As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Security Theater

With my gig at the Monthly I hadn't been able to get to this story, which was already covered by one of my fellow guest-bloggers. But it's incredibly important. We already knew a lot of this, but now we have independent corroboration that Abu Zubaydah, who according to the recently leaked Red Cross report was something of a guinea pig for the Bush Administration's torture techniques, had no viable intelligence value, and his eventual breakdown and confession yielded no good intelligence information.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," and other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a "fixer" for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 -- and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.

In the article, Noor al-Deen, a Syrian who was captured along with Zubaydah, admitted that the so-called Al Qaeda leader has little information about operations. This made us demonstrably less safe. While investigators and intelligence operatives were off on wild goose chases, they were not seeking real leads on terrorist plots or the whereabouts of top Al Qaeda leaders. Bush and his gang were more consumed with metrics - the notion that we "appear" to be fighting terror - than actions. Digby had a great piece on this.

This isn't the first time I've heard that the Bush administration was obsessed with getting a volume of information, caring little about the quality or reliability of it. neither is it the first time that we've heard that this pressure came from the highest reaches of the administration itself [...]

They were desperate to keep up the fiction that Al Qaeda was the outsized foe they'd built them up to be. If they were merely a dangerous little gang of criminals rather than a deadly global army of supervillians, it would be hard to justify the spending of trillions on unnecessary wars and suspending inconvenient portions of the constitution. These Vietnam chickenhawks didn't want to hear anything that would imply that they weren't fighting the war of all wars.

They knew these were false confessions and fictional plots and cynically used them to keep up the sense of panic --- even among themselves --- that fueled their global ambitions and fed their damaged egos. Ultimately they failed in that, not because they actually did anything that kept the babies safe, but because the American people just don't have the attention span to stay panicked about anything for very long. Once the spell broke, there was nothing left but the metrics.

In other words, this was a show for the media, to write a script about the good guys getting information from the bad guys and as a result making the world safe. It had no basis in fact whatsoever. And in order to keep up this fiction, the "good guys" had to use torture, maybe to deliberately obtain false confessions to prove they were "getting things done."

When those Spanish courts send out those indictments for Bush officials for violations of human rights and international torture conventions, remember this story. Especially when you hear that the CIA did what it had to do to "keep America safe." That's not the whole story.

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