Lawrence Wilkerson Drops an Iraq-Torture Bombshell

On Wednesday, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson dropped a bombshell (h/t Heather):

what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)

On April 21, McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay first suggested the Bush Administration used torture to intentionally extract false confessions linking Al Qaeda (and 9/11) to Iraq, to give Bush a false "casus belli" to invade Iraq.

Landay’s suggestion was shocking. I called it the "Iraq-Torture Scandal" because of its similarity to the Iran-Contra Scandal, where two seemingly unconnected scandals (Reagan’s illegal sale of weapons to Iran and his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan contras) were suddenly linked. Paul Krugman called it the "Grand unified scandal":

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

A number of prominent progressives came to the same conclusion, including Keith Olbermann (who calls it "backfilling"), Rachel Maddow, Ron Suskind, Frank Rich, and Dan Froomkin. But serious coverage of this humongous scandal did not go beyond progressives.

Why? First, because Landay is not a TV regular like investigative reporters Seymour Hersh or Michael Isikoff, although his work is just as good. Second, because his two sources didn’t quite prove the scandal.

His first source was anonymous – "a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue" – which undercut his/her impact. And this source made the "Iraq-Al Qaeda" motive secondary to "preventing another attack."

"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."

Landay’s second source was former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, who told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.
"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

Landay did not specify when Burney’s interrogations were taking place, but it was after December 2002. That was still during the pre-war sales campaign (the invasion began on March 19, 2003), but it was long after the fall "product rollout" when Bush, Cheney, and Rice repeatedly insisted they had proof from Al Qaeda captives of Iraq ties. That story came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose false confession in Egypt was much earlier – in February 2002.

So Wilkerson’s account is a bombshell for three reasons. First, he is well-known – and credible. Second, he says the desire to manufacture an Iraq-Al Qaeda link was the principal priority – not secondary to preventing another attack.

Its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

Third, he pushes the timeline back to "April and May of 2002" – not as far back as February 2002, but getting close.

The "smoking gun" of the Iraq-Torture Scandal will be proof that the CIA took Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi away from the FBI in February 2002 and sent him to Egypt for one specific reason: to use torture to extract a false confession of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties.

Lawrence Wilkerson’s account takes us much closer to finding that "smoking gun." And al-Libi’s mysterious death guarantees that everyone will be looking for it.

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