'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Remember the Bush administration official who told Ron Susskind that we make our own reality? In the faith based presidency, facts were worse than irrelevant, they were an impediment to be brushed aside in a messianic effort to reshape the world.

But, as the senior advisor told Susskind, the Bush administration did more than just disregard facts and reasoned analysis, they actively sought to manufacture a new truth in the absence of any evidentiary support for it. And, as we now know, the means that they used to do so were odious:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation and stress positions and waterboarding, which simulates drowning, insist that they were legal.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"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."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"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."

Senior administration officials, however, "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," he said.

So, of course, the interrogators just did what they were told, even though they knew that if they broke the will of the detainees, and got them to affirm a connection between Hussein and Bin Laden, it was false. Furthermore, such a gross lie, analogous to the propaganda disseminated by Goebbels to justify the annexation of the Sudetenland and the invasion of Poland, would have been used to create public support for an even more violent and aggressive militarism. And, yet, they pushed harder.

Meanwhile, in Congress, they didn't want to know. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Better to have a vague sense of what was happening, and avoid any responsibility to take action. That's now the official version that people like Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have adopted as the best of bad alternatives to explain their passivity.

But that's apparently another attempt to make their own reality:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

In the first years following 9/11, the sadomasochistic allure of torture was such that nearly everyone in DC was seduced by it. According to Human Rights Watch, Rumsfeld personally participated in the torture of a purported al-Qaeda detainee at Guantanamo in 2002 and 2003. Members of Congress were transfixed by the raw exercise of such brutality, and willingly entered into a relationship of servility with the Bush administration.

As an aside, there is one last note. The McClatchy article quoted above implies that only high value targets, an apparent euphemism for important al-Qaeda operatives, were subjected to harsh interrogation practices. We know, however, that this implication is erroneous, an attempt to deceive the public into believing that US officials resorted to torture in an infrequent and calculated way. We need only be reminded of the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo generally, and Binyam Mohammed and Maher Arar more specifically, to see through this manipulation.

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