Notes From the Margins…

It Was Waterboarding Wot Done it

  • May 04, 2011
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Clearly miffed at being left out of the bin Laden killfest, the ideological knuckledraggers of the Bush years are somewhat bizarrely attempting to take credit for it.

Shambling out of stage right comes Donald Rumsfeld, the clever buffoon with the folksy grin who once urged the US to ‘go massive, sweep it all up’ the day after the 9/11 attacks, shamelessly arguing that ‘All of this was made possible by the relentless, sustained pressure on al Qaeda that the Bush administration initiated after 9/11.’

That would be the sustained pressure which allowed Osama to escape from the Tora Bora mountains in the winter of 2001.   Or the relentless determination expressed by George Bush on 13 March 2002 when he was asked where bin Laden was.  ‘ I truly am not that concerned about him,’ Bush memorably replied, before going on to describe bin Laden – with uncharacteristic perspicacity – as ‘ a person who has now been marginalised.’

Bush was right.   Even then bin Laden had indeed been marginalised – by a global projection of American imperial violence into areas of strategic interest for which al Qaeda was always something of a pretext.

So it is a bit much to find John Woo and Dick Cheney, clutching their jugs of water and towels and claiming that it was intelligence gleaned from waterboarding and other ‘ techniques’ used at Guantanamo that enabled the Obama hit squad to get their man.

There is Cheney, the gimlet-eyed Torquemada of the War on Terror,  arguing that ‘I would assume that the enhanced interrogation program that we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden”s ultimate capture.’

Cheney is not the only Republican to make this assumption, even though there is no solid evidence to support it.  These claims largely refer to the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the ‘al Qaeda number 3’ Abu Faraj al-Libi, which supposedly drew US attention to bin Laden’s courier network.

Even if it could be proven that Mohammed and al-Libi revealed crucial information during their ‘harsh interrogations’ this would still not vindicate the use of such methods, since the same information could have been gleaned through other means.  Indeed,  according to Associated Press, it was:

Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.

The Bush inquisitors also ignore the fact that information elicited through these methods was often dangerously false.

Take Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the al-Qaeda courier and alleged MI6 operative who was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and later ‘committed suicide’ in 2009 after being transferred from Guantanamo to a Libyan prison.   In the immediate aftermath of his capture, al-Libi was interrogated at Bagram base by an FBI agent, who spent some 80 hours in his company.

Without using any of the new methods advocated by the CIA, the FBI agent obtained intelligence information about Zacarias Moussaoui the would-be ’20th hijacker’ during 9/11 and the ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid.

Al-Libi was then handed over to the CIA and flown to Egypt, where he was subjected to the full panoply of methods for which Mubarak’s secret services were once renowned.    In the course of these sessions, al-Libi ‘confessed’ that al Qaeda was working with Saddam Hussein to obtain chemical and biological weapons.

Al-Libi later retracted this testimony, but it nevertheless became the basis for Bush’s claims in a speech in Cincinnati on 7 October 2002, that ‘We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.’

These fantasies may have originated in the desperate attempts by a prisoner to bring his torments to an end by telling his interrogators what they wanted to hear.

But they were fantasies that the Bush team also  wanted to hear, and they became part of a propaganda campaign that led to  a catastrophic war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and left thousands of US troops dead, disabled or psychologically traumatised.

None of this had anything to do with bin Laden or al Qaeda, and the people who were responsible for it would do better to keep their mouths shut, rather than boast about their achievements.




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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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