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2006-04-17

Retired Colonel Sam Gardiner on Iran War Plans: "The Issue is Not Whether the Military Option Would Be Used But Who Approved the Start of Operations Already"

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Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner says a military operation has already begun inside Iran. Gardiner says, "It’s a very serious question about the constitutional framework under which we are now conducting military operations in Iran." We also speak with Gardiner about what he calls the "unprecedented" revolt against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld within the military. [includes rush transcript]

The Bush administration is on the defensive following an unprecedented wave of criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the last month, seven retired generals have called on Rumsfeld to step down. The criticism has focused on Rumsfeld’s leadership style and his handling of the war in Iraq. Former Major General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training Iraqi troops after the US invasion, wrote last month that "[Rumsfeld] has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically." The other officers include General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the former chief operations commander before the Iraq war. In an article published in Time Magazine, Newbold said he chose to speak out after he was encouraged by other military officials still serving under Rumsfeld.

The White House has dismissed the criticism. On Friday, President Bush released a statement saying he fully supported Rumsfeld. And in a televised interview with Al-Arabiya television last week, Rumsfeld said: "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

In another issue that’s making news from the Pentagon–Iran. Both the New Yorker and the Washington Post have reported the US has drawn up plans for launching tactical nuclear strikes against Iran. President Bush dismissed the reports as "wild speculation." But evidence continues to emerge the US is preparing for a possible attack. On his online column for the Washington Post, defense analyst Wiliam Arkin said the Pentagon has been working on contingency studies for an Iran invasion since at least 2003. Arkin said the studies were conducted under directives from Donald Rumsfeld and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair General Richard Myers. British military planners have reportedly taken part in one Pentagon "war game" that included an invasion of Iran.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, is a retired Air Force Colonel whose area of expertise includes helping to stage these war games. In 2004, he conducted a war game organized by The Atlantic Monthly to gage how an American President might respond, militarily or otherwise, to Iran’s rapid progress toward developing nuclear weapons. What was your conclusion?

  • Sam Gardiner, retired Air Force Colonel. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, AirWar College and Naval War College.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by retired Air Force colonel, Sam Gardiner. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College. He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College. He speaks to us by phone from Virginia. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

COL. SAM GARDINER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Before we talk to you about Iran, I wanted to ask you about this latest wave of criticism of Donald Rumsfeld by the generals themselves.

COL. SAM GARDINER: I have to say, first — it’s probably the most important thing — it’s unprecedented. There may be one example in, gosh, I guess, in American military history where something like this has happened, and it happened with some naval officers over a decision to do away with an aircraft carrier. But this, and from such immediate retirees, is a very important message that we’re hearing from former military officers — no, that’s just not enough — former military operators who were very deeply involved in the war in Iraq. It’s very important.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you, Colonel Sam Gardiner, about the issue of torture. On Friday, Human Rights Watch said Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for the abuse of a detainee held at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay. In a sworn statement first disclosed by Salon.com, an army general says Rumsfeld was, quote, "personally involved" in the interrogation process of a Saudi man named Mohammed al-Kahtani. The general said Rumsfeld spoke weekly with al-Kahtani’s jailers during a period he was subjected to extensive physical and emotional abuse. The general said he saw parallels with the abuse of detainess at Abu Ghraib where Rumsfeld has been accused of playing a larger role than has been acknowledged. Human Rights Watch says Rumsfeld could be liable under the legal principle that holds a superior responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates, when he knew or should have known they were being committed but fails to stop them. And Joanne Mariner, who is the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch said, "The question, at this point, is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted." Colonel Gardiner, your response?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, two things. One of them is just we need to see evidence. But probably the thing that stands out is that it is in the pattern of the way he operates, which is that he’s very closely involved in some decisions, and some decisions he picks out and decides those are the ones that he wants to emphasize. So it could very well be true from that kind of perspective. And there’s certainly a lot more to come out about how the United States has handled this process, and hopefully that will begin to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think should happen to Donald Rumsfeld?

COL. SAM GARDINER: I can’t speculate without seeing the evidence. That’s kind of tough to do. But, you know, we have held to the principle that superiors are responsible for what goes on. That certainly is a long military tradition. And it’s certainly a tradition that we’ve upheld in international law. So, if he is involved, clearly something needs to be pushed further.

AMY GOODMAN: Moving from Donald Rumsfeld, I wanted to talk about another issue that’s making news from the Pentagon, and that’s Iran. Both the New Yorker magazine and the Washington Post have reported the U.S. has drawn up plans for launching tactical nuclear strikes against Iran. President Bush dismissed the reports as wild speculation. But evidence continues to emerge that the U.S. is preparing for a possible attack. On his online column for Washington Post, defense analyst William Arkin said the Pentagon has been working on contingency studies for an Iran invasion since at least 2003. Arkin said the studies were conducted under directives from Donald Rumsfeld and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, General Richard Myers. British military planners have reportedly taken part in one Pentagon war game that included an invasion of Iran.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, you’re a retired Air Force colonel. You’ve taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, as well as the Air War College, the Naval War College. One of your areas of expertise is helping to stage these war games. In 2004 you conducted a war game organized by the Atlantic Monthly to gauge how an American president might respond militarily or otherwise to Iran’s rapid progress toward developing nuclear weapons. What was your conclusion?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, let me say something first about a war game. It’s a little bit like Dickens in A Christmas Carol, and that is, you go out in Christmas future and you muck around, then you come back and say, "What did I learn from being there?" And I would summarize that by saying by being in the future, by going through how the United States might attack Iranian nuclear facilities, I have to tell you that there is no solution in that path. In fact, it is a path towards probably making things in the Middle East much worse. It’s not a solution to either stopping the Iranians or spreading democracy in the Middle East or getting us out of Iraq. It’s a path that leads to disaster in many dimensions.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what a war game is?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Sure, well, the idea is simply that rather than staying in the present and looking to the future, can we project ourselves into the future? Let me just use an example. Let’s say that we wanted to explore what would happen if we were to conduct a strike against Iran. The way you would address that is you would begin in this group of people who know the situation, you’d say, 'Okay, the attack against Iran occurred two days ago. We now know that the Iranians are beginning to look for options by having Hezbollah attack Israel. What do we do? What's our response to that?’ And then you sort of look at the response in that future hypothetical, and you do that through a number of cases.

And you can even turn it around and do it from the Iranian perspective, which is, if you were the Iranian supreme leaders and this is what the United States did — and we can sort of know that, because we know from the Washington Post article and from the New Yorker article what’s being planned — so you can look at it from the Iranian perspective and say, 'How would we respond if the United States were to do this kind of thing?'

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to retired Air Force colonel, Sam Gardiner. You were quoted on CNN on Friday night, saying the question isn’t if we would attack Iran, that military operations are already happening. What do you mean?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, the evidence is beginning to accumulate that a decision has already been made to use military force in Iran. Now, let me do a historical thing, and then I’ll tell you what the current evidence is. We now know that the decision and the actual actions to bomb Iraq occurred in July of 2002, before we ever had a U.N. resolution or before the Congress ever authorized it. It was an operation called Southern Focus, and the only guidance that the military —- or the guidance that the military had from Rumsfeld was keep it below the CNN line. His specific words. The evidence that we’ve already -—

AMY GOODMAN: Keep it below what?

COL. SAM GARDINER: The CNN line. In other words, I don’t want this to appear on CNN, okay? That was his guidance to the military, you can begin to bomb Iraq, but don’t let it appear on CNN. You’re catching your breath.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.

COL. SAM GARDINER: I think the same thing has happened, and the evidence — let me give you two or three evidences. First of all, the Iranians in their press have been writing now for almost a year that the United States is involved inside Iran conducting and supporting those who conduct military operations, attacks on military convoys. They’ve even accused the United States of shooting down a couple airplanes inside Iran. Okay, so there’s that evidence from their side.

I was in Berlin three weeks ago, sat next to the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and I asked him a question. I read these stories about Americans being involved in there, and how do you react to that? And he said, oh, we know they are. We’ve captured people who are working with them, and they’ve confessed. So, another piece of evidence.

Let me give you a couple more. Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker article, said that there are Americans in three locations operating inside Iran. Another point. We know that there is a group in Iraq, a Kurdish group called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, that crosses the border from Iraq into Iran, and they have taken credit for killing numbers of revolutionary guard military people. And the interesting part about that is, you know, we tell the Syrians, ’Don’t let that happen. Don’t let people come across the border and stir things up in Iraq,’ but we don’t seem to be putting any brakes on on this unit. So, you know, the evidence is pretty strong that the pattern is being followed.

Now, the question that really follows from that is "Who authorized that?" See, there is no congressional authorization to conduct combat operations against Iran. There are a couple of possibilities. One of them is that it’s being justified under the terrorism authorization that occurred in 2001. The problem with that is that you would have to prove a connection to 9/11. I don’t think you can do that with Iran. The second possibility is that it’s being done under the War Powers Act. I don’t want to get too technical, but the War Powers Act would require the President to notify the Congress 60 days after the use of military force or invasion or putting military forces in a new country under that legislation, and the President hasn’t notified the Congress that American troops are operating inside Iran. So it’s a very serious question about the constitutional framework under which we are now conducting military operations in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Sam Gardiner, we have to break for 60 seconds, but I want to ask you two more questions when we come back about the effect of President Bush going to India to sell nuclear technology, what that had on Iran, and also where Israel fits into this picture.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to retired colonel, Sam Gardiner. He is a retired Air Force colonel, has taught strategy at various military colleges, was recently visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College. We’re talking about Iran. What are people inside the military, Colonel Gardiner, saying about the U.S. being inside Iran right now?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Actually, I have to say, I haven’t heard anyone comment. I mean, I think that the picture is just becoming clear. I actually haven’t gotten any feedback. Can’t say.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you then about this issue of India. President Bush, very high profile, goes to India, announces selling nuclear technology to India, upsetting the balance there between India and Pakistan, but what effect did that have on the people of Iran?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, it has an effect on them, maybe even more importantly it has an effect on the Europeans. I was at a conference with European diplomats and Iranian diplomats a few weeks ago, and the Europeans find themselves in quite a quandary over this Indian nuclear deal. What they say is, and they even — well, I saw them — an Iranian diplomat asked a European diplomat this very question: You’re putting all this pressure on us for not following the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, what about what the U.S. is doing with India? And the Europeans sort of mumble and say, 'Well, I can't explain that.’ Etc., etc. So it’s putting the Europeans in a very difficult position, supporting putting pressure on Iran to reach a diplomatic solution. It’s a real inconsistency in policy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Colonel Sam Gardiner, finally, Israel. Where does Israel fit into this picture?

COL. SAM GARDINER: A year and a half ago I would have said high on the list of possible futures is an Israeli attack by themselves on the Iranian nuclear facility. That has changed. I think Israel has convinced the United States that it is better for the United States to do it by itself, rather than to have Israel do it, in terms of the potential reactions in the Middle East. So I think Israel’s policy statements are, you know, it’s a world problem that translates to being it is an American problem that has to be dealt with.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Sam Gardiner, I want to thank you very much for being with us, retired Air Force colonel. Thank you.

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