Make a mess, get a reward

Nov 23, 2005 at 12:00 am

The motto of this administration might easily be: failing upward. Of course, that’s not hard when those leading the country into catastrophe are also making the appointments and bestowing the honors. Somewhere in this world of ours there should be at least one Wall of Shame (and perhaps an adjoining Wall of Cronyism) for an administration that has heaped favor, position and honors on those who have blundered, lied, manipulated and broken the law (not to say, cracked open the Constitution and the republic).

Here’s just a sampling of the band of culprits who might appear on such a wall, and but a few of the things for which they might be held accountable.

Honored for catastrophe

Former CIA Director George (“Slam Dunk”) Tenet, who oversaw an “intelligence” program of lies, misinformation, abductions, torture, the disappearing of prisoners and the setting up of a mini-gulag of private prisons from Thailand to Eastern Europe, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as his tenure at the Agency ended.

Former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul (“I never saw an army I didn’t want to disband”) Bremer III, under whose leadership in Baghdad the American occupation misplaced and displaced more money than is humanly imaginable, and under whose leadership Iraq descended into chaos, awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard (“Guantanamo is a model facility”) Myers, who oversaw the Iraq War and whose claim to fame may have been that he called Dan Rather of CBS to try to suppress the first 60 Minutes II report on Abu Ghraib, awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Former Centcom Commander Tommy (“We don’t do body counts”) Franks, who oversaw “victories” in Afghanistan and Iraq in wars that have never ended, retired to great administration praise and became a “paid patriot,” awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Promoted (or retained) for disaster

Defense Secretary Donald (“Stuff happens”) Rumsfeld, who planned the invasion and occupation of Iraq so brilliantly and bragged that he could stand up longer than any Guantánamo detainee, kept on as secretary of defense in George Bush’s second term.

Former Undersecretary of Defense Paul (“There is no history of ethnic strife in Iraq”) Wolfowitz, who spearheaded the administration’s blind cakewalk into Iraq and declared himself “reasonably certain” that the Iraqi people “will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down,” was made World Bank president and now prefers not to be “distracted” with ancient “history.”

Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John (“I’m with the Bush-Cheney team, and I’m here to stop the vote” and “There is no such thing as the United Nations”) Bolton, who never saw a country he couldn’t include in the Axis of Evil, a treaty he wasn’t ready to shred, or negotiations he wasn’t prepared to sabotage, was given a presidential recess appointment as UN ambassador after his nomination was deep-sixed by Senate Democrats.

The torture brigade

Former White House Counsel Alberto (No rules apply) Gonzales, who helped marshal the administration’s case for “relaxing” interrogation rules on prisoners, and the man to whom so many of those torture memos were sent, was made attorney general.

Former General Counsel for the Pentagon William J. Haynes II, who appointed a working group to circumvent laws and treaties restricting the administration’s urge to torture, developed administration policies to deny detainees at Guantánamo prisoner-of-war status; developed the Pentagon’s military tribunal policy to try them; promoted the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens by the president without legal counsel or judicial review, and recommended (over the protests of military lawyers) many of the most abusive tactics used at Guantánamo, was nominated to a judgeship in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by George W. Bush on September 29, 2003. Only a Democratic filibuster in the Senate derailed the appointment.

Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice John (“Must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”) Yoo, infamous for drafting the August 2002 “torture memo” to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and a supporter of unfettered presidential rule in matters of foreign policy, returned to his position as professor of law at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and wrote a book.

Former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Jay (“Certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within [a legal] proscription against torture”) Bybee, who was the official author of the August 2002 torture memo, is now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former Legal Counsel to the Vice President David Addington, “a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions,” “a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects and ... a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts,” known for his “devotion to secrecy” and to an extreme version of unfettered presidential power (as well as a backer of the stalled Haynes judgeship), was promoted to vice presidential chief of staff after I. Lewis Libby’s resignation.

Former head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Michael Chertoff, who advised the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002-03 on how far CIA interrogators could go in coercive interrogation methods on terror suspects under the federal anti-torture statute, was appointed head of the Homeland Security Department, where he oversaw FEMA’s disastrous responses to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and where he remains today.

Former principal deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs John Hannah, a conduit for Iraqi exile prewar mis- or disinformation on Saddam’s WMD arsenal, involved in producing prewar administration claims linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and in the Valerie Plame/Joseph Wilson smear campaign, promoted to National Security Advisor to Vice President Cheney.


Former FEMA Director Michael (“I am a fashion god”) Brown, who so spectacularly botched the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina, is now on the federal payroll as a $148,000-a-year consultant to FEMA.

Former U.S. military commander in Iraq Lt. General Ricardo (“Arab fear of dogs”) Sanchez, who personally signed off on the use of coercive interrogation techniques outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, including the use of “working dogs,” was to be made head of the U.S. Southern Command and nominated for his fourth star until Pentagon officials came to fear that his role overseeing the Abu Ghraib scandal would create opposition in the Senate, so he was given a major command in Europe.

Former Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo Maj. Gen. Geoffrey (“Gitmo-ize the confinement operation”) Miller, who brought Guantánamo interrogation methods, including the use of dogs, to Iraq before the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal (reportedly claiming that the prisoners “are like dogs, and if you allow them to believe they’re more than a dog, then you’ve lost control of them”), and for his efforts was then made senior commander in charge of detention operations in Iraq, instead of being cashiered in shame, is now assigned to an Army management position in the Washington, D.C., area.

Sadly, while this gallery of rogues was being honored and/or promoted and/or protected, those who really should have received honors and medals were, by and large, overlooked or forgotten — not just figures like ex-Marine and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who insisted before the war (to the sneers of American reporters) that Iraq was unlikely to possess even the shreds of its former WMD program but all those millions who massed in the streets and insisted that an invasion of Iraq would be a path, paved by lies, that would lead only to madness. No “medals of freedom” for the likes of them.

Tom Engelhardt, editor of, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.