As Bad As It Gets

by digby

Obviously, there's a lot of news today about the torture regime and it's looking as though the cover stories are starting to seriously unravel. Obviously, you'll want to check in frequently with Marcy Wheeler and Spencer Ackerman as they connect the dots. (And throw some change Marcy's way if you have it, so she can continue to do what she does while you're at it.)

Today, Jon Landay of McClatchy focuses in on something in the SASC Report released yesterday that should rise to the top of the concerns of those who believe this torture regime should be investigated and prosecuted. He notes that while the alleged reason for the torture was to stop future terrorist attacks, there was another one. A big one:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.


A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the 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."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"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.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

This makes perfect sense with all we know about the pressure to find those links. But I have to wonder if the torture techniques that were brought into Iraq may have had another, similar purpose as well. Way back in 2004, I speculated about this:
Following up my post below, in reading today's NY Times description of the disagreement between general Taguba and Stephen Cambone yesterday at the hearings, I was reminded of something. First, here's the relevant excerpt from the Times:

[Taguba] told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it had been against the Army's doctrine for another Army general to recommend last summer that military guards 'set the conditions' to help Army intelligence officers extract information from prisoners. He also said an order last November from the top American officer in Iraq effectively put the prison guards under the command of the intelligence unit there. But the civilian official, Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, contradicted the general. He said that the military police and the military intelligence unit at the prison needed to work closely to gain as much intelligence as possible from Iraqi prisoners to prevent attacks against American soldiers. Mr. Cambone also said that General Taguba misinterpreted the November order, which he said only put the intelligence unit in charge of the prison facility, not of the military police guards.

Many of you will recall the following passage from Time Magazine last July:

Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, 'Are you in charge of finding WMD?' Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. 'Who?' Bush asked.

This is pure speculation, but it is worth looking into what those interrogators were after in Abu Ghraib. Cambone framed it yesterday as "trying to prevent attacks against American soldiers.," which, I supose, you could interpret in a number of ways. But, if the focus was finding the non-existent WMD, then you'd have to ask whether the man whose "chief political obsession" was finding them gave the order to take off the gloves.

If Cambone came to the attention of President as the man who was supposed to find the WMD, I would imagine he felt quite a bit of pressure to deliver. And he was the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence in charge of interrogations in Iraq and was intimately involved in the "Gitmoization" of Abu Ghraib.

And regardless of whether or not they used torture and extreme coercive techniques on Iraqi prisoners specifically for that purpose, the quote from Bush certainly adds evidence to the notion that pressure from the White House to provide evidence of their claims prior to the invasion was severe.

If the SASC report is correct, then much of the torture regime was devised to justify the invasion of Iraq. It explains why Cheney is out there behaving like he's on methamphetamines. If that's the case, he and Bush and all those who signed off on it are subject not only to prosecution, they are subject to the kind of historical legacy reserved for the worst of the worst. This is as bad as it gets.