Sunday, November 06, 2005

The al-Libi case: why torture doesn't "work"

Breaking news from Douglas Jehl (Sunday's NYT):
A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers’’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.
[...] Mr. Libi, who was captured in Pakistan at the end of 2001, recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the C.I.A., a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the Sept. 11 commission. [...] Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda.’’ At the time of Mr. Powell’s speech, an unclassified statement by the C.I.A. described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as “credible.’’ But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time stated “the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.’’
[...] The D.I.A. document gave no indication of where he was being held, or what interrogation methods were used on him. Mr. Libi remains in custody, apparently at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was sent in 2003, according to government officials.
Yeah, good question: what interrogation methods were used on Libi? Were they "quaint" or did "the gloves come off?" Remind me again: how'd that work out for you? There is good evidence that Libi's confession was obtained via torture.

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

I first read about Mr. Libi's case in a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer (Feb 2005). Mayer described how an interagency power-struggle for custody of Libi unfolded and ultimately compromised the value of Libi's 'confession':
A few months after September 11th, the U.S. gained custody of its first high-ranking Al Qaeda figure, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. He had run bin Laden’s terrorist training camp in Khalden, Afghanistan, and was detained in Pakistan. [...] At the F.B.I.’s field office in New York, Jack Cloonan, an officer who had worked for the agency since 1972, struggled to maintain control of the legal process in Afghanistan. C.I.A. and F.B.I. agents were vying to take possession of Libi. [...] [Cloonan] advised his F.B.I. colleagues in Afghanistan to question Libi respectfully, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He recalled, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’ ” Cloonan’s F.B.I. colleagues advised Libi of his rights and took turns with C.I.A. agents in questioning him. After a few days, F.B.I. officials felt that they were developing a good rapport with him. The C.I.A. agents, however, felt that he was lying to them, and needed tougher interrogation. To Cloonan’s dismay, the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. [...] After Libi was taken to Egypt, the F.B.I. lost track of him. Yet he evidently played a crucial background role in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s momentous address to the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, which argued the case for a preëmptive war against Iraq. [...] Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”
Here's the most important message of the Libi story: even if you can hold your nose and steel your heart to tolerate torture, it doesn't work.


Blogger James Bowie said...

I'm reminded of the film "Reservoir Dogs," the part where Nice Guy Eddie stops them from beating the cop.

What exactly did he say...

Eddie: "Why you beatin' on him"

Mr. Pink: "Maybe he can tell us who the Fuck set us up."

Eddie: "If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the God Dammed Chicago fire - now that don't necessarily make it fucking so."

Then, of course, Mr. Blonde chops off the guy's ear, and the rest is history. They never figured out who set them up. (except for Mr. Black, of course, but he got shot right after.)

I love that movie.

11/06/2005 3:02 AM  
Blogger Godammitkitty said...

That's perfect! *and* it reminds me to go watch that movie again...although I have to cover my eyes during the "ear part." BTW, I like your Bowie's blog! Thanks for visiting :)

11/06/2005 3:11 AM  
Blogger James Bowie said...

Hey man, anytime. I'm new to this blog stuff. All very exciting.

Keep on trucking.

11/06/2005 3:42 AM  
Blogger John Murney said...

good column, gdk, and great blog!

11/06/2005 3:55 AM  
Blogger Godammitkitty said...

Thanks, John! :)

11/06/2005 12:55 PM  

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