November 09, 2007

Rendering al-Libi

One of the reasons I find the Bush years like the Twilight Zone is how often references to evil keep coming back year after year after year. And each time they come back, we Americans are more complicit in the evil done in our name.

This week Frontline covered the horrific practice of Extraordinary Rendition where the US Government outsources torture to our allies. One of the cases they talked about is one I remember. Two years ago this week, I wrote about the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who had illegally rendered to Egypt in order to get him to "provide more details."

And another thing that has been bugging me the past couple of days is the number of times I've heard reports accusing the al Qaeda prisoner, al-Libi, of being a liar. How does anyone condemn him of being a liar when the reason he "lied" was because he was being tortured?

Reading Douglas Jehl's piece it was clear that al-Libi had been tortured.

The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda's work with illicit weapons.

Intentionally misleading the debriefers.... do you think that was before or after they shipped him off to Egypt?

His interrogators "knew" that he had essential information that they could not get any other way:

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

Remember what the reports said?

In outlining reasons for its skepticism, the D.I.A. report noted that Mr. Libi's claims lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.

"It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers," the February 2002 report said. "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."

al-Libi is an important case to discuss, because as Stephen Grey reported in that Frontline piece, the "evidence" that was extracted from al-Libi under torture was not used to save the lives of thousands of people, but rather was responsible for causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

al-Libi is famous because his confessions were used by the Bush administration to make the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And the reason that the al-Libi story is so controversial is because it is so apparent that the only reason he came up with such bad information was because he was being tortured and was trying (desperately) to come up with things that his interrogators wanted to hear.

The al-Libi case covers the entire gambit of arguments about torture. Jason Vest's piece in mid-2005 reveals the vigorous struggle between the FBI (who believed that torture is morally wrong AND produces bad information) and the CIA (who have been corrupted by the lure of torture as a way to get information).

Wednesday Stephen Grey wrote for ABC's The Blotter:

Under torture after his rendition to Egypt, al Libi had provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations a year earlier (February 2003) to justify the war in Iraq. ("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. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.")

But now, hearing how the information was obtained, the CIA was soon to retract all this intelligence. A Feb. 5 cable records that al Libi was told by a "foreign government service" (Egypt) that: "the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq...This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story."

Al Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then "placed him in a small box approximately 50cm X 50cm [20 inches x 20 inches]." He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al Libi claims that he was given a last opportunity to "tell the truth." When al Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al Libi claimed that "he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back." Al Libi told CIA debriefers that he then "was punched for 15 minutes." (Sourced to CIA cable, Feb. 5, 2004).

Here was a cable then that informed Washington that one of the key pieces of evidence for the Iraq war -- the al Qaeda/Iraq link -- was not only false but extracted by effectively burying a prisoner alive.

So the United States Government decided that al-Libi had information he wasn't providing and the only way (ticking timebomb, you know) to get him to cough up was to take "enhanced interrogation" one step further. And that extra step provided a wealth of information that led to the Iraq invasion. Yet, none of the information that was obtained under torture was valid. Rather it was the product of tactics that lead to confession, whether or not there was anything to confess.

During that bleak winter when last our national discourse obsessed about the effectiveness of torture, Vladimir Bukovsky warned us of how corrupting a torture state can be. He spoke from experience having been tortured by one of the most infamous torture states under the Stalin regime.

One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."

...This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes.

With the confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey as Attorney General, one cannot but fear that we are descending into the hell that was the destination of those human societies that did not give sufficient weight to moral and ethical standards and the rule of law. Rather we have squandered morality and ethics in expedient actions that returned less than nothing: no security, no safety and no honor. That is the legacy of Bush and Cheney.

By the way: no one knows where al-Libi is today. He has been "disappeared" by Bush. Perhaps because his very testimony is such an indictment of Bush and his embrace of the Torture Regime.

Posted by Mary at November 9, 2007 01:34 PM | Human Rights | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |

Oxford audience greeted DeLay’s claims with “derisive laughter”

Posted by: ccoaler at November 10, 2007 06:39 AM

This is the part that has troubled me almost as much as the immorality and illegality of torture; it does not work. It has been proven time and time again that torture does not work. But then again, we have an administration that has followed a path of doing things that do not work, so ....

Posted by: Scott at November 10, 2007 05:17 PM