Texas Monthly interview with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who is being recruited to run for the Senate in Texas, did an interview with Texas Monthly in 2008 that’s worth your time to read. The interview was published after his book “Wiser In Battle”, which was highly critical of the prosecution of the war in Iraq, came out. Here’s what he had to say about Abu Ghraib:

Let me ask you about Abu Ghraib, which obviously you were in the middle of—

Probably responsible for that.

People have said, point-blank, that it was a failure of leadership on your part. It must be difficult to have your entire career summed up in that one horrifying incident.

Well, it has been. Let’s not mistake for a second that it was anything other than grotesque and unacceptable. But I think we need to look at the facts that tell us how our nation started down a slippery slope in 2002, when the lifting of the Geneva Conventions occurred. The military issued that guidance almost verbatim to our fighting forces in the field. More importantly, we failed to convey the instructions and safeguards and training that might have kept us from going down that slippery slope to abuse and torture. We failed to respond to pleas for guidance from soldiers and leaders in the field, when it was crystal clear to everybody, because of the investigations that were conducted in November and December of 2002, that we had significant problems in detention and interrogation. Then we compounded things by bringing into Iraq units that had been in Afghanistan, operating in a totally unconstrained interrogation world. In a conventional force, that creates significant confusion.

I imagine so.

When I identified that we had this unprecedented problem—we knew by May 2003 that it was way beyond anything we had ever faced—and we began to ask for help, there was no one within the Army or the Department of Defense who had any understanding of how to solve it. So we struggled and floundered and began to come up with solutions internally. Every time we got a notification of an abuse, we conducted an investigation. But there were well-known abuses that the whole world knew about—the one in which a warrant officer killed a general while he was interrogating him or the case of Iceman, as he was known, who died in the course of an investigation by the CIA and was dumped on my soldiers at Abu Ghraib. So there were two different agencies operating that were not under my command.

One was the CIA.

And the other one was the Special Operations Forces. To describe a little better what happened in Abu Ghraib, you had a coming together of my interrogators with the CIA—which came in and did what they do with no constraints on their rules—and the Special Operations Forces, who were operating under global-war-on-terror rules that were different from the rules that the Geneva Conventions applied to.

There wasn’t a common standard among the three.

No, absolutely not. The problem is that you had three different chains of command. Mine covered only the conventional forces. The Special Operations Forces reported back to Central Command. The CIA reported back to the CIA.

So you feel like you were unfairly held responsible for the actions of people not in your command?

What happened to me is that everything was seen as the responsibility of the commander on the ground. In fact, when one looks at the reality, it is very clear that incidents that occurred and abuses and allegations were outside of my command authority.

But to the extent that you’re responsible only for your folks, it was indeed folks in your command, like Lynndie England, who also committed pretty horrific abuses. That’s been documented.

Yeah, clearly. There were some abuses that occurred as we fought the war. But they were not condoned. We actually charged and court-martialed soldiers. We were very aggressive in investigating instances of abuse and taking actions against those people responsible.

And yet, in the end, you were relieved of your command.

I wasn’t relieved of my command. I rotated out of there after fourteen months. But there was an effort to make it appear that I was being relieved. That’s correct.

The implication was you were paying a price for the embarrassment that the U.S. suffered over Abu Ghraib.

Yes, no question.

You believe that it was an unfair assessment of your tenure in that position.

When you get to those levels of command, you have to look at what our leadership does in light of all the factors they’re considering. It becomes almost untenable for the administration to do anything else, to do anything other than tell me to retire, because it is in the best interest of the Department of Defense and the Army.

But this is your career! Surely this can’t be something you look back on and say, “Oh, well, that’s life.”

No, no. It’s a very disappointing time in my life.

Who do you blame?

I’m not sure. Do I blame a single individual? Do I blame the nation for the mistakes we made that led us to Abu Ghraib and the abuses that occurred as a result of the actions we took? Do I blame the military or the Department of Defense for trying to contain this extremely embarrassing period in our history? I think when you look at it, what happened to me is that I got caught in a perfect storm.

As I said before, I want to hear what he has to say for himself before I make any judgments. So far, I’m satisfied with what I’ve heard and am willing to hear more. Thanks to Evan Smith, then the editor of Texas Monthly and the conductor of that interview, for the link.

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12 Responses to Texas Monthly interview with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

  1. Buhallin says:

    Afraid I have to disagree with you on being satisfied with the answer.

    “when one looks at the reality, it is very clear that incidents that occurred and abuses and allegations were outside of my command authority.”

    This is, if you’ll pardon the expression, complete bullshit.

    Every member of the military is required to adhere to the Law of Armed Conflict. I was nothing but a programmer working in an intel shop whose closest exposure to actual combat was about 1500 miles, but I still had to go through annual training on our responsibilities.

    The entire point of all that is that we are expected to do the right thing – every one of us, from the lowest airman to the top generals – and command authority has nothing to do with it. IMHO he comes off even worse than if he’d said nothing at all. “Well, I knew this was going on, but they were in another unit so I did nothing” is an abrogation of every expectation we place on the members of our armed forces.

    The open seat is probably the best opportunity we’ll have for a good long while. It’ll truly be a shame if this repugnant thug is the best our party can come up with. I certainly won’t vote for him, and I’d seriously consider crossing the ticket to ensure he goes nowhere but the disgraced dustbin of history along with all the other war criminals we think we can ignore because we’re such an awesome country.

  2. Al Clarke says:

    So a Dick Cheney clone will perhaps be the Democratic candidate for US Senator from Texas. I think I may well just vote for the Republican this time. There is not enought “white wash” you or others can spread to clean up General Sanchez.

  3. furioso ateo says:

    Which answer specifically are you satisfied with? His shifting of the blame to other parties? His weepy, “it wasn’t my fault, poor me” response? He denied responsibility, Big Surprise! What’s he going to say, “Yup, Abu Graihb was all on me”? As much shit as Texas gets, the last thing we need to do is add “Elected the General responsible for Abu Graihb to Senate” to the long list of other things we’ve fucked up.

    I want a viable Democratic candidate for Senate as much as you do, but this is asking me to eat a shit sandwich and say it smells like roses, to mix metaphors. I vote reliably straight ticket D, but I’m going to make an exception for this guy and not vote on the Senate race if it comes to this. Hit us back Kuffner, let us know where your usually reliable incredulity is on this.

  4. I’m curious, Furioso. What answer could he have given that you would have accepted? If the answer is “There was no answer he could have given”, then there isn’t much to discuss. What did you want him to say? I’d like to hear any opinions on that.

    I did not see him duck responsibility. He pointed out, quite reasonably, that others were also responsible. Do we not agree that blame for this went farther up the chain of command? Of all the things he could have said that might generate controversy, I would not have thought to include that. Frankly, I wish he’d have been more critical of the President. I agree that the problems began with the disregard of the Geneva Convention, and I agree that Rumsfeld made a lot of things worse. Does anyone disagree with that?

    I still want to hear what he has to say now about what is happening today. Maybe I’ll agree with him and maybe I won’t. Let’s not forget that the filing deadline is still more than seven months away. There’s plenty of time for another candidate to get in – anyone want to advocate for this guy? – and if one does then I’ll listen to what he or she has to say. Until then, this is all we have between us and Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Michael Williams. I’m not prepared to acquiesce to that.

  5. furioso ateo says:

    Actually, as a former member of the military, I would hold the good Lt. General to the same standards that I would have been held to: He should have accepted full responsibility for Abu Graihb. That I’ve seen, there’s no hard and fast analog in the civilian world, but in the military if someone under your command screws up, then it’s your fault. Full Stop. That the Lt. General does not concede this speaks to his character.

    “What answer could he have given that you would have accepted?” The only correct one: That Abu Graihb happened on his watch and that he is responsible. That acknowledgement and an apology would be a good place to start. If he had done so then maybe I’d be willing to see what else he’s got to say.

    Even ignoring all questions of character, responsibility, or morality, it’s also an electoral mess. If he’s dodging this question now, and leaving solid Democrats like myself dissatisfied, imagine how he will be hounded with it in the actual election.

    To be honest, after reading the entire Texas Monthly interview, and the preface to his book, plus the quotes on his Wikipedia page, the guy smacks of someone who’s bitter about his failure in Iraq ruining his future career and has since been lashing out at everyone who he blames for this.

    Thanks for the response Kuffner, you did force me to think a little more and do an, admittedly small, amount of research. I’d like to hear if you have anything more to add.

  6. Thanks for your response, Furioso. I appreciate your perspective on this. Like I said, I want to hear what he has to say. Maybe he’s refined his answer since this interview was conducted. Or maybe not. Maybe he’ll be good enough on other things. Maybe someone better will come along. I’m not willing to dismiss him out of hand. When and if he says something about what he’d do as a Senator, I’ll have a better idea of what to make of him.

  7. Buhallin says:

    I disagree with furioso a bit. I don’t want him to admit that he was responsible – I want to know what he actually did about it.

    “They weren’t in my chain of command, so I shrugged and went about my business” doesn’t cut it for me. What I want to hear is that he saw it happening and screamed bloody murder to try and get it fixed at great risk to his career. Not that he went along until the story broke because it wasn’t his problem.

    Maybe that qualifies as the “nothing he could say” category, but that’s because he didn’t do what he should have – what morality and his responsibilities as an officer in the United States Army required. The man is a disgrace to his uniform and my country, and I will not do anything to help him become my representative.

    Seriously, I’m amazed anyone is even CONSIDERING this. It’s one thing to sweep it under the rug and pretend nothing happened because we’re too cowardly to hold ourselves to our own standards. That’s repugnant enough. But you’re seriously talking about trying to elect A WAR CRIMINAL TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE.

  8. furioso ateo says:

    Have to add that I second everything Buhallin is saying, in addition to everything I’ve already said.

  9. Thanks, guys. I really do appreciate your feedback. I still want to hear what he has to say for himself, but I will definitely keep what you have said in mind.

  10. Al Clarke says:

    Great exchange guys and excellent points for further thought. I concur that the General needs to accept full responsibility for the actions that occurred on his watch AND he should offer an explanation about what he did to address the problems he knew about for so long prior to Abu Graihb and the problems from events that occurred at Abu Graihb.
    He deserves the opportunity to explain himself and his actions or lack thereof.
    Sadly, I am not inclined to be forgiving enough to likely consider him a worthy candidate for the US Senate. Passing the buck and responsibility to “they were not under my chain of command” is what most politicians are doing today, so General Sanchez would be no better than any of the buffoons we have representing us today. I want a change for the better and I am doubtful that the General can offer that regardless of his explanation.
    I will however listen to what he has to say, but I would prefer someone who does not have the baggage associated with a war criminal as a candidate for Senate from TX. Frightening to think I might actually vote for a Republican for Senate in an effort to prevent someone like Sanchez from becoming a US Senator. That is indeed twisted.

  11. vbtexan says:

    Who do you have in mind for US Senate since it looks like many of you bloggers have already vetoed this guy? Retreads like Chris Bell, John Sharp? Bill White and Chet Edwards won’t run.

  12. Tracy Clinton says:

    There has already been a Democrat who has declared to run in Texas for this open seat, and it’s a done deal that he’s going to be on the primary ballot. Sean Hubbard is a born and bred Texas Democrat, a local activist in the Dallas area, and you can find out more about him at:


    He welcomes Sanchez’s addition to the discussions on the issues that Texas faces in the coming year.

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