Taguba report wrongly classified?

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 10, 2004 6:01PM (EDT)

The U.S. Army report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib, known as the Taguba report, was given top-secret "classified" status at the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld went so far as to say that whoever leaked it to the press -- Seymour Hersh first reported on it last week in the New Yorker -- committed a crime. Rumsfeld said during his Senate testimony on Friday: "We did not release the Taguba report to the press. That was done by someone to release against the law a secret document. That's how it surprised everyone. It shocked the Congress. It shocked me. It shocked the president. It shocked the country."

Once the report started circulating in full online, the Pentagon even issued email warnings to employees telling them they couldn't read a copy of the classified report on the Internet, like untold numbers of their fellow Americans. They were told not to discuss the report with their friends and family. If they received a copy of the Taguba report via email they were told not to delete it -- instead, they should call the IT HelpDesk immediately for help. One email warning, printed on the Time magazine Web site, was dated last Thursday, days after the details of the Taguba report were widely known and a day after the report itself was available online. Here is an excerpt: "This leakage will be investigated for criminal prosecution. If you don't have the document and have never had legitimate access, please do not complicate the investigative processes by seeking information. Again, THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS REPORT IS CLASSIFIED; DO NOT GO TO FOX NEWS TO READ OR OBTAIN A COPY."

For all the fear of Donald Rumsfeld's wrath being brought upon Pentagon employees for even glancing at this classified document, it turns out that the Taguba report may well have been improperly classified. Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists has asked the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives to investigate. The Taguba report is labeled "Secret/No Foreign Dissemination," but Aftergood points out that information cannot be classified "in order to conceal violations of law." The Taguba report describes "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees." In a letter to the ISOO, Aftergood says: "That paragraph is classified Secret (S), as are subsequent passages detailing the nature of the alleged criminal offenses. As far as I can tell, this does not constitute National Security Information that is eligible for classification under the executive order."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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