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Is the U.S. Army acting like the Mafia in seeking to imprison 23-year-old Private Bradley Manning for the rest of his life? Is the primary aim of the abuse being dished out to Manning that of deterring other U.S. soldiers who might be tempted to put conscience, compassion, and commitment to truth ahead of going by the book regarding classification restrictions?
If the Mafia comparison strikes you as a tad over the top, perhaps a seven-year trip down memory lane may prove instructive. Remember what happened after the U.S. Army learned of the obscene and brutal treatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in early 2004?
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba led the first (and only honest) investigation of the scandal. In May 2004, he completed a report that sharply criticized the Army and the higher-ups in the Bush administration for creating the conditions that permitted the mistreatment to occur.
When the report leaked to the press, Taguba found himself treated like a disloyal capo who had talked out of school about the Family business. Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the U.S. Army, the Bush administration singled out this hard-working, low-key general for retribution and forced retirement.
In an interview with New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, Taguba described a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command, a few weeks after Taguba's report became public.
As the two men sat in the back of Abizaid's Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, "You and your report will be investigated."
"I'd been in the Army 32 years by then," Taguba told Hersh, "and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia."
It was also an early indication that Taguba's military career was nearing its end because he had given the American people a glimpse into the dark world of the Bush administration's policies of torture and murder.
Hersh wrote that the sensitivity over Taguba's report went beyond its graphic account of physical and sexual abuse of Iraqis detained at Abu Ghraib; it also brought unwanted attention to a wider pattern of criminal acts committed with the approval of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"The administration feared that the publicity would expose more secret operations and practices," including special military task forces set up to roam the world and assassinate suspected terrorists, Hersh wrote. Hersh quoted a retired CIA officer as saying the task-force teams "had full authority to whack -- to go in and conduct 'executive action,'" a phrase meaning assassination.
"It was surrealistic what these guys were doing," the ex-officer told Hersh. "They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the [CIA] chief of station."
Then, in January 2006, Taguba's career got the proverbial kiss on the cheek. Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's Vice-Chief of Staff, called Taguba and without pleasantries or explanation told Taguba, "I need you to retire by January 2007." [New Yorker, June 25, 2007]
No Medal for Honesty
So, the general who had violated the omerta code of silence was banished from the Bush administration's Mafia.
Of course, Taguba was not alone. There were other brave souls -- albeit not enough -- who challenged Bush's unconstitutional and illegal policies. All of them met similar fates of banishment, punishment and ridicule, the likes of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, and Deputy Attorney General James Comey.