Hitchens repeated false claim that Abu Ghraib abuses were unrelated to interrogations, wrongly credited the “armed forces” with breaking the story

As a guest on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens falsely claimed that abuse at Abu Ghraib prison was unrelated to interrogations of Iraqi prisoners and incorrectly stated that the prison abuse scandal was “exposed” by “the armed forces,” rather than the press. In fact, four separate official investigations revealed that abuse did occur during interrogations, though the abuse depicted in pictures that sparked initial outrage did not occur during interrogations. Additionally, the military did not publicly expose the abuse; the Pentagon released the results of its initial internal investigation -- which it had apparently intended to keep secret -- only after CBS' 60 Minutes II and The New Yorker broke the story.

During the May 5 edition of Hardball, Wall Street Journal columnist Marie Cocco asked if reservists will be the “only people who take the rap for what was clearly a U.S. government policy of ... interrogations.” Hitchens responded, “They were not interrogations.” But according to a report by a Pentagon-appointed independent panel chaired by former Secretary of Defense James D. Schlesinger, while the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib were “not part of authorized interrogations,” other, non-photographed abuses “did occur at interrogation sessions.” [p. 5] Similarly, a Pentagon investigation by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay found that 27 members of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at the prison “allegedly requested, encouraged, condoned and solicited” military police to abuse detainees “and/or participated in detainee abuse” and that though “most” of the abuses were not connected with scheduled interrogations, some were [p.4]. Third, an internal investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba found that “Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other US Government Agency's (OGA) [a discrete term for the CIA] interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” Finally, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross also concluded that interrogators used a variety of “methods of ill-treatment,” such as “hooding,” handcuffing, and beatings. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Fox News contributor Bill Cowan previously made false claims about abuses during interrogations in Iraq.

Hitchens also incorrectly stated to host Chris Matthews that “it was the military who exposed” the Abu Ghraib abuses, noting that the Taguba report “was already ready” when the media broke the story. In fact, though Taguba's report was completed on February 26, 2004, it was not released until May 2, 2004 -- after CBS' 60 Minutes II broadcast photos of the abuses on April 28, 2004, and Seymour Hersh published an article in The New Yorker two days later disclosing the existence of the Taguba report, describing it as “not meant for release.” A May 3, 2004, article in The Baltimore Sun confirmed this chronology, stating that the “report -- originally classified 'Secret/No Foreign Dissemination,' a clear sign of the sensitivity of its disclosure -- was released yesterday, after excerpts appeared Saturday on the Web site of The New Yorker magazine.”

From the May 5 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

COCCO: And the question, the quite legitimate question is: Are people like the Lynndie Englands of the world, these reservists from West Virginia, who were not trained for this mission, who were thrown into something they were completely unprepared for, going to be the only people who take the rap for what was clearly a U.S. government policy of, outside the law or outside of conventional operations, interrogations?

MATTHEWS: How do you explain --


HITCHENS: They were not interrogations. I`m sorry. I have to repeat this, not interrogations.


HITCHENS: It deserves to be said that it was the military who exposed [the Abu Ghraib abuses] themselves. It wasn`t exposed by anyone but an inquiry by the armed forces.

MATTHEWS: I thought CBS broke this story.

HITCHENS: No, no, no. It was -- Taguba's report was already ready by then.