Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Preznit Orders "Harsh Interrogation" of Mentally Ill Al Qaeda Figure Who Knew Nothing Of Major Terror Plots

Josh Marshall at talkingpointsmemo has the details, courtesy of Ron Suskind's new book The One Percent Doctrine. The story revolves around an Al Qaeda figure named Abu Zubaydah. The administration claimed Abu Zubaydah was Al Qaeda's "Chief of Operations." But the CIA and FBI analysts who worked on him found him to be mentally ill and substantially less than what the administration was billing him to be. Here are the money quotes:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.


"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. 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."

Oh, yeah - that story makes me feel safer in the battle against terrorism. I'm glad we tortured the crazy guy until he detailed a whole variety of imaginary terror plots that the Feds had to spend time, money and manpower checking out.

Listen, I'm not saying the administration shouldn't use some heavy-handed techniques to obtain usable intelligence against Al Qaeda and/or other terrorist organizations. But the above anti-terrorism technique seems a bit, uh, counterproductive.

Of course, they may not have cared much about getting usable (and real) intelligence out of Abu Zubaydah. Maybe Abu Zubaydah's primary value was as p.r. prop to show how well the war against terror was going.

As a New Yorker who lives near Times Square and the port where many of the ocean liners come in, I really am concerned about terrorism. I want the administration to take a strong tack against the terrorists. But often times, I feel like the "war on terror" is more about domestic politics than keeping the nation safe from terrorist attacks.

Let me give you an example: before the 2004 election, my girlfriend and I used to see helicopters flying by our windows hourly. I mean that quite literally. There was always an increased police presence wherever you went in the city and there seemed to be a new terror alert every couple of weeks. The biggest one I remember was the alert about the Citicorp Building on the East Side. It turned out later that the alert was b.s. The "intelligence" detailing a supposed Al Qaeda plot against the Citicorp Building and a few other places was more than 3 years old and dated back to before 9/11. Then, after the presidential election was completed and Bush was re-elected, the terror alerts stopped. So did the helicopter flights. The police presence was decreased too.

Now perhaps Al Qaeda only wanted to hit America before the 2004 Presidential Election, but I don't believe that. Perhaps the anti-terror personnel are still out and about in NY, but now they're incognito and undercover. I can believe that some of the police personnel are undercover (I saw a homeless guy chase a purse snatcher a while ago and thought there's something you don't see every day until I realized the "homeless guy" was an undercover cop.) But so many of them? And what happened to the helicopters and the terror alerts? The only terror alert we've had since the presidential election was called by Mayor Mike Bloomberg during his own re-election campaign last October and the Feds called that one bullshit themselves. And cutting the city's anti-terror funding by 40% is just insane. even the Republicans from the NY area, like Peter King, are outraged by that administration decision.

No, I really do feel less than safe from terrorism these days. The more I learn about how this administration fights the war on terror, the less safe I feel. I am pretty confident about the NYPD. I'm pretty confident about the Port Authority cops. Maybe that's because my dad was a PA cop and I knew a lot of those guys to be real pros.

But as for the administration...

UDATE: Andrew Sullivan on the revelationns Suskind's book that Bush ordered the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a mentally ill low-level Al Qaeda figure, then lied about it and covered it up:

I trusted this president after 9/11. How can anyone trust him if Ron Suskind's account is true? The president lied to the people of this country, and then tortured a mentally ill man for information he didn't have; and covered his tracks. This shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man is still the president. God help us.

I didn't bother writing about my outrage over the torture order, the lying or the cover-up. I figured people already figure that's par for the course with the Preznit, the VP, and the rest, so why bother?

But it's nice to see some people outside of the left are still capable of outrage over this kind of shit. Not to mention that, as John McCain has said so amny times, harsh interrogation techniques and torture don't work precisely because the prisoner tells his captors exactly what he thinks they want to hear to get the pain and torture to stop. That seems to be exacly what Abu Zubaydah did. Which means the intelligence gathered is worse than worthless.

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