Sunday, September 10, 2006

Truth and torture

In his speech admitting disappearance and torture last week, George Bush claimed that torture - sorry, "alternative interrogation procedures" - was effective, and used the example of Abu Zubaydah to "prove" it. Today, the New York Times has a piece on the disputes between government officials during Zubaydah's interrogation. Initially, Zubaydah was questioned under normal procedures by the FBI, and this seemed to produce results:

In his early interviews, Mr. Zubaydah had revealed what turned out to be important information, identifying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — from a photo on a hand-held computer — as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Zubaydah also identified Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

But Mr. Zubaydah dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.

This is pretty much the truth - but it wasn't enough for the CIA, who didn't believe that a terrorist organisation would recruit such incompetents (I guess they've never looked in the mirror). So, they tortured him, subjecting him to stripping, freezing, deafening music, as well as withholding medication (Zubaydah had been shot during capture, and almost died from infected wounds), and later waterboarding. And he began to talk. But according to Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, the "intelligence" derived was not exactly useful:

Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

None of those plots turned out to be real; Zubaydah was simply telling his interrogators what they wanted to hear in an effort to get the pain to stop. And they believed him, because like the Spanish Inquisition they thought that torture guaranteed truth. Now, this vile farce is being trumpeted as an example of the "success" of the White House's policy of torture - but if that's "success", what the fuck does failure look like?


Failure, currently, looks rather like the Bush administration's farcical attempt to export democracy to the Middle East by means of napalm, phosphorus and depleted uranium.

Posted by Gary Young : 9/10/2006 09:38:00 PM

What is really really scary is just how accepting the American public have been of all this - its not like red flags were not waved.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/11/2006 05:40:00 AM

"In his early interviews, Mr. Zubaydah had revealed what turned out to be important information, identifying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — from a photo on a hand-held computer — as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks"

But the Washington Post had already published claims (which they got from an anonymous US security official) that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the chief planner of the sept 11 attacks. They published this before Zubaydah was captured and interrogated.

So while getting that intelligence again from him in interrogation might have been useful corroboration, it's hard to see it as the "crucial intelligence breakthrough" that president Bush has been claiming it was.

They caught someone, trumpeted to their bosses that they'd got one of the "big fish", and then their bosses said that on TV. After that they kept getting told to get crucial info out of him, because the boss had political capital vested in this capture being a big deal.

Typical Bush administration move. Not just morally wrong, but also mistake: evil and incompetent both at once. So damned depressing.

Posted by Icehawk : 9/11/2006 03:50:00 PM

What does failure look like? Well, eventually somebidy is likely to add Cheney's and Blair's mugshots to:

Posted by Anthony : 9/11/2006 07:21:00 PM