Saturday, April 25, 2009

Torture For Propaganda

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The Junta Party that is the GOP, as Josh Marshall puts it, is trying to get people to focus on one argument: that torture helped produce desired and necessary results. It worked, goes the fatally flawed reasoning. In an ugly twist, this is true But not in the way the Bush apologists intend. Torture through the centuries has been reliable for one thing: eliciting false confessions. And so with yesterday's news that the Bush-era torture techniques were modeled after methods used by Chinese Communists comes an ugly parallel: the confessions extracted from captured U.S. soldiers a half-century ago were famously used by the Chinese as propaganda during the Korean War.

The latest revelation from the Senate Armed Services Committee report—that we tortured for information connecting Al Qaeda and Iraq—sadly makes sense. The White House started pushing the use of torture not when only faced with a "ticking time bomb" scenario from terrorists, but when officials in 2002 were desperately looking for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. Torture in the Bush administration was a means to strengthen their case for invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney pushed for it when needing propaganda for a war of choice. The result: torture was used to elicit bad information, as it always has been.

The Senate report includes testimony from an Army psychologist at Guantanamo Bay who described increasingly relentless pressure from Washington in the summer of 2002 to use harsher methods on detainees:

"This is my opinion, even though they 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 AI Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq," Army Maj. Paul Burney told investigators. "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."

John Landy follows up on the Senate report with some reporting of his own, quoting a former senior intelligence official:

"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."

This was information, good or bad it didn't matter, that the administration could cite as being the causality for action, which is exactly what happened when Bush officials started saying that they had evidence that "Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." In his report to the UN a month before the invasion Colin Powell argued: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associated in collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida lieutenants."

What's more chilling than torturing for information? It's torturing for information that doesn't exist—and then writing legal memos that seek to retroactively cover your ass. Joby Warrick and Peter Fin write in The Washington Post: "Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded... Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said."

And so it began to spread, like a disease.

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