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Gen. Barry McCaffrey, war criminal?

Posted By Jude Wanniski On 05/24/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

To: Robert L. Bartley, Wall Street Journal editor

From: Jude Wanniski

Re: The Gulf War ‘Turkey Shoot’

I was happy to see you run the op-ed by General McCaffrey, defending
himself against The New Yorker’s revisionist history. I’d read the
25,000-word piece by Seymour Hersh in the May 22 edition of the New
Yorker, “Overwhelming Force,” and found it very persuasive. I’ve known
Sy Hersh and his work and have considered him to be a first-class
reporter, one who leaves no stone unturned as he digs into a
controversial story. The case he makes against McCaffrey, who is now
Clinton’s “drug czar,” is one that has been in the rumor mill for the
last 10 years, so I was happy to see Hersh decide to devote a year or
more out of his life to reporting and writing what might be termed the
case for the prosecution. That is, was McCaffrey justified in ordering
an all-out attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard two days after the
Gulf War ended
, as its army headed back to Baghdad? As Hersh writes
in the magazine article:

    The Iraqis were driving toward a causeway over Lake Hammar, one
    of five exit routes from the Euphrates River Valley to the safety of
    Baghdad. Overriding a warning from the division operations officer,
    McCaffrey ordered an assault in force — an all-out attack. His decision
    stunned some officers in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia,
    and provoked unease in Washington. Apache attack helicopters, Bradley
    fighting vehicles, and artillery units from the 24th Division pummeled
    the five-mile-long Iraqi column for hours, destroying some 700 Iraqi
    tanks, armored cars, and trucks, and killing not only Iraqi soldiers but
    civilians and children as well. Many of the dead were buried soon after
    the engagement, and no accurate count of the victims could be made.
    McCaffrey later described the carnage as “one of the most astounding
    scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” There were no
    serious American combat casualties.

In his defense on your Monday editorial page, Bob, McCaffrey
argues that he ordered the all-out attack upon learning that “Sagger
missiles and enemy rounds were fired” by the Iraqi army. He also points
out that there was an official inquiry and that he was cleared of
wrongdoing. He also quotes a man we all greatly admire, Gen. Colin
Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, who he
says “called the article ‘an attempt at character assassination of a
soldier named Barry McCaffrey who served his nation proudly and did
everything he could to protect the GIs entrusted to his care.’”
McCaffrey notes that Hersh says, “The Iraqi forces at Rumaylah were ‘in
retreat.’ But he wasn’t there, facing an Iraqi force spanning five miles
and made up of hundreds of tanks, trucks and armored personnel.”

You have not yet commented on this clash of opinion and perhaps you
will decide to give McCaffrey the last word as far as the readers of the
Wall Street Journal are concerned. I would, though, recommend you take
the trouble of reading the Hersh article, or at least that portion from
pages 62 to 67 that describe the events that led to McCaffrey’s
decision. It would be easy to clear him of wrongdoing in my own mind if
there had been no time lapse between the time when reports came in that
shots were fired from the direction of the retreating Iraqi army. But
Hersh finds a significant time lapse before the order is given by
McCaffrey, who only heard of the shots fired after there were
discussions among his subordinates on what they meant and what should be
done about them. He quotes Patrick Lamar, the division’s operations
officer, responsible, in war, for relaying McCaffrey’s orders to the
field units.

    According to Lamar, the interval after the first skirmishing by
    Ware’s battalion provoked a debate inside McCaffrey’s assault command
    post.

    “There was no incoming,” Lamar told me. “I know that for a fact. He
    described the entire battle as a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing
    absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the
    incoming.” It didn’t matter, Lamar added. McCaffrey wanted to attack.

If I were you, Bob, I would at least give Colin Powell a call
and ask him to confirm the quote ascribed to him by McCaffrey about the
Hersh article. If Powell really read the article and saw the time lines
and quotes from senior commanders and generals and still insists that
this is “character assassination,” it would at least be reassuring. The
reason I think Powell is so loved by the American people is that he was
the fellow who stopped the “turkey shoot,” the mass slaughter of young
Iraqi men who were trying to get home. You have written enough
editorials over the years criticizing Powell for not continuing the
“turkey shoot” and going all the way to Baghdad, but I assume your own
national security advisors cornered you into that position.

You know, though, that I believe the Gulf War has been built on a
series of lies, lies being covered up one at a time. The lies began from
the moment when our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Saddam
Hussein it was all right with our state department if he chose to invade
Kuwait in his longstanding dispute over the Rumaylah oil fields. They
have been covered up and covered up, but history has a way of uncovering
lies, Bob. They are now catching up with McCaffrey and eventually
history will discover the Gulf War was unnecessary — that Saddam had a
white flag up even before we first began shooting. We continue the cover
up even though in 10 years, the cost has been the lives of at least a
million Iraqi civilians, half of them children. And the lies continue as
cover-up as we bomb Iraq every other day, as further proof to our
Establishment that they did not make a monstrous mistake from the very
first day.

Do I want McCaffrey punished? Of course I do, if he was responsible
for the mass slaughter of troops who were flying a white flag. How much
punishment? Well, I would suggest he be removed as drug czar in the
Clinton administration and retired completely to private life. For him
to suggest that Sy Hersh began this assault on him because Sy objects to
him fighting against drugs in Columbia is itself disquieting, to say the
least.

Why do I pick on you? Because the political class will not police
itself. That’s why we have a Free Press, isn’t it? But when the
Political Establishment controls all the major media, there is no
policing, no discussion or debate. McCaffrey’s just one fellow, but he
is a metaphor for what has been happening to our country as we sit
triumphantly on top of the planet. To put a spotlight on one man who
decided to satisfy his own blood lust and was given medals by our
government as a result may help us turn a corner as a nation. We’ve
become the bullies of the world, bombing whoever gets in our way, and we
kid ourselves into thinking these are the necessary costs of being the
world leader. It’s not right. What doth it profit a man if he gains
the whole world, but loses his soul?
The same is true of a nation.


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