Friday, May 15, 2009

Yes, They Tortured For That Link

Remember the McClatchy article I blogged about a few weeks ago, wherein in a senior U.S. intelligence official claimed that there was pressure from Cheney and Rumsfeld to extract intelligence from detainees "proving" a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the run-up to the invasion, and how this echoed a claim made by Army psychologist to the Senate Armed Services Committee? Well, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff of the Department of State during Powell's term, took to the virtual pages of Steve Clemons' Washington Note on Wednesday to reiterate this claim (and blast Cheney generally in the process):

...what I have learned is that as the administration authorized 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 U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

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'ida-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.

Emphasis mine. Wilkerson has gotten some pushback on his claim regarding the timing of al-Libi's torture, but in his response to Specner Ackerman regarding that he stands by the substance of his story:

As Joscelyn writes, the DIA indeed filed a February 2002 notice indicating distrust for al-Libi’s claims about Iraq assisting al-Qaeda’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. “It is more likely that this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” a DIA report known as DITSUM #044-02 reads. “Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may describing [sic] scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” Yet al-Libi’s dubious information made its way into the intelligence bloodstream, all the way up to Colin Powell’s since-discredited 2003 speech to the United Nations justifying the invasion — the first draft of which had a big assist from Cheney’s office, including then-chief of staff Scooter Libby. In March 2004, after the invasion, the CIA withdrew its support for al-Libi’s claims.

Joscelyn wrote, “It is doubtful that any part of Wilkerson’s story is true.” I asked Wilkerson if he wished to respond.

If their account is the accurate one, explain to me why Tenet and McLaughlin [then the director and deputy director of the CIA] came to Secretary Powell in February 2003–yes, 2003–with the information about al-Libi as if it were fresh as the morning dew. Powell was ready to throw out almost everything Tenet had given him on the contacts of Baghdad with terrorists, particularly al-Qa’ida. Suddenly, on 1 Feb, there was the shocking revelation of a high-level al-Qa’ida operative who had just revealed significant contacts between al-Qa’ida and Baghdad. Powell changed his mind and that information went into his presentation to the [United Nations Security Council] on 5 Feb 2003. We were never told of the DIA dissent.

So essentially, Wilkerson is claiming that Tenet and McLaughlin either concealed (or less likely, didn't know about) the Defense Intelligence Agency's claims that al-Libi's information couldn't be trusted when they made their presentation to Powell a year after the DIA's report.  Does that sound like an unbelievable proposition to you? Yeah, me neither. 

As I said on my earlier post on this issue, Bush administration officials were complicit in the illegal torture of a detainee because they wanted intelligence that would justify a war of aggression against Iraq. How is this not a war crime?

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