Michael Hirsh

Stories by Michael Hirsh

  • ABU GHRAIB: 'BREAKING' A GENERAL

    The Pentagon reports on interrogation practices at Abu Ghraib and other prisons were somewhat vague on how widespread the abuse was, especially by military intelligence. NEWSWEEK has learned that an especially damaging allegation may have been left out of the final report by the investigating officer, Maj. Gen. George Fay. A sworn statement by a soldier with the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion says that in January 2004, interrogators physically abused the 17-year-old son of an Iraqi general, identified as Hamid Zabar, in order to "break" the general. "The interrogators took his son and got him wet" the May 13 statement says. "They then put mud on his face and drove him around in the back of a Humvee. The boy was very cold. They placed the son in an area where the father could observe him. The general thought he was going to get to see his son but they just allowed him to see the son shivering and this broke the general." The statement was corroborated by another soldier. A...
  • EUROPE'S BIG BET ON A BUSH 'REGIME CHANGE'

    Americans tend to be ambivalent about alliances: sure, friends abroad are good to have, but don't get too close. And heaven help you if you interfere in domestic U.S. politics. John Kerry learned that to his embarrassment when, in one of his biggest gaffes, he suggested publicly last March that foreign leaders wanted him to replace George W. Bush. The not-so-subtle hint: vote for me and I'll get allies to supply troops, money and support for Iraq, perhaps in exchange for deals on Mideast peace and North Korea. The Bush campaign loved the suggestion of foreign complicity. "Hey, John, Kim Jong Il here," the president gibed in a speech to roars of laughter, imagining a phone chat between Kerry and North Korea's dictator. "Just wanted to call and let you know you're my guy."It's no longer a joking matter. Foreign cooperation has become the issue of the hour, especially in Iraq. And so estranged are U.S. relations with many countries that just as the Bush administration is pushing for...
  • New Torture Furor

    A memo classified by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 explores ways of conducting interrogations in the war on terror that would allow guards to evade future prosecutions for torture. In a series of minutely argued points that appear designed to evade restrictions on abusive interrogation techniques, the memo concludes that "excessive force" is illegal only when it is "malicious and sadistic." It also argues that treatment of prisoners should be defined as torture only when "the infliction of pain" is an interrogator's "precise objective."The March 6, 2003 draft memo from the Defense Department, which was obtained in part by NEWSWEEK, is titled a "WORKING GROUP REPORT ON DETAINEE INTERROGATIONS IN THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM" and explores numerous legal defenses for acts that might be construed as torture. (Click here to read the memo). It was first disclosed by The Wall Street Journal on Monday. Along with several other memos to come out of the Justice Department's Office...
  • 'Gaps And Discrepancies'

    Things may be heating up in the prison abuse scandal for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantanamo Bay commander who is now in charge of detainees in Iraq. In a harshly worded letter, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence committee questioned the "candor and accuracy" of Miller's responses in a classified briefing to the committee last week.The May 21 letter to Miller from Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking minority member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chastises the general for "gaps and discrepancies in your presentation" and for selectively withholding information. "If information is only provided in response to a question that is phrased in precisely the right way, it is virtually impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional oversight responsibility," Harman writes.In her letter, Harman refers to new details about interrogation policies at the Gitmo detention facility that became public less than 24 hours after Miller's May 20...
  • Chinks In Our Armor

    Tom Christie was worried. It was the fall of 2003, and the Pentagon's chief weapons tester had noted problems with the Army's pride and joy, the new Stryker Armored Vehicle. The $4 billion program was seen as the vanguard of the lighter, high-speed Army of the future. But even with new add-on armor, the Stryker "did not meet Army requirements" against rocket-propelled grenades in tests, Christie wrote in his 2003 annual report. Now the Pentagon was about to deploy the first 300 Strykers to Iraq while an insurgency raged.So Christie did something unusual: he sent a classified letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office urging the military to be very cautious about where in Iraq it deployed the Stryker. The response? "I was slapped down," says the straight-talking Christie. "It was: 'What are we supposed to do with this [letter]?... Are you trying to embarrass somebody?' "There may be embarrassment to come. Six months after that exchange, the fighting in Iraq has called into...
  • INTELLIGENCE: TENET AND THE CIA: A SURVIVOR'S TRO

    Asked how long George Tenet might stay on, intelligence officials won't say. But they point out that Tenet recently surpassed Richard Helms as the second-longest-serving CIA director and, with seven years (as of July) under his belt, he's approaching the legendary record holder, Allen Dulles. In other words, even Tenet apparently recognizes it's about time to call it quits. One sign: he is putting himself back in circulation by increasing his speaking engagements. But Tenet hopes to avoid the appearance of leaving under fire.That may not be possible. For Washington's Great Survivor, the flak has never been heavier. Tenet has managed to survive the CIA's failure to predict the 1998 Indian nuclear tests, the rocky transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and two of the most disastrous dropped balls in CIA history: 9/11 and Iraq's WMD program. But the cumulative toll of the recent 9/11 commission hearings may be more than Tenet can finesse. "I love George," says a former senior...
  • The Issue Is Iraq

    No one was more eager to question Condoleezza Rice about 9/11 than Bob Kerrey. The former senator from Nebraska, who as ever seems unwilling to play the Washington game of decorous double-talk, has been haranguing witnesses for weeks over why neither the Clinton nor Bush administrations did more to prevent the attacks. But as he prepared to badger Rice about the history of what happened two and a half years ago, not even Kerrey could ignore the maelstrom of events occurring half a world away this week.Referring to the dramatic turn of events this week in Iraq, when the once-quiet majority Shias joined the insurgency and dozens of U.S. soldiers were killed, Kerrey noted that he was "not going to get the national-security adviser 30 feet away from me very often." So he offered Rice some grim advice. "I think we're going to end up with civil war if we continue down the military-operation strategy that we have in place," Kerrey, now a 9/11 commissioner, said in the hushed hearing room...
  • TERROR'S NEXT STOP

    Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi didn't start off life as a mystery. And nothing about the shabby two-story house where he grew up in Jordan suggests that it once nurtured a terrorist mastermind. A few weeks ago in this hardscrabble town of Zarqa, 17 miles from Amman, his family held a party at the house. Sitting on flat mattresses on the ground, picking at an assortment of pizza, cake and grapefruit, his sisters said the man born Ahmed Khalaylah (Zarqawi, which derives from his hometown, is his nom de guerre) was popular as a youth and kind to animals as well as very religious. Later, reached by telephone after coordinated attacks against Shiites in Iraq left nearly 200 dead, one sister flatly said: "My brother wouldn't do that." Told that U.S. officials had fingered him, she shot back, "What do you expect from the infidels?"Zarqawi's green-eyed mother, Um Sayef al-Khalaylah--interviewed before her death earlier this month--also scoffed at the idea that her 37-year-old son was a terrorist big...
  • Pencil It In

    The Bush administration is fighting with itself again. At issue: whether the president will stick to his State of the Union promise to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis by June 30. Interestingly, the main battle lines this time are not between those ever-clashing titans at Defense and State, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell. The fight is largely between Baghdad and the Beltway. And all indications are that Baghdad--in the person of Iraq civil administrator L. Paul Bremer III--is carrying the day.As recently as a week ago, senior State and Defense department officials back in Washington, in a rare state of agreement, were suggesting privately that the June handover probably would have to slide--possibly until January 2005, when genuine elections could be held. This would almost certainly mean a political migraine for the president. Bush would face Democratic charges this fall that America is still mired in an Iraq quagmire and that he had reversed himself yet again on a critical...
  • IRAQ: CHALABI'S INFLUENCE

    Never popular with the Iraqi people, the U.S.-appointed Governing Council was supposed to fade into history. Under an interim agreement signed in mid-November, the council is to have "no formal role" in selecting the new transitional assembly to which Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer will hand over sovereignty on June 30. But some council members are backing a new proposal that may let them retain some power and influence in post-occupation Iraq, NEWSWEEK has learned.Ahmad Chalabi, a onetime favorite of the Pentagon's, has proposed a plan that, if approved by Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, will allow Chalabi and his fellow Governing Council members to approve a slate of candidates for the "caucuses" to be held in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. Chalabi's plan calls for the provincial caucuses to select candidates for the assembly from the approved list. Governing Council members who support the proposal say the candidates would not be "clones" of the 25 Governing Council...
  • The Mullah Behind the Curtain

    Granted vast authority under the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer has been the most powerful man in Iraq for the past seven months. But that is changing fast--almost hourly. Indeed the new Iraqi era that America set in motion last March is hurtling ahead so fast that one can barely keep up with it.Bremer may still hold the title of Iraq's civil administrator. But the most powerful man in Iraq at the moment is actually the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the reclusive Shiite cleric from the southern city of Najaf who persistently refuses to meet with Bremer. That's not necessarily bad news for the Americans. Sistani's obstinacy has little to do with a cloistered or backward mentality, which is how some frustrated U.S. officials characterize his thinking. It has everything to do with the fact that, while Sistani claims he knows nothing about politics (he resolutely stayed out of it during Saddam's rule), he is proving to be the most brilliant politician in Iraq. Indeed, if Sistani...
  • THE DESPOT AND HIS DEMONS

    Muammar Kaddafi ranks high in that small pantheon of world leaders who inspire both horror and humor. The Libyan dictator has sponsored or supported some of the worst acts of terror in memory, most notoriously the 1988 downing of Pan Am 103. But Kaddafi, with his mop of curly black hair and antic behavior, also tends to put one in mind of Chico Marx. Even his allies in the Islamic world often dismiss the erratic Libyan's behavior as odd. After the Arab League summit last March, when Kaddafi shouted that Saudi Arabia was "making a deal with the Devil" by relying on American protection, Al-Riyadh newspaper wrote that he "needs to be treated by psychiatrists."Suddenly, however, a coldly calculating Kaddafi may have figured out how to get what he has long been denied: acceptance by the community of nations. And he's eagerly cutting a deal with "the Devil," Washington, to do so. He's even turning into an eager stool pigeon against his former rogue cronies, providing critical clues in the...
  • Casualties Of War

    The Death Toll Among Soldiers Is Mounting, Even As Political Pressure Builds And We Head Into A Bitter Election Battle
  • Bioterror: Stepping On Toes?

    Tommy Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge have one thing in common--they both love to talk about how much better prepared America is for a bioattack like the still-unsolved anthrax letters of two years ago. But a turf fight between the two departments has seriously hindered those preparations, officials say. One expert connected with HHS says America may actually be less ready in some respects than it was just after 9/11--when HHS's medical experts quickly funneled $1 billion to communities to deal with bioterrorism--because of the confusion caused by the takeover of Ridge's new Department of Homeland Security. Now DHS is in charge of deploying HHS's stockpiles of vaccines and medicines, but it lacks health-care expertise and experience, HHS officials say.The dispute is diverting attention from the real problem: the health-care system is drastically underfunded. Most homeland-security money is going to "emergency responders...
  • How Much Safer Are We?

    On the southern California coast, nearly two years after 9/11, it's easy to feel far away from the horror of the attacks. A hundred feet above the ground, Mike Mitre, a crane operator at the nation's largest port of L.A.-Long Beach, deftly swings 60-foot shipping "cans" into place aboard a giant Hyundai cargo ship as he chats in his glass-bottom cab. Mitre is an amiable guy who loves his work. But when he hears that the bureaucrats back in Washington are confident that the nation's ports and border crossings are more secure, he turns cynical. He points to loaded trucks leaving the port, their plastic seals unchecked as they are waved through. "Port security? What port security?" he asks.Mitre's skepticism is well founded. On a recent day, this reporter drove straight into the truck lanes of the Port of Baltimore--which U.S. Customs officials say is one of the nation's best protected--without being stopped, then spent two hours wandering, unnoticed, among stacked shipping containers....
  • Q&Amp;A: The State Of Security

    Tom Ridge, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, is scrambling to complete a megamerger that would give Wall Street's finest a migraine--incorporating 22 federal agencies into one.Not surprisingly, he has been the target of much criticism, mostly focused on what is perceived to be the relatively new agency's slow start. Ridge spoke to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh on the eve of the second anniversary of 9/11. Excerpts:You said in a recent speech that "to date, we've never received specific, credible information" that would allow you to give localities or regions intelligence of a certain threat? Your recent 9/11 anniversary advisory also said that DHS had "no specific information on individual targets or dates for any attack." Can you point to any actual cases where measures by the Department of Homeland Security or other agencies have actually stopped a terrorist attack?Since March 1, since we've had this department up, we've sent out about 40 bulletins and advisories ......
  • What Went Wrong

    IT WAS A BLIP ON THE SCREEN THAT TURNED INTO A MONSTER, LEAVING 50 MILLION AMERICANS POWERLESS. THE INSIDE STORY OF A SLEEPLESS NIGHT.
  • Is Iraqi Intel Still Being Manipulated?

    His story seemed, in the beginning, a godsend for the Bush administration. In early June, Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi revealed to CIA investigators that in 1991, just after the Persian Gulf War, he had gone into his backyard to bury gas-centrifuge equipment used to enrich uranium.It appeared to be hard evidence backing up what the Bush team had maintained all along: that Saddam Hussein had a secret nuclear-weapons program and had hidden it so well that United Nations inspectors never would have found it on their own. This, after all, was one of the justifications for the war that began in March, and evidence for Vice President Dick Cheney's charge that the Iraqis were "reconstituting a nuclear program." Obeidi also turned over to the CIA 180 documents on Iraq's enrichment program, as well as about 200 blueprints for centrifuges.Suddenly the Bush administration seemed about to reap one of the windfalls it had long anticipated from the ouster of Saddam. Newly enfranchised...
  • War, A Primer

    Chris Hedges has guts. Not just battlefield guts--he spent 20 years as a war correspondent--but the moral courage to tell Americans what they least want to hear about war. Real war, that is: the war of blown apart bodies and lives, of tortured souls and human depravation.In his critically acclaimed 2002 book "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," Hedges treated war as the ultimate narcotic, an addiction he himself had barely managed to kick. Now, in "What Every Person Should Know About War," he offers up a handbook of simple questions and answers about war that range from the mundane, even silly ("Will I make friends during combat?") to the morbid ("What will my body look like after I die?") to the transcendent ("What does it feel like to die?"). "We ennoble war," he writes by way of explaining the book. "We turn it into entertainment. And in all this we tend to forget what war is about..."Hedges is an author who seems to practice what he preaches. In late May, in an apparent...
  • The General Nobody Knows

    It's a blistering day on the plains of Colorado, and Gen. Ed Eberhart strides into his brand-new "situational awareness center" at Northern Command. Eberhart may be the most powerful man in America nobody has really heard of: he's in charge of military deployments against domestic terror. A frisson of activity fills the room. In seconds every soldier is either standing or halfway out of his computer console. Eberhart's staff doesn't get to see him much: in the nine months since Northcom was created, he's been to dozens of states, visiting National Guard and Coast Guard bases, local fire, police and paramedic units, even Rotary Clubs--forging the loose network that might respond to a domestic terror attack. Eberhart waves his team back to their places. The duty officer is at his side. "Everything quiet?" Eberhart asks amiably, eying the array of flat computer screens on the front wall. "Anything new down in Arizona?" "Nothing new on the fires right now, sir. We're monitoring a...
  • Neocons on the Line

    Paul Wolfowitz seems a bundle of contradictions, all of them roiling inside him. Calm yet driven, a champion of bold action who speaks in a soft, somewhat quavery voice, Wolfowitz today finds himself pacing the world stage like a nervous father. He is a father in a sense--to an idea, one that has taken on a life of its own and, somewhat in the manner of a wayward child, is causing its parent no end of grief. It was Wolfowitz, the gentlemanly superhawk, who within days of 9-11 prodded the Bush administration into a radical new strategy: forcefully confronting states that sponsor terrorism. It was Wolfowitz--the ex math whiz who fell in love with the idea of "national greatness" as a youth and is now seen as the Bush administration's chief intellectual--who pressed Bush hardest to transform the war on terror into a campaign for regime change and democracy in rogue nations, especially in Iraq and the Islamic world.Now the deputy defense secretary and his fellow neoconservatives are on...
  • Stepping Into The Fray

    George W. Bush doesn't like to travel abroad much. And so when he arrived in the Mideast for the first time in his tenure last week, ready to make peace, the president fell back on a comfortable ritual: he greeted Arab leaders like long-lost fraternity brothers at a reunion weekend. He gave a bear hug to Hosni Mubarak, dined at his compound and, knowing that the Egyptian president has a bad knee, insisted that Mubarak take a golf cart back to their meeting site after a news conference. "I'll drive," Bush announced, kicking a Secret Service agent out of the driver's seat. As a beaming Mubarak rode shotgun, Bush then led what an aide described as a "golf-cart motorcade."The next day, in a moment of bonhomie not seen since the early days of Camp David in 2000, when Palestinians and Israelis traded jokes over dinner, Bush ushered Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, to a bench and two chairs outside for an impromptu 40-minute chat. "I'm...
  • Our New Civil War

    I think our welcome's worn out," Lt. Tom Garner of the Fourth Infantry Division remarked to his superior, Capt. Dave Gray, as the two rode through Tikrit last week. "We don't even get that fake wave anymore. They just stare." The Fourth ID was on its way to raiding, yet again, the house of a suspected Republican Guard official in Saddam Hussein's hometown. Gray also grumbled about the postwar-transition job. "I don't like it, but I'll do it," he said. "There is no NATO, so we're doing the NATO thing now. But it's kinda f---ed: to take a bunch of infantry who're trained to kill, not mediate who ran over somebody's dog."The soldiers get pulled in every direction, improvising every step of the way. "Within three blocks, we can be involved in high-intensity combat, low-intensity peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance," says Col. Gregg Martin. With raised voices and salty language, the keyed-up soldiers bicker over prison conditions or some detail of the Geneva Convention, and try to...
  • The State Dept. Wins One

    In the latest twist to the ongoing struggle over who will run Iraq, President George W. Bush plans to announce that L. Paul Bremer, a career State Department official and counterterrorism and security expert, will become civilian administrator of the country, officials said.Bremer, the ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration, will have authority over retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the current coordinator in charge of humanitarian issues and reconstructing Iraq's infrastructure, as well as Zalmay Khalilzad, a National Security Council official who is overseeing efforts to create an Iraqi government, a senior administration official said.A spokesman in Bremer's office in Washington, where he serves chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Consulting company, said he was unavailable for comment and could not "confirm or deny" that he would be appointed. The announcement is expected as early as this week.The appointment of a career diplomat and security expert to the...
  • No New Wars

    A relentlessly sunny George W. Bush turned his attention to boosting the flagging economy on Tuesday, with reassurances that he has no current plans for another war, that he "loves" the rebellious Shiite spirit in Iraq--and believes Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan should get another term.Bush, speaking with a small group of business reporters at the White House, volunteered twice that he's not gearing up for a new conflict in response to a question about the future costs of the war on terror. "I have no specific operation in mind at this point in time," the president said, adding a few minutes later, "I can't think of a specific moment or a specific incident that would require military action as we speak."Immediately after hostilities ended in Iraq, tough talk from the administration about Syria and threats from North Korea about starting up plutonium production raised speculation that Bush might be contemplating military action in those places. The president, who has made...
  • Bombs, Then Building

    It was one of those what-are-we-fighting-for moments. As U.S. Marines occupied their first Iraqi city, the port of Umm Qasr, they did what America's fighting men have done since landing at the shores of Tripoli in 1804: they hoisted the Stars and Stripes. But a few hours later, the American flag disappeared. As Gen. Tommy Franks noted somewhat apologetically on Saturday, one Marine had displayed the excessive "zeal" of a "young man." Franks added: "He quickly brought down his colors." And those are the orders all the way down the line. Iraqis "might see us as a conquering force," explained Pfc. Phillip Davis of the Army's Third Infantry Division. "We don't want them to think they're about to become the 51st state."George W. Bush has insisted that this war is about liberation, not occupation, and even buck privates on the battlefield are expected to toe the line. But it's no surprise the Marine at Umm Qasr was confused. The mixed message coming from the front lines reflects a still...
  • Halliburton Out Of The Running

    After taking some political heat, Halliburton is stepping out of the kitchen. The giant energy and construction firm once managed by Vice President Dick Cheney is no longer in the running for a $600 million rebuilding contract in postwar Iraq, NEWSWEEK has learned.Timothy Beans, the chief acquisition officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in an interview that Halliburton is not one of the two finalists to be prime contractor for the reconstruction of Iraq, though the Houston-based firm could take part as a subcontractor. The contract is to be awarded next week.Halliburton was one of five large U.S. companies that the Bush administration asked in mid-February to bid on the 21-month contract, which involves the reconstruction of Iraq's critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and hospitals, after the war. But the administration has come under increasingly strident criticism abroad and at the United Nations for offering postwar contracts only to U.S....
  • Buzzing A Superpower

    The rare visitor to Pyongyang doesn't get anything like a Circle Line tour. The North Koreans prefer that you remain in your hotel and, if you venture out, you're tracked by fretful government "minders." But one place they are all too happy to take you is the Korean War Museum. There, wandering its dark hallways, you find a whole wall devoted to the Pueblo incident, the seizure of a U.S. spy ship and its crew in 1968. Preserved in a glass case is the signed "confession" of the crew. Behind it is a giant black-and-white photo of Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, hunched over and humiliated. Long forgotten by most Americans, the Pueblo still represents a famous victory for the regime of North Korea's "Great Leader," Kim Jong Il, whose father, Kim Il Sung, ordered the seizure. The Pueblo crew was freed after 11 months, but the ship itself remains there, "a symbol of North Korean ability to deal with the greatest power in the world," as a former KGB officer once described it to author James Bamford...
  • Blood, Oil &Amp; Iraq

    Vladimir Putin knows his value to George W. Bush. The U.S. president hasn't talked to Gerhard Schroder, Germany's newly pacifist chancellor, in months. Jacques Chirac--zut!--Bush hasn't much time for him these days. Bush's relationship with Chinese President Jiang Zemin is chilly at best. And so Bush's success in winning over the U.N. Security Council in coming weeks--especially the "permanent five" members with vetoes--could come down to Putin, the ex-KGB colonel whose soul Bush once looked into admiringly. Putin could be the key player in isolating the French-led antiwar faction and shifting Security Council opinion in favor of an attack-Iraq resolution.No surprise, then, that the Russian and American presidents have been chatting a lot lately, and that one of Putin's pet subjects is oil. In a recent conversation, Putin asked Bush for reassurances that oil would not be permitted to drop too low (say, $21 a barrel) if there were an Iraq war, administration officials said. Oil came...
  • Crisis Manager

    Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, finds himself with three simmering crises to manage: Iraq, North Korea and Iran. El Baradei spoke to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh on Thursday about each, beginning with North Korea's decision to restart its reactor at Yongbyon.The reactor had been shut down since 1994 under an agreement with the Clinton administration, but as tensions with the Bush administration have escalated, North Korea recently said it would "resume normal operations." Under the '94 agreement, Pyongyang was forced to place as many as 8,000 fuel rods in storage. Now U.S. officials fear that North Korea may begin "reprocessing" the rods into weapons-grade plutonium, which would allow Pyongyang to produce nuclear bombs or sell the material to terrorists or terror-supporting states. ElBaradei also made some of his most extensive public comments about Iran's nuclear program since returning from a visit to its civilian nuclear sites last Sunday....