Using torture to find the non-existent link

USING TORTURE TO FIND THE NON-EXISTENT LINK…. Most of the defenses for torture involve some variation on a Jack Bauer fantasy — to stop the proverbial ticking time-bomb, U.S. officials have to be able to do literally anything to acquire intelligence to save lives.

There are all kinds of problems with this, of course, most notably the fact that “24” is a fictional television program. But as new evidence comes to light about the Bush administration’s policies, it’s also worth noting that life-saving wasn’t always the goal of torture.

The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge of the interrogation issue told McClatchy, “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

The official added, “Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA … and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”

That was considered the wrong answer, so senior administration “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information.”

This was bolstered by the testimony of Maj. Charles Burney, a former Army psychiatrist, who told Army investigators that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

We know what the Bush administration did. We’re starting to get an even better sense of why they did it. As was often the case with these officials, they started with the answer — the non-existent link between Iraq and al Qaeda — and worked backwards.

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