Cheney and the Iraq-Torture Link
A Commentary by Joe Conason
Defending their record in office these past eight years, figures from the last administration seem especially touchy on the subject of torture. Led by the former vice president, Dick Cheney, they have argued that there was no torture, preferring more vague and delicate terms such as "enhanced interrogation" or simply "the program." They have insisted that any harsh tactics were used only to extract "actionable intelligence" from recalcitrant terrorists in order to save "thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands" of innocent lives.
But now we are learning that those methods, long banned as torture in our own laws and treaties, may well have been employed for a very different and deeply nefarious purpose: to justify the dubious invasion of Iraq by falsely connecting Saddam Hussein's regime to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
Even as Republicans in Congress and conservative commentators seek to distract public attention by demanding to know when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first learned about waterboarding, the disturbing evidence of serious criminality continues to emerge.
A former top aide to Colin Powell recently revealed that a Libyan prisoner was brutalized by Egyptian intelligence agents, at the behest of the Bush White House, until he talked about a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. (That man, who later recanted those statements, which he said had been made under torture, has supposedly killed himself in a prison cell in his homeland, so he is no longer around to offer any inconvenient testimony.)
A pair of retired senior intelligence officials told former NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem that in April 2003 the vice president's office itself suggested the waterboarding of a former Iraqi intelligence official captured in Baghdad, in order to make him talk about the mythical ties between his government and Al Qaeda. A series of reports have indicated that torture was used to elicit the same false testimony from Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda operative subjected to waterboarding literally dozens of times -- even though he had begun to cooperate with FBI interrogators.
Despite the expected denials of such gross misconduct emanating from the intelligence community, some of the most damning evidence came from Mr. Cheney's own mouth. Back in 2004, according to the McClatchy Newspapers, he boasted to the Rocky Mountain News (a Denver daily that has since ceased publishing) that the fruits of interrogation had vindicated him.
When a Rocky Mountain News reporter asked whether he still stood by earlier statements linking Saddam to the terrorist perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, despite demurrals from Mr. Powell, Mr. Cheney replied: "We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that Al Qaeda sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology." He went on to predict that when all of the Saddam regime's records were examined, there would be "ample evidence confirming the link."
Five years later, there is still no evidence confirming the link. There is persuasive evidence, however, that Gitmo prisoners were tortured on orders from the Bush White House, where Mr. Cheney commandeered authority on such matters. Former U.S. Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney told Army investigators in 2006 that he and other interrogators at the detainee camp had been ordered to focus on a certain topic, without success, despite resorting to those "enhanced" techniques.
"While we were there, 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," Major Burney testified.
As Mr. Cheney no doubt knows, prisoners enduring torture can be induced to say almost anything to ease their pain and fear. American Special Forces are trained to resist those ugly methods precisely because they have been used by totalitarian regimes to extract false confessions for centuries.
It is hard to imagine anything more disturbing than the use of torture by the U.S. government in seeking to justify an aggressive and unjustified war, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Now we need to know whether those awful offenses were perpetrated on Mr. Cheney's watch -- by fully empowering a truth commission to take testimony from him and his associates under oath.
Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.
COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentary by Joe Conason.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.