barely registered with the
public or, for that matter, Congress, when McChrystal
went before the Senate Armed Services Committee waiting
to take over control in
questioned whether more answers were needed was
journalist Jon Krakauer who had just penned a book on
Tillman's death and thought the general's explanations
were "preposterous" and "unbelievable."
The second episode was even less well-known. Years
after the Tillman death, McChrystal was mentioned
several times in a report by Human Rights Watch which
documented the abuse and torture of detained prisoners
the findings, recalled seeing McChrystal at the
facility "a couple of times." It was also reported that
the general himself said there was no way that the Red
Cross would ever be allowed through the door at Nama --
where treatment of detainees was so bad, it earned the
nickname Nasty Ass Military Area.
"It is not easy to say what his role was accurately
because the entire program of detention and
interrogation going on there remains highly
classified," said John Siston, an author of the Human
Rights Watch report. "But HRW was able to learn enough
to say that he was in the chain of command that oversaw
the operations of that special task force and the
interrogation unit that took care of the detainees that
that special task force detained."
Nama, like Tillman, never played a role in McChrystal's
quick ascendancy through the military ranks. Indeed,
one of the most ignored nuggets in the Rolling Stone
piece involved the general and his staff prepping for
tough questioning on both of these topics, only to
discover that Congress didn't care.
In May 2009, as McChrystal prepared for his
confirmation hearings, his staff prepared him for
hard questions about
cover-up. But the scandals barely made a ripple in
Congress, and McChrystal was soon on his way back
Congress it seemed was more invested in moving forward
than looking back. And so it was that McChrystal became
embroiled in a career-threatening controversy only
after the Rolling Stone piece raised questions as to
whether his shaky relationship with civilian leadership
would compromise the Afghan mission.
It wasn't an unworthy basis for the general's dismissal
though it may have fallen a bit short of the official
definition of insubordination (but not by much). But it
was telling for some that after dodging several other
bullets, it was an article in a music magazine (and not
even a cover article at that) that did the trick.
"Given that there are a lot of unanswered questions
about McChrystal's role in detainee abuse in
Stacy Sullivan, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch
said hours before his resignation, "it would be ironic
if a few careless comments to Rolling Stone magazine
were to bring about his undoing."