Torture and the Vice President

TORTURE AND THE VICE PRESIDENT….As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s New York Times carries a story about Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured shortly after 9/11. According to a newly declassified memo, not only did al-Libi provide us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use WMD, but U.S. intelligence had a pretty good idea the information was false as early as 2002. Colin Powell nonetheless presented this to the UN as credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs in February 2003, shortly before we invaded Iraq.

Via Atrios, it turns out that we had excellent reasons to be skeptical of al-Libi’s testimony. As Newsweek reported last year, al-Libi was one of the first test cases for Dick Cheney’s campaign to introduce torture as a standard interrogation technique overseas, replacing the FBI’s more mainstream methods:

Al-Libi’s capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government’s internal debates over interrogation methods….”They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo” for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. “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.”

No wonder DIA was skeptical of al-Libi’s information. Not only did the details of his testimony seem inconsistent with known facts, but DIA knew perfectly well he had given up this information only under torture and was probably just saying anything that came to mind in order to get it to stop.

As Mark Kleiman points out, this is the pragmatic case against torture: not only is it wrong, but it doesn’t even provide reliable information anyway ? and it makes Cheney’s relentless moral cretinism on the subject all the worse. Larry Wilkerson, who investigated this back when he was Colin Powell’s chief of staff, confirms that “there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office” that authorized the practices that led to the abuse of detainees, and Cheney continues to vigorously support the use of torture to this day, pressuring Congress behind closed doors not to pass John McCain’s anti-torture legislation. As Andrew Sullivan says:

A man who avoided service in Vietnam is lecturing John McCain on the legitimacy of torturing military detainees. But notice he won’t even make his argument before Senate aides, let alone the public. Why not? If he really believes that the U.S. has not condoned torture but wants to reserve it for exceptional cases, why not make his argument in the full light of day? You know: where democratically elected politicians operate.

If conservatives dislike Dick Durbin’s comparison of American practices to those of Hitler and Stalin, they should make clear to Dick Cheney that America doesn’t condone the practices of Hitler and Stalin. Because apparently, the vice president of the United States does condone them. Vigorously. It’s enough to make any decent human being puke.