In the June 15 dead-tree version of The Nation (online since May 27), Jonathan Schell writes that the Iraq war was produced by torture. Everyone knows that the “war on terror” and the Iraq war produced torture, but few have focused on the reversed causal arrow. And we are still learning details of the prominent and apparently unprecedented role Vice President Dick Cheney played in approving torture and promoting war.
To document his charge, Schell references a remarkable blog post at The Washington Note penned by Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell:
what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.
So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to [Vice President Dick] Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
There in fact were no such contacts.
Wilkerson says that the intelligence agencies stopped all forms of torture after the Abu Ghraib photos. “No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.”
Schell also quotes Major Paul Burney, a former Army psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment Behavioral Science Consultation team, whose April 2006 testimony appears in the Final Report of the Senate Armed Services Committee (p. 41), declassified this past April:
“[T]his is my opinion, even though they [captives] were giving information and some of it was useful, 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 being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
The full title of that report is Inquiry Into The Treatment of Detainees In U.S. Custody,” dated November 20, 2008.
I know much of this information has appeared previously in the blogosphere, often in response to Dick Cheney’s outrageous claims about the successes of harsh techniques during the Bush years, but I wanted to note the key quotes here with original sources noted.
That same issue of The Nation includes a lengthy and disturbing review of reporter Barton Gellman’s book on Cheney (The Angler) written by NYU law professor Stephen Holmes. According to Holmes, “Gellman lavishes most of his attention on the fabrications Cheney used to enable the executive branch to circumvent constitutional checks and balances.” Again, however, it is clear that Cheney was pushing very hard to justify war against Iraq regardless of the costs or consequences. Here’s an example of how he fabricated truth to the House Majority leader in 2002:
Cheney’s “major role in bringing war to Iraq” likewise required a strategic twisting of the truth. Gellman details a private briefing in late September 2002 that Cheney provided to Republican Congressman Dick Armey, then majority leader of the House. Armey opposed an invasion of Iraq on the reasonable grounds that the United States should not attack a country that had not attacked it. Usually hawkish, Armey presented an embarrassing hurdle to the war party in the administration. As Gellman says, “If Armey could oppose the war, he gave cover to every doubter in waiting,” making him “the center of gravity of the political opposition.” Something had to be done, and Cheney did it. According to Gellman, Cheney, brandishing top-secret satellite photos, made statements about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arsenal and ties to Al Qaeda that he knew to be erroneous: “In the privacy of his office, for this one crucial vote, Cheney leveled claims he had not made before and did not make again.” Some of these claims “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.” Gellman concludes that Cheney deliberately told Armey “things he knew to be untrue,” bamboozling a Congressional leader of his own party just long enough to extract a go-ahead vote. Having been preapproved on false pretenses by a gullible or complicit Congress, the misbegotten invasion was launched six months later.
Read the entire review.