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US Army suppresses RAND report

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CARLO BASILONE: The New York Times recently reported that a 2005 RAND Corporation Report titled Rebuilding Iraq, which was commissioned by the US Army, was suppressed. The unclassified report is highly critical of all levels of planning leading up to the Iraq war. US Army regulations states the reports may only be censored for national security reasons. We spoke to Phyllis Bennis, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies and currently a fellow at the Transnational Institute in the Netherlands, about who might benefit from the document’s suppression.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: The army insiders are saying that the reason it was kept secret was because they didn’t want to anger Rumsfeld. And I’m sure that that’s partly true. But the real issue now is: What’s the significance of it surfacing now, at the moment when they’re trying so desperately hard to stop talking about the origins of the war and the first five years of the war? Right now, all of the discourse is about how the surge worked, meaning just think about 2007, don’t think about 2006, and certainly don’t think about 2003, when people were dying in such horrific numbers. Don’t even think about the first half of 2007, when the levels of death were higher than they had ever been in all the years of the war. Just think about the last six months. That’s when the “surge” saw a diminished level of death and destruction. That’s what they’re trying to do is narrow the debate so that no one remembers the lies. It’s as if the lies become truth if they just stay at war long enough. That’s what they’re trying to get the American people to believe. As far as I know, it has not yet been leaked. It was reported in The New York Times, but it’s not been made public yet, even now, and even though there was a separate non-classified version of the report that was written at the very beginning. This wasn’t a classified report that was thought to be damaging to national security; what it was was damaging to the Bush administration’s credibility. That’s why they’ve kept it secret. I think the question of making the entire report public is going to be a very powerful political gesture. We know some of the things that were in it. We know that the report indicated that already back in 2005 there was already knowledge that early on there were insufficient troops that were assigned to the occupation that in another part of the report they agreed had not been given any thought. The occupation was considered like an afterthought, as if there wouldn’t be a need for an occupation, because, again, the Iraqis were going to welcome us with rice and flowers and we weren’t going to need to occupy the country. It was a repeat of the same ideologically driven set of lies that characterized the Bush administration’s justifications for war from the very beginning. It’s criticisms up and down the line of command. It’s criticisms of people like Bremer and Rumsfeld. It’s also criticisms of people like Tommy Franks, the then-head of the military in Iraq. But I think that what’s key here is that the criticism is of the military and of the civilian leadership, the civilians in control of the Pentagon and of the Defense Department. So this is a very wide-ranging set of criticisms, from what we understand. It’s not simply a military critique that they sent the wrong unit or something like that; it’s not that kind of narrow critique. It’s a very wide-ranging critique on questions of the very basis on which the war was predicated. I think there’s going to be a great deal of pressure to release it. I think one of the questions will be if any of the Republican candidates in the US election come out and demand its release. I think in that case it will be very difficult for them not to. If only the Democrats are asking for it, they’ll claim it’s a partisan issue. And of course there will be partisan value in something like this. But of course the fundamental question is: will the American people be allowed to see it? You know, the candidates be damned, frankly. The issue is will the population who have paid such a high price, the population of the United States who have paid such a high price in the death and wounding of so many troops and such an enormous cost, and the population of Iraq that has paid the ultimate price for this war and occupation—will the people of the world be allowed to see what even the Pentagon’s own think tank—? Because essentially the RAND Corporation is a one-client think tank, if you will. They work only for the Pentagon. They’re as loyal to the Pentagon as anyone can be. When the RAND Corporation comes out sharply in this kind of a critique, it must be taken seriously.

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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.