Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture and the Iraq War

One of the many things we've been unable to mention re: the torture memos, is the circumstantial evidence that waterboarding etc. were authorized because our prisoners were not confirming the Iraq-Qaeda link so dear to the hearts of Bush and Cheney.

Andrew Sullivan (and Frank Rich) point us towards this passage from the SASC report (still unread by me, alas), in which Major Paul Burney, an Army shrink assigned to Gitmo, states:
[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link ... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.
I.e., different results. Getting the wrong answer? Torture gives you the right answer. You say you're not a witch? Let's see what you say after we ....

N.b. that this quotation concerns Gitmo, not the CIA black sites where Zubaydah and KSM were held. But see this McClatchy story from last week, which quotes Burney and an unnamed "former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue" who
said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
That provides the Cheney impetus behind CIA's push to allow torture. The "impending attack" rationale provided to the NSA, on that theory, was simply a cover story.

The way to get that on the record, of course, would be to indict some of the CIA folks who pushed that cover story. But it seems we're not doing that?

(Query: distinguish from torture the practice of indicting small fry to catch big fish.)

... This btw is the best explanation yet why the waterboarding videos had to be destroyed. How many of the questions were, "Tell us about Saddam's support for Osama"? Enough to look pretty damn bad, I suspect.

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