Torturing The Al Qaeda-Iraq Connection

bush_cheney_rumsfeld.jpgShedding some well-needed light on why it could have possibly been necessary to waterboard someone 183 times, McClatchy reports that according to “a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue,” former Vice-President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “demanded that intelligence agencies and 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.” […]

“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.

I suppose it’s fitting, if disturbingly ironic, that techniques adopted wholesale from methods intended to extract false confessions were used in an attempt to generate evidence of a non-existent Al Qaeda-Saddam operational relationship.

In addition to the basic issue of illegal torture, however, we have the issue of mis-allocation of resources. The time spent and assets used in attempting to torture out a justification for what we now know was a predetermined Iraq invasion could have been better spent actually protecting America. In other words, the Iraq war was damaging U.S. national security even before it began.


Early last year, Rand Beers — a former NSC counterterrorism adviser who resigned over the Iraq war, which he correctly predicted would be disastrous for America’s security — reflected on the case of Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who provided — under torture — “evidence” of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection:

Al-Libi’s testimony was used by the Bush administration to substantiate its allegations that Iraq was prepared to provide al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction, [but] in January 2004, al-Libi recanted his confession. He said that he had invented the information because he was afraid of being further abused by his interrogators.[…]

The administration’s best case for the value of enhanced interrogation techniques, then, turned out to have been fundamentally flawed. If the consequences of torture are as catastrophic as embarking upon the Iraq War on the basis of fabricated information, it emasculates the claims by torture’s defenders that the practice saves lives.

Beers has been nominated as Under-Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security.

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