[Ppnews] Cheney's Twisted World

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 29 11:34:32 EDT 2009


April 29, 2009

A New Low for America

Cheney's Twisted World


Since the publication last week of the Senate 
Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee 
abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo 
much has been made of a footnote containing a 
comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist 
with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat 
Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, 
was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to 
the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.

In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. 
Burney wrote that “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. The more frustrated people got 
in not being able to establish that link 
was more and more pressure to resort to measures 
that might produce more immediate results.”

In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. 
Burney -- almost accidentally -- assumed a 
pivotal role in the implementation of torture 
techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now 
I’m going to focus on the significance of his 
comments, which are, of course, profoundly 
important because they demonstrate that, in 
contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated 
claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation 
techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on 
the United States, much of the program was 
actually focused on trying to establish links 
between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would 
justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

Maj. Burney’s testimony provides the first 
evidence that coercive and illegal techniques 
were used widely at Guantánamo in an attempt to 
secure information linking al-Qaeda to Saddam 
Hussein, but it is not the first time that the 
Bush administration’s attempts to link a real 
enemy with one that required considerable 
ingenuity to conjure up have been revealed.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war

In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh 
al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military 
training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the 
end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he 
made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had 
offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the 
use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi 
later recanted his confession, but not until 
Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to his eternal 
shame -- had used the story in February 2003 in 
an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.

It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s 
story right now for two particular reasons. The 
first is because, when he was handed over to US 
forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first 
high-profile captive to be fought over in a 
tug-of-war between the FBI, which wanted to play 
by the rules, and the CIA -- backed up by the 
most hawkish figures in the White House and the 
Pentagon -- who didn’t. In an article published 
in the 
Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack 
Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for 
the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that 
his intention had been to secure evidence from 
al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two 
mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias 
Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 
attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

Crucially, Mayer reported, Cloonan advised his 
colleagues in Afghanistan to interrogate al-Libi 
with respect, “and handle this like it was being 
done right here, in my office in New York.” He 
added, “I remember talking on a secure line to 
them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the 
guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this 
will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, 
but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s 
reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a 
shining example of what we feel is right.’”

However, after reading him his rights, and taking 
turns in interrogating him with agents from the 
CIA, Cloonan and his colleagues were dismayed 
when, in spite of developing what they believed 
was “a good rapport” with him, the CIA decided 
that tougher tactics were needed, and rendered 
him to Egypt. According to an FBI officer who 
spoke to 
<http://www.newsweek.com/id/54093>Newsweek in 
2004, "At the airport the CIA case officer goes 
up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you 
know. Before you get there I'm going to find your 
mother and I'm going to f*** her.' So we lost 
that fight.” Speaking to Mayer, Jack Cloonan 
added, “At least we got information in ways that 
wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And 
no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” 
He added, “We need to show the world that we can 
lead, and not just by military might.”

In November 2005, the 
York Times reported that a Defense Intelligence 
Agency report had noted in February 2002, long 
before al-Libi recanted his confession, that his 
information was not trustworthy. As the Times 
described it, his claims “lacked specific details 
about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons 
used and the location where the training was to 
have taken place.” The report itself stated, “It 
is possible he does not know any further details; 
it is more likely this individual is 
intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn 
al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for 
several weeks and may be describing scenarios to 
the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Had anyone asked Dan Coleman, a colleague of 
Cloonan’s who also had a long history of 
successfully interrogating terrorist suspects 
without resorting to the use of torture, it would 
have been clear that torturing a confession out 
of al-Libi was a counter-productive exercise.

As Mayer explained, Coleman was “disgusted” when 
he heard about the false confession, telling her, 
“It was ridiculous for interrogators to think 
Libi would have known anything about Iraq. I 
could have told them that. He ran a training 
camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with 
Iraq. Administration officials were always 
pushing us to come up with links, but there 
weren’t any. The reason they got bad information 
is that they beat it out of him. You never get 
good information from someone that way.”

This, I believe, provides an absolutely critical 
explanation of why the Bush administration’s 
torture regime was not only morally repugnant, 
but also counter-productive, and it’s 
particularly worth noting Coleman’s comment that 
“Administration officials were always pushing us 
to come up with links, but there weren’t any.” 
However, I realize that the failure of torture to 
produce genuine evidence -- as opposed to 
intelligence that, though false, was at least 
“actionable” -- was exactly what was required by 
those, like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul 
Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby and other Iraq 
obsessives, who wished to betray America doubly, 
firstly by endorsing the use of torture in 
defiance of almost universal disapproval from 
government agencies and military lawyers, and 
secondly by using it not to prevent terrorist 
attacks, but to justify an illegal war.

Where are Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the other 79 “ghost prisoners”?

In addition, a second reason for revisiting 
al-Libi’s story emerged two weeks ago, when 
approving the use of torture by the CIA, written 
by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of 
Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, were released, 
because, in one of the memos from 2005, the 
author, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney 
General Steven G. Bradbury, revealed that a total 
of 94 prisoners had been held in secret CIA 
custody. As I 
at the time, what was disturbing about this 
revelation was not the number of prisoners held, 
because CIA director Michael Hayden admitted in 
July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 
100 people at secret facilities abroad since 
2002, but the insight that this exact figure 
provides into the supremely secretive world of 
“extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons that 
exists beyond the cases of the 14 “high-value 
detainees” who were transferred to Guantánamo 
from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

Al-Libi, of course, is one of the 80 prisoners 
whose whereabouts are unknown. There are rumors 
that, after he was fully exploited by the 
administration’s own torturers (in Poland and, 
almost certainly, other locations) and by proxy 
torturers in Egypt, he was sent back to Libya, to 
be dealt with by Colonel Gaddafi. I have no 
sympathy for al-Libi, as the emir of a camp that, 
at least in part, trained operatives for 
terrorist attacks in their home countries (in 
Europe, North Africa and the Middle East), but if 
there is ever to be a proper accounting for what 
took place in the CIA’s global network of 
“extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons, and 
proxy prisons, then al-Libi’s whereabouts, along 
with those of the other 79 men who constitute 
“America’s Disappeared” (as well as all the 
others rendered directly to third countries 
instead of to the CIA’s secret dungeons), need to be established.

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

Al-Libi’s story is, of course, disturbing enough 
as evidence of the utter contempt with which the 
Bush administration’s warmongers treated both the 
truth and the American public, but as David Rose 
explained in an article in 
Fair last December, al-Libi was not the only 
prisoner tortured until he came up with false 
confessions about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to two senior intelligence analysts who 
spoke to Rose, 
Zubaydah, the gatekeeper for the Khaldan camp, 
made a number of false confessions about 
connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, 
above and beyond one particular claim that was 
subsequently leaked by the administration: a 
patently ludicrous scenario in which Osama bin 
Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of 
al-Qaeda in Iraq) were working with Saddam 
Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish 
region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who 
worked at the Pentagon, explained, “The 
intelligence community was lapping this up, and 
so was the administration, obviously. Abu 
Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an 
operational relationship. It was everything the 
administration hoped it would be.”

However, none of the analysts knew that these 
confessions had been obtained through torture. 
The Pentagon analyst told Rose, “As soon as I 
learned that the reports had come from torture, 
once my anger had subsided I understood the 
damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that 
the higher-ups in the administration knew he was 
tortured, and that the information he was giving 
up was tainted by the torture, and that it became 
one reason to attack Iraq.” He added, “It seems 
to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective.”

This is the crucial line, of course, and its 
significance is made all the more pronounced by 
the realization that, as one of Bradbury’s 
torture memos also revealed, Zubaydah was 
subjected to 
(an ancient torture technique that involves 
controlled drowning) 83 times in August 2002. The 
administration persists in claiming that this 
hideous ordeal produced information that led to 
the capture of 
Sheikh Mohammed and 
Padilla, but we have known for years that KSM was 
seized after a walk-in informer ratted on him, 
and those of us who have been paying attention 
also know that, in the case of Padilla, the 
so-called “dirty bomber,” who spent three and a 
half years in solitary confinement in a US 
military brig until he lost his mind, there never 
was an actual “dirty bomb” plot. 
was admitted, before his torture even began, by 
deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who 
stated, in June 2002, a month after Padilla was 
captured, “I don't think there was actually a 
plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

All this leaves me with the uncomfortable 
suspicion that what the excessive waterboarding 
of Abu Zubaydah actually achieved -- beyond the 
“30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent,” 
that was “spent chasing leads that were 
bullshit,” as an FBI operative explained to David 
Rose -- were a few more blatant lies to fuel the 
monstrous deception that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

It remains to be seen if further details emerge 
to back up Maj. Burney’s story. From my extensive 
research into the stories of the Guantánamo 
prisoners, I recall only that one particular 
prisoner, an Iraqi named 
al-Karim, mentioned being questioned about Iraq. 
Released in January this year, al-Karim had been 
imprisoned by the Taliban before being handed 
over to US forces by Northern Alliance troops, 
and had been forced to endure the most outrageous 
barrage of false allegations in Guantánamo, but 
when he spoke to the review board that finally 
cleared him for release, he made a point of 
explaining, “The reason they [the US] brought me 
to Cuba is not because I did something. They 
brought me from Taliban prison to get information 
from me about the Iraqi army before the United States went to Iraq.”

However, even without further proof of specific 
confessions extracted by the administration in an 
attempt to justify its actions, the examples 
provided in the cases of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi 
and Abu Zubaydah should be raised every time that 
Cheney opens his mouth to mention the valuable 
intelligence that was extracted through torture, 
and to remind him that, instead of saving 
Americans from another terror attack, he and his 
supporters succeeding only in using lies 
extracted through torture to send more Americans 
to their deaths than died on September 11, 2001.

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: 

He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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