Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low

29.4.09

Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.

In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. 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.”

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In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney — almost accidentally — assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

Maj. Burney’s testimony provides the first evidence that coercive and illegal techniques were used widely at Guantánamo in an attempt to secure information linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, but it is not the first time that the Bush administration’s attempts to link a real enemy with one that required considerable ingenuity to conjure up have been revealed.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war

In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell — to his eternal shame — had used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.

It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s story right now for two particular reasons. The first is because, when he was handed over to US forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first high-profile captive to be fought over in a tug-of-war between the FBI, who wanted to play by the rules, and the CIA — backed up by the most hawkish figures in the White House and the Pentagon — who didn’t. In an article published in the New Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that his intention had been to secure evidence from al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

Crucially, Mayer reported, Cloonan advised his colleagues in Afghanistan to interrogate al-Libi with respect, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He added, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’”

However, after reading him his rights, and taking turns in interrogating him with agents from the CIA, Cloonan and his colleagues were dismayed when, in spite of developing what they believed was “a good rapport” with him, the CIA decided that tougher tactics were needed, and rendered him to Egypt. According to an FBI officer who spoke to Newsweek in 2004, “At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, ‘You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f*** her.’ So we lost that fight.” Speaking to Mayer, Jack Cloonan added, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

In November 2005, the New York Times reported that a Defense Intelligence Agency report had noted in February 2002, long before al-Libi recanted his confession, that his information was not trustworthy. As the Times described it, his claims “lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.” The report itself stated, “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Had anyone asked Dan Coleman, a colleague of Cloonan’s who also had a long history of successfully interrogating terrorist suspects without resorting to the use of torture, it would have been clear that torturing a confession out of al-Libi was a counter-productive exercise.

As Mayer explained, Coleman was “disgusted” when he heard about the false confession, telling her, “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq. I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

This, I believe, provides an absolutely critical explanation of why the Bush administration’s torture regime was not only morally repugnant, but also counter-productive, and it’s particularly worth noting Coleman’s comment that “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any.” However, I realize that the failure of torture to produce genuine evidence — as opposed to intelligence that, though false, was at least “actionable” — was exactly what was required by those, like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby and other Iraq obsessives, who wished to betray America doubly, firstly by endorsing the use of torture in defiance of almost universal disapproval from government agencies and military lawyers, and secondly by using it not to prevent terrorist attacks, but to justify an illegal war.

Where are Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the other 79 “ghost prisoners”?

In addition, a second reason for revisiting al-Libi’s story emerged two weeks ago, when memos approving the use of torture by the CIA, written by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, were released, because, in one of the memos from 2005, the author, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, revealed that a total of 94 prisoners had been held in secret CIA custody. As I noted at the time, what was disturbing about this revelation was not the number of prisoners held, because CIA director Michael Hayden admitted in July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people at secret facilities abroad since 2002, but the insight that this exact figure provides into the supremely secretive world of “extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons that exists beyond the cases of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

Al-Libi, of course, is one of the 80 prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown. There are rumors that, after he was fully exploited by the administration’s own torturers (in Poland and, almost certainly, other locations) and by proxy torturers in Egypt, he was sent back to Libya, to be dealt with by Colonel Gaddafi. I have no sympathy for al-Libi, as the emir of a camp that, at least in part, trained operatives for terrorist attacks in their home countries (in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East), but if there is ever to be a proper accounting for what took place in the CIA’s global network of “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons, and proxy prisons, then al-Libi’s whereabouts, along with those of the other 79 men who constitute “America’s Disappeared” (as well as all the others rendered directly to third countries instead of to the CIA’s secret dungeons), need to be established.

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

Al-Libi’s story is, of course, disturbing enough as evidence of the utter contempt with which the Bush administration’s warmongers treated both the truth and the American public, but as David Rose explained in an article in Vanity Fair last December, al-Libi was not the only prisoner tortured until he came up with false confessions about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to two senior intelligence analysts who spoke to Rose, Abu Zubaydah, the gatekeeper for the Khaldan camp, made a number of false confessions about connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, above and beyond one particular claim that was subsequently leaked by the administration: a patently ludicrous scenario in which Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) were working with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who worked at the Pentagon, explained, “The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

However, none of the analysts knew that these confessions had been obtained through torture. The Pentagon analyst told Rose, “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” He added, “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective.”

This is the crucial line, of course, and its significance is made all the more pronounced by the realization that, as one of Bradbury’s torture memos also revealed, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) 83 times in August 2002. The administration persists in claiming that this hideous ordeal produced information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, but we have known for years that KSM was seized after a walk-in informer ratted on him, and those of us who have been paying attention also know that, in the case of Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber,” who spent three and a half years in solitary confinement in a US military brig until he lost his mind, there never was an actual “dirty bomb” plot. This was admitted, before his torture even began, by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who stated, in June 2002, a month after Padilla was captured, “I don’t think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

All this leaves me with the uncomfortable suspicion that what the excessive waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah actually achieved — beyond the “30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent,” that was “spent chasing leads that were bullshit,” as an FBI operative explained to David Rose — were a few more blatant lies to fuel the monstrous deception that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

It remains to be seen if further details emerge to back up Maj. Burney’s story. From my extensive research into the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, I recall only that one particular prisoner, an Iraqi named Arkan al-Karim, mentioned being questioned about Iraq. Released in January this year, al-Karim had been imprisoned by the Taliban before being handed over to US forces by Northern Alliance troops, and had been forced to endure the most outrageous barrage of false allegations in Guantánamo, but when he spoke to the review board that finally cleared him for release, he made a point of explaining, “The reason they [the US] brought me to Cuba is not because I did something. They brought me from Taliban prison to get information from me about the Iraqi army before the United States went to Iraq.”

However, even without further proof of specific confessions extracted by the administration in an attempt to justify its actions, the examples provided in the cases of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah should be raised every time that Dick Cheney opens his mouth to mention the valuable intelligence that was extracted through torture, and to remind him that, instead of saving Americans from another terror attack, he and his supporters succeeding only in using lies extracted through torture to send more Americans to their deaths than died on September 11, 2001.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on CounterPunch (as “Cheney’s Twisted World”), Antiwar.com (as “Torture ‘to Achieve a Political Objective’”), the Huffington Post and ZNet.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison, Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here) (all May 2009), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

31 Responses

  1. the talking dog says...

    American military doctrine (reflected all over the place, and, for example, in this http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jun2004/d20040622doc8.pdf working group report presented to former SecDef Rumsfeld in 2002 notes that military doctrine opposes the use of torture/coercion in interrogations because such conduct is (1) illegal, (2) immoral and (3) not effective: subjects will tell the interrogator whatever they perceive will make the torture stop, rather than anything useful.

    What got the United States and its Criminals’ and Incompetents’ Agency (“CIA”) so gung ho for torture for decades, starting in the 40′s and 50′s, were the spectacular confessions coming out of American service personnel captured by the Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean War… thus, the “SERE” programs were born, to try to train US service personnel to resist their harsh treatment (which often amounted to simple isolation, rather than racks and thumbscrews). (We’ve later learned, not without irony, of course, that the GTMO interrogation program was largely modeled on the very same Chinese program of that era: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/us/02detain.html?hp )

    It was understood at least, at that time, by both the North Koreans, Chinese and their Soviet allies, and even by the CIA and our military, that the purpose of the torture (and prolonged isolation in dungeons often accompanied by other abuse was doubtless torture) was propaganda: to get the subject to “confess” to whatever the torturers wanted them to confess to; they were, at least, sophisticated enough to know that this was not a particularly useful form of “intelligence gathering,” for the same reasons American military doctrine rejects torture… but it was understood, just like it was by Torquemada, as an excellent way to secure confessions.

    And so we have come full circle: it seems that while the public was told that the purpose of these outrages was “actionable intelligence,” it was, in fact, always about propaganda… we’re already known about the need to convince the American people that we “looked tough,” and weren’t coddling “the terrorists,” and the need to find occasional links (such as, for example, the “dirty bomb” plot referred to in the post).

    We certainly knew it unlikely that GTMO would yield any real intel of value given that interrogations were conducted by young twenty-something NCO’s, as shown by my interview with former Army linguist Erik Saar http://thetalkingdog.com/archives2/000633.html with translators untrained in interrogations, and indeed, with interrogators themselves told to “take the gloves off” but utterly improvising because, despite Army doctrine to be drilled and trained in everything… for a task as supposedly critical as interrogating what could be the 9-11 perps… we have junior people make it up as we go along? Surely… a gambit for propaganda purposes, and nothing more.

    And now we come further round the full circle to perhaps the key, propaganda need of the whole Bush-Cheney project: justifying war with Iraq. And thus far, we already knew that this project included reliance on forged “intel” documents, deliberate misinterpretation of others, and supposed links provided by al-Libi (and perhaps others) under torture… as more and more info on both the torture regime, the pre-Iraq war intel and other relevant data becomes public, the synthesis of it all– one massive “black ops” program with the target audience being the American public– will become more and more undeniable, and one would think the pressure on the Obama Administration to hold the prior Administration accountable will become irresistible.

    Well… we could think that anyway… we’ll have to keep hammering until it is.

  2. the talking dog says...

    BTW… I should also note that Andy is in excellent company on this: Joe Wilson (husband of Valerie Plame) makes the same link http://www.democrats.com/joe-wilson-sees-iraq-torture-plame-mega-scandal between torture and the concerted propaganda efforts associated with the Iraq War.

  3. Frances Madeson says...

    Don’t forget the other important purpose of torture–cowing the American people, inducing in us a fear of our own Executive so great that we ourselves self-censor, thereby squelching widespread protest or even determined inquiry by any usual organ of our collective aspirations–the press or other branches of government.

    Everyone understood, even if only on a subconscious level, that whatever Bush, Cheney, et. al. devised to do to the “other” could one day (and probably would, in fact, was) be done to us. When the people, the backbone of the democratic mode of governance, cultivate the treacherous habits of passivity, docility, and self-willed ignorance, thereby abdicating our responsibility out of fear, terror really, it makes it so much easier to empty the treasury into a few alert and engaged hands–Halliburton, Blackwater, etc–like taking candy from a baby.

    So the circle, as Andy and TD have drawn it, must be widened a bit to include not only torture and the devastation in Iraq with all of the loss of life on both sides, civilians and soldiers, but an on-going penury for the American people and their children and children’s children.

    May the circle soon be broken…there’s a better home a waiting…

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I just received the following message, which cheered me up while my website was temporarily unavailable (an online journalist’s worst nightmare, I’m slightly ashamed to admit):

    Mr. Worthington,

    Good report! The al-Libi/Powell@UN connection and al-Libi’s subsequent recanting were noted in a 2005 Frontline program (“The Torture Question”) that I recently watched again. I’ve been waiting for it to enter the public’s active memory. As of now it is understood, in a general way, that the administration wanted the “intelligence and facts [that] were being fixed around fit the policy” to include the fruits of torture. This specific instance — in which the administration got its wish — hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves.

    This has bothered me. Al-Libi was the anonymous centerpiece of Powell’s damnable damnation of Iraq, that policy-shaping medicine show over which the media credulously drooled. The truth about al-Libi should have registered more than it has in recent days. It should be Exhibit A in the case that torture is among the first paving stones on the road to hell. Thanks to you it may yet do so.

    You fill in details about his case that I’d missed and go into other cases I’d not known of. You did well. I’ll be shipping your article around.

    Best,
    Warren Ingber

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t often cross-post comments on my articles from other sites, but I was very pleased to receive the following succinct message at the Huffington Post:

    davism97 wrote, simply,
    “I hope this article is printed in all of our future history books …”

    Thanks.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    And TD and Frances, of course. Excellent messages — TD for the succinct round-up of how, it is beginning to appear, the torturers-in-chief knew that torture produces false confessions, because that was indeed the point, and Frances for focusing on the modern-day tyrants’ greatest tool: complacency. In the old days it was a very real fear, but now even that’s complacent, although it niggles away, spectrally, because the whole point has been to try to make sure that we don’t feel anything too vividly any more …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was cross-posted on Information Clearing House, I received the following encouragement from a professor in Malaysia (I’ve asked for permission to use his name, but haven’t received a reply, so I’ll maintain his anonymity):

    Dear Andy,

    This latest article of yours shows to me that your years of meticulous work have paid off. But more than that, your scholarship is timely and astute to an almost incalculable degree. You’ve virtually completed the proposed investigators’ investigation, before they’ve even started investigating.

    All that needs to be added is a stamp of approval from someone greater than me. God bless you. Plus Allahu Akbar for peace, here, or hereafter, or both.

    Here’s the ICH link:
    http://informationclearinghouse.info/article22517.htm

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was published on CounterPunch, I received the following message:

    Mr. Worthington:

    I was extremely pleased to find in you someone who seems to appreciate the danger Dick Cheney represents to the world. I predicted, at the time he appointed himself Bush’s running mate, that he would become the de facto president, and he did. There is no doubt in my mind, with the release of the latest hard scientific evidence for super thermite particles in the dust samples from the WTC, that 9/11 was an inside job. It is clear that he, Cheney, orchestrated a “stand-down” on that fateful day.

    However, my concern is currently that he is now orchestrating a devious ploy, in conjunction with the media, to prevent this evidence from reaching the public. Recognizing that a slight majority of the public actually supports the torture, Cheney and the crew you identify will gladly weigh the risk of being held accountable for those crimes as against the certain charge of treason for the murder of 3,000 of their fellow citizens.

    9/11 is their Achilles heel, and they will do anything to keep it from being investigated. As evidence of this, I point to the fact that Keith Olbermann remains on the air in spite of his frequent and horrific attacks on that administration, but poor Rosie O’Donnell was banished in three weeks after just once mentioning 9/11.

    While I do appreciate your attempt to hold them accountable for the crimes of torture, please do not allow it to deter you from the more important task of pointing out a considerably greater crime of treason.

    Hal O’Leary
    Wheeling, WV
    USA

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Hi Hal,
    Thanks for the comments. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the evident dangers that Cheney posed from Day One, and, although I disagree with your explanation of 9/11, I was wondering if I could post your comments on my website. I’m happy to create an opportunity for debate.
    Best,
    Andy

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hal then replied:

    Andy

    You most certainly may use my comments or any portion of them in any way you wish.

    I thank you for your wish to create an opportunity for debate. Am I to assume that you are comfortable with the 9/11 Commission Report when the two heads of the commission have admitted that relevant information was withheld from them, and that they were lied to. This they say amounted to “obstruction of justice”.

    I could go on for hours with the questions raised by this inaccurate and contradictory report, but I will spare you, trusting that you will have examined the contrary evidence that has been amassed. For now, with the assumption that you do indeed buy the official story, I would ask only that you share your reasoning with me. If you do not buy the story, it would seem to me that curiosity, if nothing else would call for an honest investigation.

    I would just remind you that, from what I have read, the commission’s conclusion that Osama bin Laden is responsible is based almost completely on what the CIA has told them that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad confessed to after being water-boarded 183 times. Not only was the commission denied access to this prime witness, they were even denied access to the transcripts of his interrogation. Apparently, he confessed to several things he could not have done.

    Respectfully
    Hal

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    And this was my reply:

    Hi Hal,

    KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh confessed to an al-Jazeera reporter before they were captured by the US that they were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The confession is in my article here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/02/12/six-in-guantanamo-charged-with-911-murders-why-now-and-what-about-the-torture/
    And this is the original article: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/03/04/1046540189712.html

    Through my own review of the available literature, I’m prepared to accept the word of experts in engineering and related issues that 9/11 was not an inside job, although I think that, on both sides, lay people’s interpretations of detailed scientific explanations are, necessarily, more faith-based than anything else.

    However, I also believe that 9/11 was a terrorist attack because I am prepared to accept that the attack went ahead because of well-chronicled inter-agency infighting and incompetence in the US, and also because I don’t credit senior Bush administration officials with the ability, as we say in the UK, “to organize a piss-up in a brewery.”

    I certainly agree that the record indicates that KSM’s torture yielded copious lies, and this concerns me enormously, not only because of those who were then caught up in this web of lies (who knows how many people were bundled out of their houses at night and flown to torture dungeons because of “confessions” produced through torture?), but also because — referring again to the confession of KSM and bin al-Shibh before their capture — it was unnecessary. We would now be in a very different place if the Bush administration had not been so thoroughly determined to embark upon a global torture program, which, in my appraisal, has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster in every respect.

    And finally, to address what I think is the only point I haven’t yet covered, I do hope that one day a more thorough investigation — not one that was deliberately hampered, like the 9/11 Commission — will take place, which will seek to answer all our questions.

    Best,
    Andy

    Note: My article looking at possible false leads generated by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confessions is here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2007/07/14/guantanamos-tangled-web-khalid-sheikh-mohammed-majid-khan-dubious-us-convictions-and-a-dying-man/

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s further correspondence in my exchange with Hal O’Leary:

    Andy,

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your reply. You have obviously been able to retain an open mind on this most serious question of 9/11, and that too I appreciate.

    As to the KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh confessions prior to their capture, my feeling is that it should be assessed along with bin Laden’s denial. In making this assessment one must ask what bin Laden stood to gain from such an act, well aware of the risks and consequences. The obvious answer, it seems to me, is that he could boast to the whole world of his ability to take on and defeat America’s vaunted defense system. Why then, would he deny involvement? If we can believe reports about KSM, we must assume that, if he later confessed to and boasted of many things he could not have done, it would seem wise to consider that this too was simply a boast. What better way to endear himself in the hearts of all Islam? Add to this the fact that the FBI has admitted that they do not have “hard evidence” that bin Laden was indeed involved, and KSM’s confession to the al-Jazeera reporter becomes extremely suspect.

    When you say that you accept the “word of experts in engineering and related issues” that 9/11 was NOT an inside job, may I ask what experts are you referring to?

    As I write this, at a convention of Architects and Engineers, in San Francisco, more than six hundred of them are calling, from a booth there, for an honest investigation. 9/11 truth has consistently challenged the experts at NIST, with experts like these, on their report with never a satisfactory reply. True, the opinions on both sides can only be based on faith. That is why I am pleased to know that someone that may lean to the terrorist side would also like to see an honest investigation. That’s all we ask.

    Having spent some time in your country during the big war, I missed your wonderful phrase, “piss-up in a brewery”. However, the fault I find with that approach, in explaining the administration’s failure to halt the attack, is simply that, if that were the case, one would think that some heads should have rolled as a result. To the contrary, many, who were obviously at fault received promotions.

    Once again, let me reiterate my appreciation for your concern and willingness to exchange views with a “kook” and his “conspiracies”.

    Most Respectfully
    Hal

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    Hi Hal,

    To be honest, having a civilized discussion about differing points of view is probably something we should all do more of, but the world has become very polarized between liberals and Conservatives on the one hand, and on the other hand the 9/11 truth movement and those concerned with the Bush administration’s flagrant law-breaking and human rights abuses are in such different camps that it’s often difficult to see how any kind of conversation can take place.

    To answer your question about the research I undertook, I began by being shown “Loose Change,” which was, of course, an eye-opener, but was then unable to understand the detailed scientific explanations that I read in an attempt to truly grasp what was being proposed.

    And then, as I said before, I became convinced that Bush and Cheney couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, and that the incompetence of the intelligence agencies was a clear explanation for how the attack was allowed to happen (because, essentially, the CIA had not been talking to the FBI).

    Perhaps most significantly, I also became convinced that an inside job would have required a large number of people to undertake it, and I then concluded that, with more than a handful of people involved in such a monstrous and homicidal deception, it would have been impossible to keep a lid on the secret. From my point of view, an inside job would had to have been followed by killing most of those involved in perpetrating it, to make sure that it didn’t leak out, and I’ve never heard rumors of the unexplained deaths of large numbers of contractors who, just before, were apparently working on a secret government project …

    I should also add that, in contrast, I found it feasible that al-Qaeda could have accomplished the whole mission with very few people knowing about it: bin Laden and a handful of followers, KSM and a handful of money men and facilitators, and the four hijackers (as it has been established that the “muscle” hijackers, though told that they were being recruited for a noble martyrdom mission — or some such idiocy — were not briefed in advance on what the mission actually involved).

    As for the alternative scientific explanations that convinced me that 9/11 was not an inside job (which I followed sufficiently before I again became bamboozled by the science), I found them on CounterPunch:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/ninelevenconsp11252006.html
    I was also impressed by George Monbiot’s reasoning: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/02/12/short-changed/
    And I also think the “Popular Mechanics” series is worth reading: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html

    However, as I said before, what interests me most is how it would be in everyone’s interests to have a full investigation of everything that happened, to include both 9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror.”

    Best,
    Andy

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    And this was Hal’s reply:

    Andy:

    As with you, I am not a scientist, therefore it is a question of whom do we believe since there are respected scientist on both sides of the issue. I must say that of all the scientists on either side, 9/11 truth has the greater number of those that I would consider objective and independent as opposed to the many on the other side, all too many, with ties to the government through FEMA and certainly NIST. It is certainly difficult to see how any conversation can take place. The reason? If you examine the tone of what conversations you may have tried to initiate, you will find, most likely, that the argument of 99% of those who support the official story will begin like this opening paragraph of the Monbiot article you say contributed to your change of mind after viewing “Loose Change”.

    “There is a virus sweeping the world. It infects opponents of the Bush government, a virus that sucks their brains out and turns them into gibbering idiots. First cultivated in a labratory in the United States, the strain reached these shores a few months ago. In the past fortnight, it has become epidemic. Scarcely a day now passes without someone possessed by this sickness, eyes rolling, lips flecked with foam, trying to infect me.”

    I’m sorry, but I could not have read past that first paragraph had you not suggested it. I found the rest of the article equally ridiculous. We are confronted with a question that threatens the very existence of the nation and we are met with a vitriolic diatribe that I’m afraid reflects the strategy and ‘talking points’ for all the defenders of the official story. We can’t attack the evidence so we attack the person.

    As for the Popular Mechanics’ article and book, I would refer you to David Ray Griffin. Their strategy was to take the most outlandish claims and theories, attribute them to the truth movement, and then presume to ‘debunk’ them as myths. There is solid evidence that many of these were initiated by the official story backers for just that purpose. For example, Popular Mechanics accuses the 9/11 truth movement of asserting that the four reasons for 9/11 were:
    1. So Silverstein could collect the insurance money
    2. So insider trading could enable capitalist to reap billions.
    3. To steal the gold in the basement of WTC.
    4.To enable Bush to assume dictatorial power.
    While there may be some truth to each of these, they are far from the concerns of the Truth Movement that the neocons are bent on global domination.

    Then to argue on the one hand that some of the most evil but brilliant minds in the world with all of the most advanced technology in the world were a bunch of incompetent keystone cops who simply couldn’t “organize a piss-up in a brewery’, but on the other hand, suggest that a few Arabs in a cave half way around the world with box-cutters and no ability to execute the sophisticated aerial maneuvers needed for such a feat, could pull it off without a hitch, seems to me a bit far fetched. As for the CIA and FBI, the CIA is a government in and of itself. It is no secret that they fund their own totally secret operations with drug money.

    There are believable scenarios out there that suggest the whole thing could have been pulled off by as few as fifty people being really in the know. Certainly the air controllers and military personnel didn’t know. They were simply confused by Cheney’s control of all the exercises he had planned for that day. But, given the number of warnings that were received by us, there were hordes of people all around the world who knew. So, perhaps bin Laden’s secret was not so well kept. We’ll never know most of the secrets the government is keeping from us, but we do know that they were successful in keeping the atomic bomb a secret for years, and it involved considerably more possible leakers than would have been needed for 9/11.

    The scientific questions, I think, should be answered by the latest evidence for thermite.

    Once again, thank you. Here’s wishing both of our minds will eventually be cleared.

    Respectfully
    Hal

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    Hi Hal,

    I agree with you that the introduction to the Monbiot article is confrontational, and have to say that, personally, that’s not an approach I favor, but I think the incredulity and insults cut both ways, and have enjoyed our exchange precisely because we haven’t indulged in any mud-slinging.

    For now, we will have to agree to differ. I’m prepared to believe that the uncle of the man who tried to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993 was responsible for coordinating the efforts of four “martyrs” and their 15 henchmen to successfully infiltrate the United States, train for their mission and pull it off, and I’ve now spent over three years looking at what impact this had on the laws of the United States, the power of the President, and the lives of the hundreds of men held in Guantanamo — and the thousands elsewhere — who were treated with brutality as a result, partly because the government wanted to prove that it could do so, and partly because the leaders of the US became so paranoid that they were convinced that a ticking time-bomb scenario was real, rather a fantasy, and that the only way to deal with it — despite criticism from numerous brave Americans who should be regarded as the heroes of this story — was to torture prisoners, in the mistaken belief that it was the only way to “break” these hardened warriors, and also, in some cases, to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq.

    I understand the 9/11 truth movement’s fascination with the events of 9/11, but am saddened that so many people, and so much ability, has been expended on this topic alone, at the expense of dealing with what actually happened afterwards; in other words, that the focus has been solely on September 11, 2001 and the run-up to it, and not on what happened from September 12, 2001 to January 19, 2009.

    I believe that everyone — including the 9/11 truth movement and human rights activists — would benefit from a thorough investigation of everything that happened under the rule of Bush and Cheney, but I also continue to be disappointed that too many people were looking somewhere else while researchers and investigators were trying to uncover the “Post-9/11 Truth”: who are all these people rounded up by the US, how were so many innocent or insignificant people seized (a story that, again, involves a shocking level of incompetence), and who are the hundreds of people who still constitute “America’s Disappeared,” who were kidnapped and flown to secret CIA prisons, or to prisons in third countries to be tortured, without ever having had the opportunity to challenge their designation as “enemy combatants” or as “high-value detainees” in the “War on Terror”?

    The answers to some of these questions are still “out there,” especially the identities of those who were disappeared, but the quest for truth in their cases is down to a handful of people who are not still obsessing about the events of 9/11, but are actively trying to address the human carnage caused afterwards by the Bush administration.

    Best,
    Andy

  16. 1 Boring Old Man » another piece of the puzzle… says...

    [...] 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 [...]

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    And here, continuing my conversation with Hal O’Leary (above) is Hal’s reply to Comment 15 above:

    Andy:

    You are indeed a wonderful example of what I have referred to for years as a “kindred soul”, one who has not lost the empathy we now know we are hard-wired for, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you. My son is a playwright and in his first play about the Spanish civil war, he writes, “I don’t know if there is a Utopia, but I am certain that we must act as though there can be.” How well you are living up to that admonition.

    Yes, we do indeed differ, and let me try to put my finger on that difference. While you believe, with righteous justification, that we ‘truthers’ are allowing our obsession with 9/11 to deflect attention from what you consider to be a much more urgent issue, we, on the other hand, believe that to ignore the past crimes only makes it more likely that they will occur over and over. Permit me an explanatory analogy that you may appreciate. Obama is refusing to prosecute those guilty of torture in the grounds that [we should] “look forward and not backward.” Doesn’t he understand that by not holding those people accountable that he is inviting the same behavior in the “forward” he speaks of?

    Now, it is understandable that you do not view 9/11 with the same gravity that I do, and you are justified in the sense that 3,000 deaths at the WTC pales into insignificance compared to millions of dead and displaced peoples in the middle east. But, my contention is that this issue cannot be addressed with hope for the future without getting to the root of the problem which is the neocon / zionist insistence on global military and economic hegemony. We have to come to grips with the most likely scenario that 9/11 was the “New Pearl Harbor”. Things like this do not happen by chance, they are meticulously planned and carried out, and this process must be studied and understood. Your greatest concerns may never have existed but for 9/11.

    I fear that because you are such a beautiful ‘kindred soul’, you seem to have great difficulty in believing evil in others. I have been to war, and I have witnessed evil. As a secular humanist, I don’t speak of evil as a moral issue but as a psychological issue. There is no doubt in my mind that Cheney and his ilk are full-blown psychopaths. No other psyche could permit such wanton murder of innocent peoples.

    You may also have difficulty in accepting deception as a fact of life. The motto of the Mossad is something like, “We make war by deception”. You speak of the four terrorist pilots as “martyrs”. Have you not read of their proclivity for ‘wine, women and song”? Atta in particular was debauchery personified according to an ex-girl friend in Florida. They reportedly had women in their motel the night of Sept 10, [2001].

    In the interest of humanity, it is understandable that you should be focused on the “impact” of the crimes. I trust you will understand my, yes, obsession, I admit, with getting at the cause of the crimes. It could be said that you are more interested in the immediate cure, while I am thinking in terms of prevention. Both are equally noble. Both are equally necessary. You seem to view my approach as interfering with your approach. I can see the relevance in your claim, but it’s most unfortunate that either should have the priority. We are not arguing the merits of either approach, just their priority and importance.

    Another obvious difference is that you seem to interpret the behavior of these criminals as being ‘incompetent’ while I call it ‘evil intent’. Yet another is that you seem to believe that the reason for the torture was that it was to be the only way to “break these hardened criminals”. My current belief is that they needed confessions to convince the world that there was indeed a very real threat where little existed. They had to know that at least most of them were innocent. The same was true at Abu Ghraib. They needed to justify their even being there.

    It would seem to me that there should be enough investigators, reporters and adjudicators to handle both tasks. We should be working in cooperation with each other, not in opposition, or even in competition. As to the “war on terror”, I am convinced that is was and continues to be a creation of the neocon / zionist cabal. It simply doesn’t exist except in the perception of much of the public, planted there by the criminals themselves. I agree in one sense with FDR’s most famous remark, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If we could conquer that imposed fear, our perception would change for the better overnight.

    Once again you are quite a “kindred soul”.
    Thank you
    Respectfully
    Hal

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    And my reply:

    Hal,

    It has been an absolute pleasure exchanging ideas with you, and I, for one, would love it if “both sides” could find more common ground. I have to say, however, that when you wrote, “You seem to view my approach as interfering with your approach,” I should point out that it’s not a matter of “seeming,” but rather, and more sadly, a reflection on the fact that, although we have communicated amicably, and, I hope, with grace and respect, the two approaches taken by our respective “groups” do indeed interfere with one another.

    What is interesting, however, is that where we do both agree is on the need for the new administration — and specifically the Attorney general, Eric Holder, whose job it is — to pursue those responsible for turning America into a nation that, for eight years, openly tortured prisoners seized in its spectral “War on Terror.”

    Most people I know, who are concerned with human rights, would absolutely agree with your comment, “Obama is refusing to prosecute those guilty of torture in the grounds that [we should] ‘look forward and not backward.’ Doesn’t he understand that by not holding those people accountable that he is inviting the same behavior in the ‘forward’ he speaks of?”

    So perhaps, in conclusion, we should all be pressing for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. I believe, as you say, that “Cheney and his ilk are full-blown psychopaths,” but although I believe that some of the torture program was implemented in a misguided attempt to secure intelligence that would prevent another attack, I also know that some of it was, even more shockingly, used not to defend America but to secure information to justify the invasion of Iraq, as discussed in the article above that prompted our initial exchange of views.

    This, of course, is very close indeed to your belief that “they needed confessions to convince the world that there was indeed a very real threat where little existed,” and I wonder if there is some way that we could progress from here, perhaps by suggesting to the 9/11 truth movement that we could agree to put aside our differences on other questions, but focus together on holding to account those responsible for torture, presenting all three reasons — to prevent a future attack, to justify the invasion of Iraq, and to “convince the world that there was indeed a very real threat where little existed” — as aspects of the same grotesque and unconscionable power-grab by an Executive branch that considered itself above the law.

    There are definitely nuances to these variations on the torture themes — and overlaps between the many different theories — that ought to bring us together.

    Again, Hal, thanks for engaging.
    With best wishes,
    Andy

  19. “America’s Disappeared” : Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison « Muslim in Suffer says...

    [...] 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 [...]

  20. Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Hussein. It draws on my article yesterday, announcing his death, and another article two weeks ago, Even in Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, and it focuses, in particular, on Cheney’s role in using torture to manufacture a case for the [...]

  21. Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi « Israelis wars on muslims indicates the beginning of the fall of the American Empire! says...

    [...] Hussein. It draws on my article yesterday, announcing his death, and another article two weeks ago, Even in Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, and it focuses, in particular, on Cheney’s role in using torture to manufacture a case for the [...]

  22. USA: Tortured Gitmo prisoner found dead-AlterNet « FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand says...

    [...] and Saddam Hussein. It draws on my article announcing his death, and another article two weeks ago, Even in Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, and it focuses, in particular, on Cheney’s role in using torture to manufacture a case for [...]

  23. Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide” « Israelis wars on muslims indicates the beginning of the fall of the American Empire! says...

    [...] whether the most crucial aspects of the story that impact on American audiences — al-Libi’s tortured lies that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and the wider question of diplomatic arrangements that involved Libyan prisoners seized by the CIA [...]

  24. Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide” by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] whether the most crucial aspects of the story that impact on American audiences — al-Libi’s tortured lies that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and the wider question of diplomatic arrangements that involved Libyan prisoners seized by the CIA [...]

  25. Al-Libi Was Rendered Through Diego Garcia « Ten Percent says...

    [...] Libi’s tortured narrative was crucial to the war lies, such is the function of torture- In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was [...]

  26. An Interview With Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Part One) by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] prisoners to understand the workings of al-Qaeda, and how, increasingly, this obsession shifted to a search for connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, to justify the planned invasion of Iraq. What I found particularly interesting at this point in [...]

  27. Four Men Leave Guantánamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials In Italy by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] al-Shaykh al-Libi, the CIA’s most famous “ghost prisoner.” Tortured in Egypt in 2002, al-Libi made a false confession about links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. [...]

  28. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Bush and Cheney’s Torture, Lies | Amauta says...

    [...] As I explained in an article last April, entitled, “Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low“: [...]

  29. 1 Boring Old Man » we’ll be the better for the knowing… says...

    [...] 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 [...]

  30. Guantánamo: A Tale of Two Tunisians « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] al-Shaykh al-Libi, the CIA’s most famous “ghost prisoner.” Tortured in Egypt in 2002, al-Libi made a false confession about links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. [...]

  31. Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 30 April [...]

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