we’ll be the better for the knowing…

Posted on Wednesday 21 April 2010

Reading all the documents about the Torture Program set me to wondering just exactly when the Bush Administration set its sights on parlaying the September 11th attack by al Qaeda on the World Trade Towers into a Casus Belli for invading Iraq. I knew already that it was in Donald Rumsfeld‘s mind. He said it the afternoon of September 11, 2001. That day, he tasked Paul Wolfowitz to begin gathering support for a connection between Saddam Hussein [SH] and Osama bin Laden [UBL].

But I didn’t have to look very long. In John Yoo‘s very first OLC Memo after 9/11 was were laying the groundwork for their Iraq invasion:

September 25, 2001 [John Yoo]
The President has broad constitutional power to take military action in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Congress has acknowledged this inherent executive power in both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 14, 2001.

The President has constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations.

The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.

Then I wondered when and if the Torture Program first got incorporated into the plans for Regime Change in Iraq. The Prison Camp at GTMO was declared not in US Territory before any prisoners were transferred there. Then there were these two OLC Memos:

November 6, 2001 [Patrick Philbin]
The President possesses inherent authority under the Constitution, as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, to establish military commissions to try and punish terrorists captured in connection with the attacks of September 11 or in connection with U.S. military operations in response to those attacks.
January 22, 2002 [John Yoo, Jay Bybee]
Addresses treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan with respect to long-term detention at the U.S. navy base at Guantanamo Bay and trial by military commissions. Concludes that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda members. Also concludes that the President has authority to deny the Taliban militia POW status. Finds that because customary international law constitutes neither federal law nor a treaty recognized under the Supremacy Clause, CIL does not bind the President or restrict the actions of the U.S. military.

In between these two are a number of still secret OLC opinions  directed towards limiting the prisoner’s rights and protecting the people that dealt with them. Since the first detainees arrived at GTMO on January 20, 2002, it’s obvious that all of this preparation was directed towards being able to use harsh interrogation techniques in secret safely out of the reach of the US Laws. And not long thereafter, there was this OLC opinion that legitimized "rendition" to other countries as well as the CIA "Black Sites."

March 13, 2002 [Jay Bybee]
Concludes that, “the President has plenary constitutional authority, as the commander in chief, to transfer such individuals who are held and captured outside the United States to the control of another country.” The memo is criticized and partly repudiated in Steven Bradbury’s 1/15/09 memo re status of certain OLC opinions.

So it’s not hard to surmise that the plan to torture our captives came very early in the game.  – probably from the very start. And we’ve also recently learned that many of our earlier prisoners were not combatants at all, just people rounded up in a broad sweep. Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, said:

How was it possible that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners were innocent? Wilkerson said it all started at the beginning, mostly because U.S. forces did not capture most of the people who were sent to Guantanamo. The people who ended up in Guantanamo, said Wilkerson, were mostly turned over to the US by Afghan warlords and others who received bounties of up to $5000 per head for each person they turned in. The majority of the 742 detainees “had never seen a U.S. soldier in the process of their initial detention.”

Military officers told Wilkerson that “many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.” The U.S. knew “that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money”…

Why was there utter incompetence in the battlefield vetting? “This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to ‘just get the bastards to the interrogators.’” As a result, Wilkerson’s statement continues, “there was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan.”
They set out to be able to do whatever they wanted to do with the detainees, specifically torture – now well documented at any number of facilities. With each emerging report, our treatment of detainees looks worse and worse. But what is the evidence that the Torture Program was specifically oriented towards establishing a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

One piece of evidence is indirect, but nonetheless compelling. It has to do with Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Director of the DoD and his henchman Douglas Feith [forever branded by General Tommy Frank as "the dumbest fucking guy in America"]. On September 11, 2001 Rumsfeld sent Paul Wolfowitz out to find connections between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Within a short time, he and his assistant Doug Feith formed the Office of Special Plans [OSP] inside the DoD whose purpose was to find that connection. This group went on to become a major source of Intelligence for the Administration. Feith developed a lecture on the Iraq/al Qaeda connections that he gave to people in the White House and ultimately leaked to the Weekly Standard. That makes this blurb from the Senate Armed Forces Report make sense:
Mr. Becker told the Committee that during the summer of 2002, the JFT-170 Commander, MG Dunlavey, and his Director for Intelligence [J-2], LTC Phifer, had urged him to be more aggressive in interrogations. Mr. Becker also told the Committee that MG Dunlavey and LTC Phifer repeatedly asked him during this period why he was not using stress positions in interrogations, even though the August 2002 Standard Operating Procedure for JFT-170 expressly prohibited the use of the technique. MG Dunlavey told the Committee that he did not recall asking his staff why they were not using stress positions or telling them that they should be more aggressive. Mr. Becker also told the Committee that, on several occasions, MG Dunlavey had advised him that the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO. Mr. Becker recalled MG Dunlavey telling him after one of these calls, that the Deputy Secretary himself said that GTMO should use more aggressive interrogation techniques.  MG Dunlavey told the Committee that he could not recall ever having a phone call with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz or his staff.
I think Wolfowitz called MG Dunlavey just like Mr. Becker said. It was Wolfowitz’s job at the time.  And I think the "the insufficient intelligence production" was about the Iraq/al Qaeda ties.

But there was an even more direct accusation in that Report from Army Psychiatrist Major Paul Burney:
[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between AI Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between AI Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.

And then there’s the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the only success they had in getting someone to make the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. It probably cost him his life. His story as summarized by Andy Worthington:
The Arabic media is ablaze with the news that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of an Afghan training camp — whose claim that Saddam Hussein had been involved in training al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons was used to justify the invasion of Iraq — has died in a Libyan jail. So far, however, the only English language report is on the Algerian website Ennahar Online, which reported that the Libyan newspaper Oea stated that al-Libi (aka Ali Abdul Hamid al-Fakheri) “was found dead of suicide in his cell,” and noted that the newspaper had reported the story “without specifying the date or method of suicide.”

This news resolves, in the grimmest way possible, questions that have long been asked about the whereabouts of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, perhaps the most famous of “America’s Disappeared” — prisoners seized in the “War on Terror,” who were rendered not to Guantánamo but to secret prisons run by the CIA or to the custody of governments in third countries — often their own — where, it was presumed, they would never be seen or heard from again.

The emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, al-Libi was one of hundreds of prisoners seized by Pakistani forces in December 2001, crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Most of these men ended up in Guantánamo after being handed over (or sold) to US forces by their Pakistani allies, but al-Libi was, notoriously, rendered to Egypt by the CIA to be tortured on behalf of the US government.

In Egypt, he came up with the false allegation about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used by President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002, just days before Congress voted on a resolution authorizing the President to go to war against Iraq, in which, referring to the supposed threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, Bush said, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”

Four months later, on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell made the same claim in his notorious speech to the UN Security Council, in an attempt to drum up support for the invasion. “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda,” Powell said, adding, “Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.” As a Newsweek report in 2007 explained, Powell did not identify al-Libi by name, but CIA officials — and a Senate Intelligence Committee report — later confirmed that he was referring to al-Libi.

Al-Libi recanted his story in February 2004, when he was returned to the CIA’s custody, and explained, as Newsweek described it, that he told his debriefers that “he initially told his interrogators that he ‘knew nothing’ about ties between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden and he ‘had difficulty even coming up with a story’ about a relationship between the two.” The Newsweek report explained that “his answers displeased his interrogators — who then apparently subjected him to the mock burial. As al-Libi recounted, he was stuffed into a box less than 20 inches high. When the box was opened 17 hours later, al-Libi said he was given one final opportunity to ‘tell the truth.’ He was knocked to the floor and ‘punched for 15 minutes.’ It was only then that, al-Libi said, he made up the story about Iraqi weapons training.”

As I explained in a recent article, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, drawing on reports in the New York Times and by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, the use of al-Libi to extract a false confession that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq was particularly shocking, because a Defense Intelligence Agency report had concluded in February 2002 that al-Libi was lying, and Dan Coleman of the FBI (which had been pulled off al-Libi’s case when the CIA — and the administration — decided to render him to torture in Egypt) had no doubt that the emir of an Afghan training camp would know nothing about Iraq. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” Coleman told Jane Mayer. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq.”
Note that the Defense Intelligence Agency doubted al-Libi’s confession on February 22, 2002. They issued another such negative report on July 31, 2002. Both came before Bush’s Cincinnati speech and Powell’s UN speech. When the Black Sites were reported publicly on November 6, 2005, the Administration quickly returned the detainees from these other locations to GTMO – all except al-Libi whose whereabouts were unknown. He had been found in Lybia by an inspector who recognized him only weeks before his supposed suicide in May 2009.

I obviously believe that one of the main purposes of the Torture Program was to extract confessions that linked al Qaeda to Iraq – whether they were connected or not. As I said earlier, I believed it the first time the thought was presented to me [can’t seem to let it go…]. It was too explanatory not to be true. It explained all the secrecy. It explained why they went to such lengths to make the detainees untouchable. It went with the rest of the cherry-picked nature of the pre-war intelligence. It fit with the widespread use of one little piece of intelligence [al-Libi] after it had been so thoroughly debunked. It explained why they would replace tried and true interrogation procedures with ones adapted from the Chinese Communist techniques used to extract false confessions. It fit with OSP , the PNAC, and WHIG. It fit with Cheney’s [and everyone else’s] endless talk of al Qaeda ties with Hussein. It fit with the neoconservative determination to unseat Hussein. It fit with everything.

It is a monstrous accusation, to say that a major motivator for the US government to have a program to torture prisoners was to extract false confessions to use as an excuse to go to war. The circumstantial evidence is strong, but the other evidence isn’t courtroom level stuff. It’s enough to convince me and a lot of other people. We now pretty much know that there were no al Qaeda/Iraq ties. We know that there was no weapon of mass destruction program in Iraq. We know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake.

Will we ever know the whole story? I sure hope so. We’ll be the better for the knowing…
    April 22, 2010 | 8:54 AM

    There is so much evil coming out in dribs and drabs.Sometimes simple answers seem too incredible. Did W go along with it because he needed to show his Dad and himself that he was just as good as he was and he wanted to one up him? Did Cheney feel the need to use all the knowledge that he collected after all those boring and tedious years of climbing the gov’t ladder? Did he think of himself in a more grandiose image like an emperor or did he want to show all those ignorant people that he was smarter than all of them and he would prove it to them. Or is he just a real sick guy?This reminds me a little bit like the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves(funny how it’s from Arabia) I wonder how many were directly involved in this miserable plot?

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