In a blistering op-ed, career military officer, former top Bush Administration official, and long-time Republican Lawrence Wilkerson makes two large claims about torture, and about Dick Cheney.
The first one I have heard before but perhaps hasn’t received the attention it deserves. This the claim that the primary motive for the “enhanced interrogations” in the aftermath of 9/11 was not so much to prevent another attack but to extract from Al Qaida prisoners information linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaida in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. I believe first credit for putting this allegation into the mainstream may belong to this April 21 piece by Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy D.C. bureau.
Wilkerson says he has learned the same thing from his own investigations. He doesn’t offer much evidence that can be checked, but given his background, connections, and the high position he occupied at the time (State Dept. chief of staff under Secty. Colin Powell), he starts with substantial credibility. In his Wednesday piece, he wrote:
“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.”
The second (and, to me at least, newer) big thing that Wilkerson says he has learned is that:
“Once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering ‘the Cheney methods of interrogation’, simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.”
If Wilkerson is right, and the waterboarding and other tactics were not used during the entire second Bush-Cheney term, it seems to contradict Cheney’s assertions that by discontinuing their use now, the Obama Administration makes America more vulnerable to a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland.
To be sure, Wilkerson is clearly one-pissed off Republican. He doesn’t enhance his credibilty by referring to Cheney in his piece as “Sith Lord Cheney.” He also brings up Cheney’s Vietnam era draft deferments and blames Cheney for damage done to the Republican brand.
And Wilkerson makes one assertion that lefties may find inconvenient: He says that the biggest factor that prevented another Al Qaida attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was the presence of the U.S. troops in Iraq.