Monday, May 18, 2009

We did not torture a confession out of them.

The allegations that Cheney directed torture be used to obtain "proof" of Iraq-Qaeda ties, while hardly proven themselves yet, have generated a little anonymous pushback:
Senior intelligence officials yesterday acknowledged that two al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had been questioned about alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq when the two men underwent CIA interrogation in 2002 and 2003. But the officials denied that the questioning on Iraq had included waterboarding.

"The two top priorities driving so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were information on the locations of al-Qaeda leadership and plots against the United States," one intelligence official said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly. "Questions were asked about Iraq, but the notion that waterboarding was used to extract from either an admission that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a relationship is false, period," he added.
Emptywheel parses this and finds it omits a good bit:
Note, these two senior intelligence officials did not deny that Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was waterboarded to elicit a claim of an Iraqi-al Qaeda tie. They do not deny that Dick Cheney's office pitched waterboarding an Iraqi to get such a claim. They do not deny that the non-briefing of Congress on torture was part of a plan to hide the torture which might undermine the accuracy of Abu Zubaydah's claim of such a tie (note, KSM apparently never claimed there was a tie). And they do not deny that harsh methods were used by DOD to elicit such claims. In fact, they don't even deny that torture (but not waterboarding) was used in interrogations when KSM and AZ were asked about Al Qaeda ties with Iraq.

So the denial here falls short of even denying that the Administration used--and threatened to use--torture to trump up ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.
But can't we go even farther than that? Look at my two bolded portions in the first blockquote. The reporter denies that waterboarding was used in such questioning. But that's not what the source's quoted words say. The source says that "waterboarding was [not] used to extract ... an admission."

If neither KSM nor Zubaydah admitted any such thing under waterboarding, despite being asked to do so, then isn't the source's statement still literally true?

I tend to think these "anonymous" quotes are carefully worded in advance, so we may not be pushing too hard here. And of course, there's the issue how these sources even have a basis for their statement. Were they present? How do they know?

... And, as this article (via Yglesias) points out, Cheney at the time certainly acted like someone receiving reports of Iraq-Qaeda links from our torture centers:
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true.

Cheney's 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship.

The head of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002-2005 confirmed to McClatchy that in late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence officials were tasked to find, among other things, Iraq-al Qaida ties, which were a central pillar of the Bush administration's case for its March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"I'm aware of the fact that in late 2002, early 2003, that (the alleged al Qaida-Iraq link) was an interest on the intelligence side," said retired Army Lt. Col. Brittain Mallow, a former military criminal investigator. "That was something they were tasked to look at."

He said he was unaware of the origins of the directive, but a former senior U.S. intelligence official has told McClatchy that Cheney's and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's offices were demanding that information in 2002 and 2003. The official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, requested anonymity.

During the same period, two alleged senior al Qaida operatives in CIA custody were waterboarded repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Mohammed at least 183 times.

A 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report said that the two were questioned about the relationship between al Qaida and Iraq, and that both denied knowing of one. * * *

The Rocky Mountain News asked Cheney in a Jan. 9, 2004, interview if he stood by his claims that Saddam's regime had maintained a "relationship" with al Qaida, raising the danger that Iraq might give the group chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to attack the U.S.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Cheney replied. * * *

"The (al Qaida-Iraq) links go back," he said. "We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology. These are all matters that are there for anybody who wants to look at it."

No evidence of such training or of any operational links between Iraq and al Qaida has ever been found, according to several official inquiries.
As the article goes on to note, al-Libi provided similar "testimony" under torture, but of course he wasn't at Gitmo. IIRC, the black sites were not being admitted yet; maybe Cheney said "Guantanamo" deliberately.

And as a commenter at the Emptywheel post above noted: are we supposed to believe that, on this supremely interesting issue, KSM was gently asked over a cup of tea whether Qaeda had links to Saddam, responded with a categorical denial, and the CIA said, "well, that answers my question -- thanks"? And then went back to torturing KSM to extract god knows what other TOTALLY UNRELATED information?

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