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

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Waterboarding Said To Have The Ability To Send Interrogators Back In Time

Why exactly is LAist taking the bait on the latest right-wing claim that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to be waterboarded 183 times in one month in order to get the intelligence to foil the plot to blow up Los Angeles' Library Tower in 2002? One fairly glaring flaw with this logic is, um...

The first reason to be skeptical that this planned attack could have been carried out successfully is that, as I've noted before, attacking buildings by flying planes into them didn't remain a viable al-Qaida strategy even through Sept. 11, 2001. Thanks to cell phones, passengers on United Flight 93 were able to learn that al-Qaida was using planes as missiles and crashed the plane before it could hit its target. There was no way future passengers on any flight would let a terrorist who killed the pilot and took the controls fly wherever he pleased.

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.

I don't even think this "means justifying the ends" argument is germane when you're talking about breaking domestic and international laws. But as has always been the case with the torture apologists, their evidence for "success" on this score breaks down upon the slightest scrutiny. As Emptywheel, who's been all over this story, notes, even on the "ends justify the means" scale, there is no point to torture.

We already have a way to assess how much intelligence we got directly from torturing Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: the 9/11 Report. After all, the 9/11 Report integrates a huge amount of information from interrogation reports, and cites them all meticulously. As early as June 6, 2003, the 9/11 Commission asked for, "“all TDs and other reports of intelligence information obtained from interrogations” of forty named individuals, including Abu Zubaydah and (apparently) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and they used what they got in return to write their report. So if there was useful information in those reports, they presumably got it [...]

And in the case of Abu Zubaydah, such an assessment is horrifying.

In the entire 9/11 Report, just ten pieces of information are sourced to Abu Zubaydah's interrogation reports.


And there are several other damning details that come from this analysis. One of the ten pieces of intelligence that appears in the 9/11 Report--regarding Abu Zubaydah's role running terrorist training camps--came from July 10, 2002, before the CIA first received oral authorization to use torture. Thus, it either came from persuasive, rather than coercive, techniques. Or it came from treatment that had not been legally approved.

It's horrifying enough to have apologists justify torture because of the benefits, while discounting the costs. The fact that they lie about it is just the icing on the cake.

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