Again and Again: The Goal Was a Link to Iraq, the Person Was Cheney, and the Method Was Torture

Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson:

…what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)


Jonathan S. Landay:

“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,” reported McClatchy Newspaper’s Jonathan Landay in April.

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

The push apparently came from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who were adamant about making a connection, Landay reported.

“… [For] most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaeda and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there,” a former senior intelligence official was quoted as saying.

It was in this period that the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times.


Robert Windrem:

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard an Iraqi prisoner came from the Office of Vice President Cheney…

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

“To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest,” Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.

In his new book, Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq, and in an interview with The Daily Beast, Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, of course, has vehemently defended waterboarding and other harsh techniques, insisting they elicited valuable intelligence and saved lives. He has also asked that several memoranda be declassified to prove his case. (The Daily Beast placed a call to Cheney’s office and will post a response if we get one.)

Without admitting where the suggestion came from, Duelfer revealed that he considered it reprehensible and understood the rationale as political—and ultimately counterproductive to the overall mission of the Iraq Survey Group, which was assigned the mission of finding Saddam Hussein’s WMD after the invasion.

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