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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Closing The Circle

Over the weekend, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi died in a Libyan prison. Al-Libi may be the most important contributor to the war in Iraq that nobody knows about. Seized at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in late 2001, al-Libi was rendered to Egypt and tortured by local forces there. Andy Worthington continues:

In Egypt, he came up with the false allegation about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used by President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002, just days before Congress voted on a resolution authorizing the President to go to war against Iraq, in which, referring to the supposed threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, Bush said, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”

Four months later, on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell made the same claim in his notorious speech to the UN Security Council, in an attempt to drum up support for the invasion. “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda,” Powell said, adding, “Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.” As a Newsweek report in 2007 explained, Powell did not identify al-Libi by name, but CIA officials — and a Senate Intelligence Committee report — later confirmed that he was referring to al-Libi.

Al-Libi recanted his story in February 2004, when he was returned to the CIA’s custody, and explained, as Newsweek described it, that he told his debriefers that “he initially told his interrogators that he ‘knew nothing’ about ties between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden and he ‘had difficulty even coming up with a story’ about a relationship between the two.” The Newsweek report explained that “his answers displeased his interrogators — who then apparently subjected him to the mock burial. As al-Libi recounted, he was stuffed into a box less than 20 inches high. When the box was opened 17 hours later, al-Libi said he was given one final opportunity to ‘tell the truth.’ He was knocked to the floor and ‘punched for 15 minutes.’ It was only then that, al-Libi said, he made up the story about Iraqi weapons training.”

Al-Libi's false confession, offered for no other reason than to stop torture, mirrors exactly the claim in the Senate Armed Services Committee report that torture was employed at least in part to extract intelligence on the al Qaeda/Iraq link. The intelligence services knew by early 2002 that al-Libi was lying, but they used his information anyway, and since it worked out so well for them, they wanted more information like this. This coda to al-Libi's life (nobody was even sure where he was being held) brings up a few new questions, but really brings back this remembrance of how torture and Iraq have been inextricably linked. As a TPM reader put it yesterday:

Several interesting things just connected in my mind. Saw Jon Stewart show a clip of Cheney saying that Bush "basically approved" of the interrogation program. His answer was as woozy as it gets. Then on the replay of Hardball, watched Lawrence O'Donnell answer Chris Matthew's musings on a Cheney prosection by suggesting it would be for "usurping" Bush on the issue.

Really, where the torture scandal could break open is the exact nexus of who actually authorized the program and Cheney's frantic efforts to get information linking Saddam Hussein to the Iraq war. Wherever Iraq touches the torture question is going to be the flashpoint--it undercuts the "ticking time bomb" rationale for the program. Its also where politicals are going to have their deepest interactions with the program. That's where people need to look. Somebody needs to superimpose the timeline of the Iraq run-up over what we know about the timeline of the torture program. Anywhere Cheney, Iraq and torture meet is going to be radioactive.

Bmaz has more, and the Washington Post even manages to report on al-Libi today, specifically naming him as a "detainee who provided bogus information that was cited by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war." This is the great unmentioned part of the conservative project to justify torture if it saved lives. The purpose of the torture, given the al-Libi example, was to destroy lives by drumming up bogus reasoning to go to war in Iraq.

...Jeff Kaye has many more questions about this. This is a key point:

Human Right Watch researcher Heba Morayef told Reuters in London that she saw Fakhiri on April 27 during a visit to the Libyan capital's main Abu Salim jail.

She said Fakhiri appeared for just two minutes in a prison courtyard. He look well, but was unwilling to speak to the Rights Watch team, she said. "Where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons?" she quoted him as saying.

According to Kaye, al-Libi actually said "Where were you when I was being tortured at Guantanamo?"

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