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Apr 23 2009

It Wasn’t About Saving Lives

It was about getting the answers they wanted:

Most of the defenses for torture involve some variation on a Jack Bauer fantasy — to stop the proverbial ticking time-bomb, U.S. officials have to be able to do literally anything to acquire intelligence to save lives.

There are all kinds of problems with this, of course, most notably the fact that “24″ is a fictional television program. But as new evidence comes to light about the Bush administration’s policies, it’s also worth noting that life-saving wasn’t always the goal of torture.

The Bush administration put 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. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge of the interrogation issue told McClatchy, “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. 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.”

For that, they turned us into a nation of torturers. Not so heroic, now, is it?

And if you’re still tempted to argue that torture helped us foil the terrorists’ dastardly plots, consider that the Bush regime’s shining example of a plot foiled by torture would’ve required a time machine:

The terrorist plot against the Library Tower is the loyal Bushies’ favorite. Indeed, Thiessen has used it in more than one Washington Post op-ed, and it’s been repeated by Bush administration officials many, many times over the years. Both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have even told the story on several occasions, citing it as proof that their abusive tactics were a success (the former president would often call the Library Tower the “Liberty Tower”).

The entire claim has been exposed as dubious over the years, but as long as torture apologists are going to keep bringing it up, it’s probably worth taking a moment to periodically set the record straight. Tim Noah had this piece late yesterday:

[snip]

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen’s claim, however (and that of the memo he cites, and that of an unnamed Central Intelligence Agency spokesman who today seconded Thessen’s argument) is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush’s counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and “at that point, the other members of the cell” (later arrested) “believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward” [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, “In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.” These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got — an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush’s characterization of it as a “disrupted plot” was “ludicrous” — that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t captured until March 2003.

How could Sheikh Mohammed’s water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration “broke up” that attack during the previous year?

They lied. They needed torture to justify their decision to invade Iraq, and they needed it so they could feel like proper little television badasses. But it was never about keeping us safe. It didn’t do a motherfucking thing to keep us safe.

Tell the Obama administration: time to prosecute.