Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Did America Go To War Because False Information Was Extracted By Torture?

Dear Colleagues:
We now know that the claim that Iraq was training Al Qaeda in the use of chemical and biological weapons -- which was one of the major grounds given for going to war with Iraq -- was almost surely false. Perhaps there is still a sliver of possibility that the claim was true, but nonetheless, to reiterate, in fact it was almost surely false.

It is also known now that the major source for the false claim was a senior Al Qaeda leader, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Pakistan a few months after 9/11 and who later recanted when confronted by conflicting information (which apparently came from other captured Al Qaeda leaders). Apparently, the CIA does not know whether al-Libi, made his original false claim because he was trying to deceive interrogators or because he was telling them what he believed they wished to hear.

There is one truly crucial aspect of this matter that, as far as I know, has been completely overlooked thus far by the media. The Times of Saturday, July 31, said that al-Libi "is still being held by the Central Intelligence Agency at a secret interrogation center, and American officials say his now-recanted claims raise new questions about the value of the information obtained from such detainees." The underlying point implied in this is what the media have ignored, as far as I know.

That underlying point is that the secret detention centers were established in foreign countries -- such as Thailand and Egypt if I remember correctly -- so that Al Qaeda members could be tortured. If memory serves, the executive branch came up with some cock and bull legal theory that American law governing its conduct would not be violated if the torture occurred in foreign countries and the forces of those nations participated in it.* (If memory again serves, George Bush -- who almost certainly knew that torture was occurring -- said he didn’t know and didn’t want to know where the secret centers were. Perhaps he thought his ignorance would help immunize him from being guilty of a crime with regard to torture.) Because al-Libi made his now recanted claim at one of our secret detention centers, the question arises of whether he made his false claim under torture, perhaps because he thought the claim was what the Americans wanted to hear and would cause them to stop the torture, at least temporarily.

If one considers this possibility, it is little wonder that, as the media have said, the 9/11 Commission gave only brief mention to the fact that "‘an Al Qaeda operative’" had backed off the now recanted claim, and that the Senate Intelligence Committee discussed the matter (more extensively, apparently) in parts of its report that are still secret. For it plainly would be political and moral dynamite for the upcoming election if it became publicly known that information which in major part led to the war was not only almost certainly false, as we now already know, but that the lie was extracted by torture -- which many Americans, prominently including military people, strongly oppose. Let me put it this way: What would George Bush’s chances of reelection be if it came out that he not only told falsehoods (in plain language told lies) to get us into war, but that his administration extracted the war enabling lies by torture? Were this horrible possibility to be true and to become known, the chances might be pretty good that even the not very appealing Kerry would win the election by the greatest landslide since the not very appealing Johnson smashed Goldwater and the equally unappealing Nixon creamed McGovern. After all, even lots of Republicans are now sickened by Bush’s conduct in Iraq, and were it to be true and to become known that we got into the war largely by false statements obtained by torturing people, Republicans might be likely to stay home in droves on election day. The only thing that might hold down Kerry’s margin of victory would be that, with Bush a sure loser anyway, lots of us might vote for Nader to show what we really think about the fraudulent politicians and the morally crooked political parties of this country.

So . . . . what is the fact, what is the truth, about the circumstances surrounding al-Libi’s initial but now recanted claim that Iraq was training Al Qaeda in the use of chemical and biological weapons? Was it made under torture or something akin to torture? It may be that the Senate Intelligence Committee knows and cast light on the matter in secret parts of its report. It may be that the matter is discussed in a secret 20 page CIA report on prewar intelligence that is now being reviewed by John McLaughin, the Acting Director of the CIA. Regardless, however, it is crucial that the media push for and that we learn the truth. For the truth here is crucial both as a matter of morality and as an electoral matter -- not to mention its bearing on possible criminality at the highest levels.

One last point which flows from all this. It is also important to learn the truth because, were it to be true and become known that torture played a role in obtaining al-Libi’s initial, war-facilitating claim, this would not only be likely to ensure Kerry’s election, but would be of immense help to Democrats in putting pressure on Kerry to get out of Iraq immediately if not sooner if he is elected President. And, if the Democrats do not put pressure on Kerry, then, judging by everything Kerry has said and had Democrat platform makers say, he will do in Iraq exactly what George Bush is doing. Put differently, Kerry will have a huge number of American troops in Iraq for years, just as Bush will. Regardless of whether Kerry gets other nations too to put in troops -- and will any other country in its right mind in fact do that given the guerrilla war raging in Iraq? -- the American people will not stand for three or four more years of involvement in guerrilla war in Iraq and large numbers of American deaths there. As said here previously, continuing involvement in the war in Iraq would wreck a Kerry presidency just as surely as war wrecked Wilson’s second term, Truman’s presidency, Johnson’s presidency, Nixon’s presidency and now the second Bush’s presidency. It is in the Democrats’ political interest to insist that the truth came out right away about whether al-Libi’s initial claim was the result of torture or something akin to it.**

*This was on top of the Executive’s other cock and bull constitution-destroying theory that the President as Commander-in-Chief can ignore the law if he chooses to.
**If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at velvel@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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