By Brad Friedman on 5/15/2004, 8:10pm PT  

Ever since the pictures broke from Abu Ghraib, the consistent unanswered question has been "who was in charge"? Who where these "kids" getting their orders from? Who told them to do what they did? Who gave those orders from "military intelligence". And ever since, the silence has been deafening on those questions.

As Josh Marshall likes to say, the wheels are now officially off this cart.

Seymour Hersh, who last week broke the news on the Taguba Report, cracks it wide open again in this week's New Yorker.

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation...encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Game over.

I'll not bore you with the details as I suspect you will be getting them ad nauseum all week from here on out. But here's the deal. Even if, as some of the Administration "dead enders" will undoubtedly try to argue this week, that important information was needed and was indeed gained from this operation, it's still too late. All week, the Bushies have been referring to those pictures as "horrendous" and they have been claiming that "those responsible will be prosecuted". Well, they're gonna have a hell of a time crawling out of the corner they're in now.

By the way, the "few bad apples" cover they've been using was devised in January when the Pentagon first found out about the monster they'd unleashed. Hersh reports on a "senior intelligence officials" account:

The Pentagon's attitude last January, he said, was “Somebody got caught with some photos. What's the big deal? Take care of it.” Rumsfeld's explanation to the White House, the official added, was reassuring: “‘We've got a glitch in the program. We'll prosecute it.' The cover story was that some kids got out of control.”

Sound familiar?

You'll get much more of all of this soon. But suffice to say, my guess is that this is the straw that breaks Rummy's back. If he survives another week color me amazed. Or color George W. Bush really a fool.