Last November, days after the release of George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, the founder of the Agenda Project, a left-leaning, New York–based advocacy group, telephoned Ricardo Sanchez, the retired Army lieutenant general who once led all coalition ground forces in Iraq, at his home in Texas. Would Sanchez be willing to publicly rebut the former president’s published version of the war?
“I told her absolutely not,” Sanchez says. “I had no intention of going out and buying a copy of Bush’s book.”
In his own book, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, Sanchez condemned Bush’s rush to war as “a strategic blunder of historic proportions” that risked the lives of poorly trained and ill-equipped U.S. troops. But Sanchez, who prior to his retirement was the highest-ranking Latino to have served in the Army, has his own burden to bear. His year directing military operations in Iraq soon after the fall of Baghdad saw low-level enemy resistance erupt into full-blown insurgency and virtual civil war. And revelations of detainee abuse that occurred on his watch at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison forced him to retire from the Army in 2006.
Although an Army inspector general’s report cleared Sanchez of any wrongdoing, it found failures of oversight and execution at all levels, as did congressional and news-media investigations. Sanchez says his former superiors dodged his repeated requests for guidelines that could have helped to avert the Abu Ghraib scandal. Now, in a remarkable turn for a general who helped lead the prosecution of the war, he is calling for the creation of a “truth commission” to probe possible crimes involving waterboarding and other torturous interrogation techniques put into practice during the Bush years. For someone who has lived by the military code since joining the junior ROTC at the age of 15, it is something of a quixotic quest.