Posted on Sunday 28 June 2009

In the end, it always comes down to individuals – like, for example, Osama bin Laden. In the books [Angler and The Dark Side], it’s very clear that David Addington, Dick Cheney, and the walk-on, John Yoo, also determined the fate of thousands of people in multiple countries – many of whom never heard of them either, just like most of us knew nothing of Osama bin Laden. It’s also obvious that their driven, idiosyncratic thinking also came, not just from the facts before them, but from events long past that molded their individual and collective mind-sets.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was an individual person too – a Lybian who had been involved in the Afghani resistance to the Russians, and later became the emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. What is known of his treatment after being captured in November 2001 is best covered by Andy Worthington, author of The Gantanamo Files:
Certainly, none of these detainees are laudable characters. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah were in the Jihadist training business. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was higher up in al Qaeda – apparently a masterminds of the 9/11 attack on New York. So all of the attention focused of these people isn’t about defending their life choices or actions. They were "bad guys," sure enough. It’s about what our government did to them, and how they were used to justify our own descent into barbarism.

I suppose it all goes back to a corollary of Joseph Wilson’s original challenge, "Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." As it turns out, that wasn’t the only fictional intelligence. The Saddam Hussein/Osama bin Laden connections may have been worse. The intelligence wasn’t just twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat, it was manufactured to create an Iraqi threat by torturing thes detainees until they’d confirm anything.

The most staggering fact of all to me is that the United States has multi-billion dollar intelligence agencies, honed and perfected throughout the Cold War. They warned us before 9/11 of an imminent attack from al Qaeda. The White House ignored that high priced intelligence, but believed the information from:
  • Rafid Ahmed Alwan: An Iraqi defector known as "Curveball" never interrogated by our intelligence community. He was the "source" for the mobile biological weapons fantasy reported by Colin Powell to the U.N.
  • Rocco Martino: An Italian forger never interrogated by our intelligence community. He was the author of the Niger forgeries. He was the "source" for the Iraqi WMD fantasy reported by President Bush in his State of the Union message.
  • Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: A Lybian who was tortured in Egypt until he made up stories about al Qaeda being trained in Iraq to keep from being killed. He was the "source" for the Iraq training of al Qaeda fiction reported by Colin Powell to the U.N.
I knew about "Curveball," and I had spent hours reading about the bizarre story of the Niger forgeries. I guess I was used to that part.  But it wasn’t until two months ago that I connected the Torture program to the prewar intelligence story. It was when I read Frank Rich’s column [The Banality of Bush White House Evil] right after the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees. He quoted an Army Psychiatrist:
The report found that Major Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “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.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.
Maybe the rest of you had made that connection before, but I hadn’t. Even though I now believe that it’s beyond speculation [more in the range of undeniable], I still have trouble holding it in the front of my mind. I think it’s why I have so much trouble reading the books. They’re filled with a whole lot of characters, individuals making their way in a confusing world. But the real damage comes down to the acts of a tiny group of people.

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