Torture used to seek justification for war
by Paul Woodward of The National
In the early weeks of the war in Iraq, Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi, head of the M-14 section of Iraq’s Mukhabarat, one of Saddam Hussein’s secret police organisations, was captured by US forces. Officials in the Bush White House had a particular interest in this individual since his responsibilities included contacts with extremist groups and thus it was thought that he might confirm the existence of a relationship between al Qa’eda and the deposed regime.
“To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest,” Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told Robert Windrem.
“In his new book, Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq, and in an interview with The Daily Beast, Duelfer says he heard from ‘some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),’ who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been ‘too gentle’ and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. ‘They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,’ Duelfer writes. ‘The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.’
“Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: ‘The language I can use is what has been cleared.’ In fact, two senior US intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, of course, has vehemently defended waterboarding and other harsh techniques, insisting they elicited valuable intelligence and saved lives.”
While in this instance so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were not used, there were other occasions in which these methods were used to derive information for a purpose other than the one for which they had been approved – to derive intelligence about imminent threats to the United States following the 9/11 attacks.
Col Lawrence B Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell, wrote: “what I have learned is that as the administration authorised harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 – well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion – its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the US but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al Qa’eda.
“So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al Qa’eda-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
“There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just ‘committed suicide’ in Libya. Interestingly, several US lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)
In The Guardian, Andy Worthington noted: “News of the death, in a Libyan jail, of Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi, a US terror suspect who was the subject of an extraordinary rendition, then tortured in Egypt and Jordan as well as CIA prisons in Afghanistan and Poland has, understandably, raised questions about whether he committed suicide – as the Libyan authorities claimed – or whether he was murdered. Just two weeks ago, representatives of Human Rights Watch saw him in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison, and although he refused to speak to them, they reported that he ‘looked well’.
“Al-Libi’s death should also raise uncomfortable questions for former US vice-president Dick Cheney, who is still turning up with alarming regularity on US television, peddling his claims that the use of torture saved America from further terrorist attacks. The focus on al-Libi should be a stark reminder that, when he was rendered to Egypt in early 2002, the CIA’s proxy torturers extracted a false confession from him – that al Qa’eda operatives had received training from Saddam Hussein in the use of chemical and biological weapons – which was used not to protect the US from attack, but to justify the invasion of Iraq.”
As the US Senate opened its first hearing exploring the alleged torture of detainees, Scott Horton wrote: “Sen Sheldon Whitehouse opened [the] hearing … quoting [the French diplomat] Talleyrand: ‘The greatest danger in times of crisis comes from the zeal of those who are inexperienced.’ Whitehouse promised to separate the ‘truth’ from its ‘bodyguard of lies.’ In doing so, the former federal prosecutor brought the shadowy world of intelligence into Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Former star FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, widely described as the bureau’s best and most effective interrogator working in the Arabic language, testified off-camera and behind a wooden partition. Concerned for his and his family’s security, he made the unusual demand a part of his agreement to appear and testify.
“The hearing produced two significant developments as well as a great deal of political rhetoric. Soufan’s testimony focused on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Throughout the history of the torture debate, the Bush administration has cited this as a triumph of its techniques. Sen Whitehouse read Bush’s September 6, 2006, White House statement making one of these claims. Soufan, who was personally present through the process, called the Bush claims a ‘half-truth,’ accurate as to the circumstances of Abu Zubaydah’s capture and detention, but not as to the claimed successes using highly coercive techniques. One of the Justice Department’s torture memos (from May 2005) contained a similar claim that actionable intelligence was obtained ‘once enhanced techniques were employed.’ Soufan termed this a lie. He also noted that successful interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, which gained useful intelligence, occurred before the introduction of the Bush programme and therefore couldn’t be claimed as success stories for it. In his remarks, Soufan sharply repudiated the harsh techniques he observed. ‘These techniques… are ineffective, slow, and unreliable and, as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qa’eda,’ he said.”
For Republicans in Congress, the debate on torture has largely been an unwelcome distraction from their own efforts at political rehabilitation after their electoral defeat – until that is a dispute flared up between Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and the CIA.
Ms Pelosi, who has strongly advocated for the creation of an independent truth commission to investigate the former administration’s use of torture, claimed this week that the CIA had lied when asserting that its officials had briefed her on the use of waterboarding in September 2002.
Ms Pelosi’s accusation led the Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta to issue a statement, addressed to CIA employees, saying: “Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.”
The New York Times reported: “Should any investigation determine that the CIA misled members of Congress, the result could be severely damaging to the agency and to the Republican leaders who have relentlessly pressed the issue against Ms Pelosi.
“Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, who as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee underwent a briefing similar to Ms Pelosi’s about three weeks after hers, sides with the speaker. He said he recalled a ‘bland’ session.
” ‘I do not have any recollection that day of there being a discussion of something that would have been as neon as waterboarding or other torture techniques,’ Mr Graham said.
“He said his confidence in the CIA’s account of the briefings had also been shaken by what he said was an incorrect assertion by the agency that he had been briefed on four dates. Mr Graham, who famously keeps a detailed record of his daily activities, checked and determined that the agency was wrong about three dates and that he had attended only one session before leaving the Intelligence Committee.
” ‘This is just a small chapter of a long, long book of CIA inaccuracies, particularly in the early part of this decade,’ he said.”