Ex-Commander Sanchez Faults Iraq Strategy

Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has lashed out against the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. Sanchez was the top commander there during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. Andrea Seabrook interviews New York Times reporter David Cloud, who heard Sanchez speak to reporters who cover the military.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

A former U.S. commander in Iraq has issued a scathing indictment of the conduct of the war.

Lieutenant General RICARDO SANCHEZ (Retired; U.S. Army): There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight.

SEABROOK: That's retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. You may remember his name in connection with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He was in Iraq at that time.

Yesterday, General Sanchez had these harsh words for the government he was serving.

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable.

SEABROOK: David Cloud of The New York Times was with General Sanchez when he spoke yesterday to Pentagon reporters and joins me now.

How are you, Mr. Cloud?

Mr. DAVID CLOUD (Reporter, The New York Times): I'm fine.

SEABROOK: Sanchez called the White House plans at the start of the Iraq War unrealistically optimistic and catastrophically flawed. And he said political leaders have been derelict in their performance of duty.

David Cloud, what else did he say?

Mr. CLOUD: Well, it was a lengthy and sort of slashing speech in which General Sanchez seemed to have a lot of things he wanted to get off his chest. He hasn't spoken much in public since retiring late last year and he spent the first 15 minutes of speech, laying out of a fairly bruising critique of the president's performance in Iraq and then went into another bruising critique of the civilian leadership's performance in Iraq. And then took questions in which he went on and on about the same themes.

SEABROOK: Did he mainly have criticism for the civilian leaders for the, you know, the administration and the Pentagon and not for fellow officers in the armed services?

Mr. CLOUD: Yeah. That's what made the speech so eye opening in a sense. I mean, he was the at the one time top general in Iraq, criticizing in no uncertain terms the Bush administration, which he said, you know, kept saying it's the administration that he was targeting and called them incompetent.

You know, his main criticism was essentially that while the military went to war, the civilian parts of the government didn't and haven't and still aren't, and blamed, you know, the administration for it. He didn't specifically President Bush. He didn't name anyone, but he was pretty clear who he is talking about.

SEABROOK: Hmm. And what did he say about the troop surge, the current strategy of the administration?

Mr. CLOUD: That was another interesting aspect of it. I mean, he lumped the troop surge in with everything else that's been tried in Iraq since 2003 and said, you know, this is just a mild adjustment in strategy and it won't lead to lasting security gains there.

SEABROOK: David Cloud, how much credibility does General Sanchez have at this point? He was in command himself in Iraq, as we mentioned. He was in-charge during the Abu Ghraib scandal and afterwards failed to win a fourth star. Should we be taking what he says with a grain of salt?

Mr. CLOUD: I mean, I think there's two ways to look at that. One is that he is, obviously, an experienced military officer who was right at the center of this thing. And in some sense, his critique is one that's shared by many military officers.

On the other hand, General Sanchez was essentially moved aside as the top commander in Iraq after Abu Ghraib and after the insurgency really took hold. And his past experience in Iraq is something heavily has to be borne in mind.

SEABROOK: David Cloud covers the military for The New York Times.

Thank you very much.

Mr. CLOUD: My pleasure.

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