Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal's Skeletons

McChrystal's Skeletons


By Sam Stein


McChrystal Survived Tillman Cover-Up And Detainee Abuse, But Not Rolling Stone's Profile

Huffington Post

June 23, 2010


Stanley McChrystal, the general and chief architect of

the counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, was

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

proposal for Afghanistan that did the general in. It

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

trip from Paris to Berlin (the flight had been canceled

due to volcanic activity in Iceland) -- had put the

wheels in motion. McChrystal, after all, had made

gaffes before, including publicly mocking Joe Biden's

preference for a limited troop presence in Afghanistan

("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

in Afghanistan when Army Ranger and former football

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 Afghanistan. The one person who

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

at Camp Nama in Iraq. A soldier, quoted anonymously in

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 Camp Nama and the Tillman

    cover-up. But the scandals barely made a ripple in

    Congress, and McChrystal was soon on his way back

    to Kabul to run the war in Afghanistan.


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 Iraq,"

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."



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