Torture and the Al-Qaeda/Iraq Connection:
The New York Times reports:
  The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.
  The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
  The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.
bindare4u (mail):
On what basis did Clinton and Richard Clark base their contention of a Al Quida / Iraq connection?
12.9.2005 6:35pm
Orangutan (mail):
Despite the movies and tv shows, torture doesn't work.
I should know.
I'm married.

Ba dum bum.
Try the veil.
12.9.2005 6:44pm
John (mail):
Is the Times setting up a straw man here? I seem to remember only the most glancing connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda given as a reason to invade during the run-up to the war; most of it was WMD, establish democracy, get rid of a brutal dictator, etc.

H.J.Res. 144 (10/10/02) (together with the identical Senate S.J.Res. 45) lists the reasons we went to war in its Whereas clauses. There were 23 such clauses. The closest I could find to a link with Al Qaeda was the statement that we might invade "to end [Iraq's] support for international
terrorism," and that Iraq was "supporting and harboring terrorist organizations."

I don't think the Times articles casts any particular doubt on these passages. If so, I am sure some one will explain.
12.9.2005 7:13pm
Christopher M. (mail):
John --

I seem to remember only the most glancing connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda given as a reason to invade during the run-up to the war

You must be kidding. A supposed Iraq-al-Qaeda connection was one of the administration's main talking points in the build-up to the war. For example, this article lists many examples (in the context of reporting the Sept. 11 Commission's finding that there was no real connection at all).
12.9.2005 7:25pm
Of course, the cynic in me suggests that as far as certain people are concerned, this just proves that torture DOES work--it gets people to say what you want them to say.
12.9.2005 7:46pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Christopher M - Almost all of the Admin comments in the WaPo article were made after we resumed the war with Iraq in March 2003. They can't be used to claim that the Admin hyped the connection before the war resumed.
12.9.2005 7:50pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
These are all the comments cited in the article. Only two seem to have occured before the war resumed:

June 17, 2004 Date of article;

"earlier this year, Cheney said"

"As recently as Monday, Cheney said"

"In late 2001, Cheney said" [Atta met in Prague]

"Bush, in his speech aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003"

"In September [2003?], Cheney said"

"In January [2004?], Cheney repeated"

"In October 2002, Bush described Zarqawi,"

"In March [2003? 2004?], in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tenet described"

The WaPo with all of Lexis/Nexis at its call can only get two hits from before the shooting resumed.
12.9.2005 8:03pm
How about this?

Q Your CIA Director told Congress just last month that it appears that Saddam Hussein "now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks against the United States." But if we attacked him he would "probably become much less constrained." Is he wrong about that?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I think that -- I think that if you would read the full -- I'm sure he said other sentences. Let me just put it to you, I know George Tenet well. I meet with him every single day. He sees Saddam Hussein as a threat. I don't know what the context of that quote is. I'm telling you, the guy knows what I know, that he is a problem and we must deal with him.

And, you know, it's like people say, oh, we must leave Saddam alone; otherwise, if we did something against him, he might attack us. Well, if we don't do something, he might attack us, and he might attack us with a more serious weapon. The man is a threat, Hutch, I'm telling you. He's a threat not only with what he has, he's a threat with what he's done. He's a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda. In my Cincinnati speech, I reminded the American people, a true threat facing our country is that an al Qaeda-type network trained and armed by Saddam could attack America and leave not one fingerprint. That is a threat. And we're going to deal with it.
12.9.2005 8:09pm
Oops--remove the "u" in front of the link.
12.9.2005 8:12pm
Or this:

My job is not only to protect America today, but to anticipate problems, as well. And obviously I started a significant and important debate about Iraq. I did because I -- because I understand the threat of Iraq. This is a country that said he would have no weapons of mass destruction, and he does. This is a country that has defied the United Nations 11 straight years, 16 different resolutions. He's completely ignored the international body. This is a country who has made it clear he'd like to have a nuclear weapon. And when our inspectors -- or the inspectors went into the country right after the Gulf War, it was estimated that they were months away from having a nuclear weapon. This is a country that hates America, hates the people in the neighborhood. This is a country which has invaded two countries unprovoked. This is a country, the leadership of which has actually used weapons of mass destruction on its own people, on citizens who disagreed with him. This is a country who gassed its neighbor s. This is a dangerous man.

Prior to September the 11th, 2001, we thought two oceans would protect us. We thought we could kind of step back, and say, this may be somebody else's problem, in another part of the world, and we may or may deal with it. After September the 11th, we've entered into a new era and a new war. This is a man that we know has had connections with al Qaeda. This is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army. And this is a man that we must deal with for the sake of peace, for the sake of our children's peace.
12.9.2005 8:19pm
I suck at links. Go to:

It is under 10/14, the McCotter dinner speech
12.9.2005 8:23pm
Go around saying "Iraq delenda est" enough, and people will associate it with whatever else you're condemning. Even if the Bush administration didn't outright say Saddam=Al Qaeda, I find it hard to believe that they weren't aware of, and pleased by, the large number of people who drew that inference.
12.9.2005 8:26pm
By the way, I apologize for my immoral behavior (posting things the President actually said might harm the war effort!).
12.9.2005 8:34pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
Medis said: "By the way, I apologize for my immoral behavior (posting things the President actually said might harm the war effort!)."

Especially with no grammatical corrections...
12.9.2005 10:47pm
Steve K:
I'm confused as to what Medis is arguing. The Iraq/Al Qaida connection was never that important a part of the argument in going to war—going over all the speeches, including what Medis quotes, confirms this quite well. I've been defending the war for years and looking over old emails I don't think I ever brought this up—I didn't because it wasn't central, not because the Bush people said it a lot and I wasn't aware of what they claimed.

That said, it's worth noting that many felt there was a connection, we know from old polls, before Bush even opened his mouth on the issue. (In fact, many saw a connection—properly, I think—-between terrorism and Iraq before Bush was President.) All the anti-Iraq language (mostly accurate) pre-2000 seems to have gone down the memory hole.

Furthermore, we now actually see, for what it's worth, many connection between terrorists (including Al Qaida) and Iraq. Just because The New York Times thinks it significant that there's a problem with one minor point of a minor branch of a bigger argument, and is backed up by the Washington Post (thanks Christopher M.) doesn't mean too much. I mean these are the same people who still can't (can't or won't) get the story straight about Iraq and uranium in Africa.
12.9.2005 11:01pm
18 USC 1030 (mail):
Though the WMD's and Saddam being "a bad man" were the reasons for which we went to war, they could not justify the war at this time. In order to do that, the president discussed the connection between Iraq and AQ. WMDs were the reasons but in order to justify the war, the president said they are working with AQ, they have WMDs, and they are an imediate threat. But for the supposed connection between Iraq and AQ, the president would have had no justification as to why Saddam was an imediate threat rather than being the threat known for 15 years.
12.9.2005 11:31pm
zschach (mail):
Not one poster wants to defend the efficacy of torture? I, for one, don't appreciate the tone of the NYTimes article because it fails to take into account the possibility that Libi had firsthand knowledge of a suitcase nuke in New York that would be detonated in less than 24 hours- not enough time for Jack Bauer to save us from nuclear winter and the eventual threat of mutated super-monkeys.
12.9.2005 11:58pm
18 USC 1030 (mail):
Another point I believe is quite telling, after reading the article is the following quote:

A classified Defense Intelligence Agency report issued in February 2002 that expressed skepticism about Mr. Libi's credibility on questions related to Iraq and Al Qaeda was based in part on the knowledge that he was no longer in American custody when he made the detailed statements, and that he might have been subjected to harsh treatment, the officials said. They said the C.I.A.'s decision to withdraw the intelligence based on Mr. Libi's claims had been made because of his later assertions, beginning in January 2004, that he had fabricated them to obtain better treatment from his captors.

It seems to me that the C.I.A. believed the "intelligence" was gathered as a result of torture and because of that, they did not trust the information. It seems the C.I.A not only articulates a message against torture; but rather, that the C.I.A., in practice, believes torture to be ineffective in that the likelihood is far too great that a person exposed to such treatment would inevitably say whatever they believed the interrogators wanted to hear in order to mitigate the pain inflicted.

Why then, if the C.I.A. believes torture is ineffective to the degree that they don't implement it (assuming they don't) as well as to the degree that they don't trust evidence obtained via torture from other nations, does the administration not only rely on information obtained via torture but also fight for the supposed right of the president to institute torture if he believes it necessary?

It is time the administration allows some decisions to be made bottom up; from the people that actually know what is going on. It is absurd for the C.I.A. to be against torture and the administration to rely on it. It is equally absurd for the administration to believe it is possible for circumstances to exist that which would require/justify the president's initiation of interrogation methods based on torture. No longer is it in theory that torture doesn't provide any benefit, it is now proof-positive; torture provides nothing more than what the interrogator wants to hear.
12.10.2005 12:00am
zschach (mail):
While I agree that the false Iraq-Al Qaeda link was secondary to the false WMD argument, here's more documentation (report by PBS on Powell's speech before the UN):

After the list of claims against Iraqi weapons programs, Powell moved on to Iraq's alleged connections to terrorism and the al-Qaida terrorist network.

"[W]hat I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder," Powell said.

Powell accused Iraq of harboring Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the head of a "deadly terrorist network" and an "associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants."

According to Powell, Zarqawi traveled to Baghdad for medical treatment in May 2002 and stayed in the Iraqi capital for some two months.

"During this stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there," Powell explained. "These al-Qaida affiliates, based in Baghdad, now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months."

Powell also said that an al-Qaida detainee told U.S. officials that Saddam became more willing to assist the terrorist network after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

"Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al Qaida together," Powell said, adding that Iraq's denials of links with al-Qaida are "simply not credible."
12.10.2005 12:21am
zschach (mail):
Here's the revisionist Loretta Napoleoni in Foreign Policy magazine:
But how did myth become reality? Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government had never heard the name Zarqawi. The first time U.S. officials learned of his existence was near the end of 2001, from the Kurdish secret service. The U.S. government knew little about the 35-year-old Jordanian, but they had much to gain from the creation of his myth. At the time, Saddam’s regime stood accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist outfits. Without hard proof of the former, Saddam’s support of terror was the only trump card the Bush administration had to convince the world that the Iraqi dictator had to go. To play it, the administration needed to demonstrate a link between Saddam and al Qaeda. Their link was Zarqawi.
12.10.2005 12:26am
steve k:
The case for war was made easily, and is just as true in retrospect. The only question that really counted, in should we discontinue the shaky truce that existed with Iraq (our official policy in the 90s was regime change), and after we gave Saddam several extra chances in the UN and he still didn't comply, was this: did Saddam represent a true danger to the US. His connections to terror, his bellicosity, his intentions and his ability (and plans) to make WMDs all pointed toward moving in after 9/11 (i.e, after we don't give him the benefit of the doubt). The evidence given by the Bush Administration, as a whole, essentially got it right, and nothing we've discovered since should make us doubt that we were correct. Luckily for those who oppose the war, the danger he represented can be discounted entirely now, while dangers that exist today (which always feel more urgent that potential danger we avoided) can be emphasized.
12.10.2005 4:20am
Steve K,

I'm not sure what you mean by calling the arguments I quoted "minor", particularly in light of your last post. As you note, the President had to make a case that Saddam was a growing threat to the United States in order to generate popular support for his notion of a preemptive war. You actually list the three major claims underlying that case: that Saddam wanted to attack the United States, that he had or was close to getting WMDs like nukes or biological weapons, and that he would use his ties with international terrorist organizations like AQ to supply them with WMDs that they could then use against the United States. That's how the Administration built the case for the infamous notion of not waiting to invade Iraq until there were mushroom clouds over US cities.

As it turns out, only one of those three claims was "essentially" correct (the first: that Saddam wanted to attack the United States). He didn't have WMDs like nukes or biological weapons and he wasn't close to getting them. He also did not have substantial ties to terrorist organizations like AQ that would use WMDs to attack the United States (he did have ties to other terrorist organizations, but if they ever got WMDs, they would use them on a certain country much closer to Iraq).

Of course, the supposedly growing threat of a 9/11-style terrorist attack with WMDs supplied by Iraq was not the Administration's only reason for invading Iraq. Indeed, it seems that within the Administration, many people did not consider this an important argument. But it was clearly a necessary component of their case to the American people, meaning that without this particular argument, they could not have persuaded the American people that invading Iraq on the proposed timetable was in the national interest.
12.10.2005 7:27am
18 USC 1030 (mail):
Steve K,

I think you make a mistake in viewing anyone that is questioning this as being anti-war. I was, at the begining of this quite pro-war. Why? Because my president went on T.V. and told me why it was important that we go to war, though not the most articualte suave man ever to hold the position, Bush did a decent job of convincing most Americans (including many in both houses of congress) that war with Iraq was necessary. I see what you are saying about possible danger not be realized necessarily until it is too late.

However, there is a flaw in your logic: yes, if the administration carried out all intelligence gathering missions "by the book" and through those chanels got the information that saddam had a WMD, wanted to attack the US, and had close ties to AQ, then whether or not the information proved accurate it would be "acceptable" in that the administration what it thought best to protect the American people. Only problem is that's not what happened here. The administration, it seems, by this article (and I assume more will come out in the future) that the administration knowingly relied on information that was less than accurate, obtained via methods contrary to law (i.e. TORTURE). This information the C.I.A. was unabl to substantiate, nor did they view the data as credible. Yet, the administration used it in order to convince the American people that we should be going to war.

It is not un-American to question our government; rather, it is un-American not to question our government to ensure our government is doing what we want it to as well as doing what they say they are doing. So, because one were pro-war from the start does not mean that they must continue that line in order to be the "strong American." If the government had made a strong case about the war, that proved incorrect, I'd accept it being that obviously hindsight is 20/20. My problem is it seems as though we were lied to, or at least precluded the right to see certain facts. These lies and or omissions were the basis for which we went to Iraq; that bothers me. Why have two wars in two countries if one of those countries does not pose any immediate threat? I'm not saying Saddam wasn't a bad guy; he was. However, the reason we went into Iraq when we did was not because Saddam was a bad guy; but rather, because we were told Saddam had WMDs and ties to AQ and he was going to provide a WMD to AQ to use in a terrorist attack. If we had strong intelligence saying that, if proved wrong, it would still hold much more credibility than this cherade.
12.10.2005 12:45pm
Alan Meese (mail):
Why does the NYT assume that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is telling the truth now? As an Al-Qaeda operative, he has every incentive to lie about a connection between Iraq and his organization, which is currently allied with the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Such a lie would tend to undermine (very slightly) the case for the war against Iraq, and therefore reduce support for continuing the war here in the US.

Plus, why would the Egyptians have an incentive to force Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to claim there was such a connection? Did the Egyptians want us to invade Iraq? I don't think so.

Note also that the Clinton Administration said there was a connection between Iraq and Bin Laden long before Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi did.
12.10.2005 1:20pm
crane (mail):
Just a few thoughts on the standard pro-torture "New York will be nuked in one hour unless you make a terrorist talk" argument:

1. How can you be sure that the guy you have in custody really knows where the nuke is hidden?

2. How can you know there's really a nuke? Maybe the guy you have in custody made it all up to cause a panic, or because he's afraid you'll just kill him if he has no intelligence value.

3. Most importantly, if there is a bomb and the terrorist does know where it is, all he has to do is hold out for that one hour. If you stop the torture whenever he gives you a location, he can just keep you busy checking fake sites; if you don't stop, he has no incentive to tell you anything.

So, under this hypohetical situation, what practical benefit does the interrogator derive from the use of torture as opposed to standard interrogation techniques?
12.10.2005 3:04pm
Crane: As I've heard it, torture is primarily useful in non-time-intensive situations: You ask him questions you know the answer to until he lies, then torture him until he tells the truth. Rinse and repeat until he's no longer willing to lie about the stuff you know. Then mix in some questions you don't know the answer to, throwing in enough questions you know the answer to so you know he's still broken.

Takes a fairly long time, but works, and is far more immoral than torturing him for the hour before the bomb goes off.
12.10.2005 7:28pm
Jim Miller (mail) (www):
Military intelligence is often wrong. This seems obvious to me, and I think almost anyone with even a casual acquaintance with military history would agree with that generalization.

That some of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was accepted by both the Clinton and the Bush administrations -- and was wrong -- is just what I would expect. Your enemy is trying to fool you, and often succeeds. And you, since people are imperfect, often fool yourself. The CIA badly underestimated Sadam's biological, chemical, and nuclear programs before 1991. (And other friendly intelligence services may have done so, as well.) And they often missed things during the inspection period after the first Gulf War.

Given that record of failure by the CIA, and the general difficulty of getting military intelligence correct, failures such as this one are as surprising as cold weather during January in Fairbanks, Alaska.

(If, of course, the story is correct. The leaks by CIA officials intending to cause problems for the Bush administration have not stopped. One can only wish that the CIA was as good at undermining enemy governments as they are at undermining an elected American president.)
12.10.2005 8:01pm
crane (mail):
JB - Thanks, that makes a lot more sense. Of course, I've never seen anyone go on TV and talk specifically about that type of torture to defend torture in general, for obvious reasons. It's always, "Of course torture is repulsive, but wouldn't anyone with a shred of morality do it in this time-intensive situation where the penalty for failure is death for millions of people?"
12.10.2005 10:06pm

Torture might work in such circumstances, but it might not. Some people simply never break.

Incidentally, this approach is incompatible with other long-term techniques (eg, trust building) that I understand have a much better track record of success.
12.11.2005 7:27am
Fishbane (mail):
I love how apologists always fall back on "well, Clinton thought so, too."

The obvious rejoiner is that Clinton didn't start a war. One can argue about why, certainly. But the standard Republican line about responsibility for one's actions should surely apply, no?

And if those actions were based on "fixed" intel, faulty intel obtained via methods considered unreliable (putting aside the appalling morality questions, for now), and via deceptive rhetoric?

Speaking of deceptive rhetoric, my favorite at the moment:

"spiriting away terrorist suspects to mystery destinations for robust interrogation."

Gosh, are we torturing them, or springing a proposal of marriage on them?
12.11.2005 4:44pm
Jeroen Wenting (mail):
So the NYT is back on its anti-war, bash-Bush agenda.
What else is new?

Even witout any WMDs or al Qaeda link (both of which were later found to exist though not to the extent expected) the war was fully justified and even called for under the provisions of the 1991 surrender terms which Iraq had signed on loosing the last one which they started when invading Kuwait.
Those provisions clearly state that all UN member states MUST take whatever actions they can to ascertain full access to Iraqi facilities by weapons inspectors.
As far back as 1995 Iraq even under the threat of military force refused such access, making the use of such force a requirement.
The USA (and just about every other country on the face of the planet, though most could bring lack of resources as a viable excuse) were in violation of their treaty terms with the UN in not using military force to bring about the downfall of the Iraqi Baathist regime which was well recognised as being the only way to ensure weapons inspections could complete unhindered.
If even the UNSC chose to forget those provisions they themselves signed into treaty in 1991 that doesn't make those provisions irrelevant.
12.12.2005 8:08am
Sigivald (mail):
Fishbanbe: "Fixed". Right. The Downing Street Memo. Of course, "fixed" doesn't mean what you think it does in British English*, but, hey. Deceptive rhetoric, indeed.

(* If it did, why does the rest of the Memo talk as if Hussein really had his WMDs? If the author believed it all to be "fixed" (ie, in the American sense of being rigged, or lies), as you contend?

Or maybe it really does, as I contend, meant "fixed" as in "fixated", "attached", not "rigged". In plain terms, Not damning enough to trumpet, but it makes lot more sense, doesn't it, given the whole rest of the memo?)

(And, "well, Clinton thought so too" is an argument that Bush Didn't Make The Idea Up. So saying "Clinton didn't start a war" does not make Bush a liar, does it? If Clinton said the same thing Bush did, either they're both liars or neither one is. Who "started a war" does not affect the truth of the statement about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, does it? It doesn't in my understanding of logic.)


I find it interesting that nobody seems to have read the last sentence in the Times excerpt, which says that the only part of an Al Quaeda-Iraq link that has been "discredited" (assuming we take the Times' word that this was the only evidence for such a leak, which I am not inclined to do) was one regarding training with explosinves chemical weapons.

And yet people here speak as if that was never printed, and the issue is any link at all between the two parties, which most certainly has not been "discredited". The Senate Intelligence Report maintains that links existed - just that they were not operational links. (That is, the links in question were not at the level of the parties performing operations together.)

People also seem to forget that Richard "no great friend of President Bush" Clark thought Bin Laden would "boogie to Baghdad" if things got too hot, thus providing further, if-not-impartial-then-at-least-not-pro-Bush evidence that a "link" between the two parties is not some idea Bush made up with "deceitful rhetoric".
12.12.2005 1:18pm
Houston Lawyer:
One of the Left's arguments against going into war was that WMDs would be used against our troops. I recall our troops taking their protective gear with them and using it. My how things change.
12.12.2005 3:02pm
Kim Gammelgård:

It is funny how you are the most important reason why so many people hate America and become terrorists.

If you were striving for the US to be an example to the world, you would be in a much better league, but you obviously fail to comprehend the long-term consequences of your anti-democratic, fascistic efforts.

You would fit in nicely in the Spanish inquisition, though, although that is some hundred years ago...

Repeat after me: Torture brings hatred, not goodwill.
12.13.2005 6:09pm