The Film Hollywood Should Make is About al-Libi’s Torture Helping Lead to Iraq War Disaster
Ten years ago, Colin Powell made the case for invading Iraq before the United Nations Security Council. Many aspects of his case were clearly dubious at the time, but one notorious aspect desperately needs to be truly understood: Some of Powell’s argument for an Iraq link to al-Qaeda came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was tortured into giving such “evidence” — that is, he told the torturers what they wanted to hear so that the torture would stop.
This is particularly noteworthy as the movie Zero Dark Thirty has many liberals screaming “torture doesn’t work” — which, in a sense is totally true and at the same time exactly misses the point. Torture does work. It just doesn’t work in so far as its stated purpose (catching criminals, stopping evil plots) is concerned.
Former long-time CIA analyst Ray McGovern, has written that the al-Libi case was central to Powell keeping the alleged al-Qaeda link to Iraq in his UN speech:
Al-Libi’s stories misinformed Colin Powell’s U.N. speech, which sought to establish a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda to justify invading Iraq.
Al-Libi recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the CIA, a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission. …
The al-Libi case might help you understand why, even though information from torture is notoriously unreliable, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the sycophants running U.S. intelligence ordered it anyway.
In short, if it is untruthful information you are after, torture can work just fine!
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s own former chief of staff, similarly 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-Qaeda.
“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-Qaeda-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.” [Wilkerson elaborated on this on Democracy Now Wednesday morning, should be posted here. He notes he and Powell agreed to drop the accusation of an al-Qaeda link to Iraq until they were given the "evidence" from al-Libi's interrogation.]
I asked Powell about this in 2009 and he seemed remarkably defensive and uninterested in finding out if the words he uttered on the world stage were based on misinformation from torture:
Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.
SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?
CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.
SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
CP: So what? [inaudible]
SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.
CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.
But my questioning was based on statements by Wilkerson, who was in the room. Presumably Powell is waiting for the CIA to call him and tell him directly that torture was used to extract some of the information he used.
This problem of torture yielding useful but false information was not unforeseeable. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil appeared on a news release I assembled the day after Powell’s notorious UN speech: “The Arab media is reporting that the Zakawi story was provided by Jordanian intelligence, which has a record of torture and inaccuracy.”
But the al-Libi story gets even worse. First off, al-Libi had initially cooperated with FBI officials when he was first questioned by them, giving them true and useful information without being tortured. Secondly, he was tortured by chief Egyptian spymaster Omar Suleiman, widely seen and the CIA’s man in Cairo, who attempted to take over from Mubarak when the longtime dictator finally stepped down because of the uprising in 2011 (Suleiman himself died in a Cleveland hospital in 2012).
After al-Libi recanted to the CIA, he was eventually shipped off to Libya where he died in a prison cell. The newspaper of one of Qaddafi’s son’s claimed it was a suicide. As Juan Cole wrote at the time: “The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison.”
Before his death, Human Rights Watch “briefly met with al-Libi on April 27 during a research mission to Libya. He refused to be interviewed, and would say nothing more than: ‘Where were you when I was being tortured in American jails.’”
After al-Libi’s death Human Right Watch stated: “The death of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi means that the world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced. So now it is up to Libya and the United States to reveal the full story of what they know, including its impact on his mental health.” Right after Al Capone investigates his own dealings.
Note that al-Libi died in Libyan custody when relations were quite chummy between Qaddafi and the U.S. It’s hard not to think this was part of a quid pro quo — the Qaddafi regime offs al-Libi to help the U.S. cover up the torture-war link and in exchange Qaddafi got (rather short-lived acceptance from part of the U.S. establishment.
If Hollywood — or any media for that matter — had any interest in communicating the realities of the modern Mideast and U.S. policy there, the story of al-Libi should be front and center.
- “Pregnant, Chained to a Wall and Starved”, One of 136 Terror War Stories (ipsnews.net)
- Dark side of the moon (thehindu.com)
Ten years ago today, Colin Powell made the Bush administration’s case for going to war against Iraq. Much of what he said about Iraq’s threats to the United States was false. But the media coverage gave the opposite impression, and most of the pundits and journalists who promoted the justifications for the war paid no price for their failures.
As FAIR reported at the time, even before the Powell address there were reasons to be skeptical of the administration’s claims. On February 4, 2003, FAIR published “Iraq’s Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact,” which made the point that “it has not been demonstrated that Iraq continues to hold unconventional weapons.” FAIR criticized coverage like that of the New York Times (2/2/03), which asserted that “nobody seriously expected Mr. Hussein to lead inspectors to his stash of illegal poisons or rockets, or to let his scientists tell all.”
As the FAIR release concluded:
The media convey to the public the impression that the alleged banned weapons on which the Bush administration rests its case for war are known to exist, and that the question is simply whether inspectors are skillful enough to find them.
Powell’s address was instrumental in pushing a faulty media line on Iraq’s WMDs further. That much was clear in the coverage right after his appearance at the United Nations, as FAIR documented on February 10 in “A Failure of Skepticism in Powell Coverage.”
In Andrea Mitchell‘s report on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03), Powell’s allegations became actual capabilities of the Iraqi military: “Powell played a tape of a Mirage jet retrofitted to spray simulated anthrax, and a model of Iraq’s unmanned drones, capable of spraying chemical or germ weapons within a radius of at least 550 miles.”
Dan Rather, introducing an interview with Powell (60 Minutes II, 2/5/03), shifted from reporting allegations to describing allegations as facts: “Holding a vial of anthrax-like powder, Powell said Saddam might have tens of thousands of liters of anthrax. He showed how Iraqi jets could spray that anthrax and how mobile laboratories are being used to concoct new weapons.” The anthrax supply is appropriately attributed as a claim by Powell, but the mobile laboratories were something that Powell “showed” to be actually operating.
Commentator William Schneider on CNN Live Today (2/6/03) dismissed the possibility that Powell could be doubted: “No one disputes the findings Powell presented at the U.N. that Iraq is essentially guilty of failing to disarm.” When CNN‘s Paula Zahn (2/5/03) interviewed Jamie Rubin, former State Department spokesperson, she prefaced a discussion of Iraq’s response to Powell’s speech thusly: “You’ve got to understand that most Americans watching this were either probably laughing out loud or got sick to their stomach. Which was it for you?”
If you turn to FAIR’s “Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline” (3/19/07), you see that February 6 Washington Post op-ed page had Mary McGrory writing: “I don’t know how the United Nations felt about Colin Powell’s ‘J’accuse’ speech against Saddam Hussein. I can only say that he persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince.” She added that she “heard enough to know that Saddam Hussein, with his stockpiles of nerve gas and death-dealing chemicals, is more of a menace than I had thought.”
And Richard Cohen (2/6/03) announced that the debate was over:
The evidence he presented to the United Nations–some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail–had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool–or possibly a Frenchman–could conclude otherwise.
Obviously, the fools and Frenchmen were correct. And as FAIR documented, independent-minded journalists were reporting that some of the administration’s claims did not stand up to scrutiny. The Associated Press had a detailed look at the state of Iraq intelligence on January 18. The skepticism and good judgment of those reporters (and others) should have been the rule, not the exception, if journalists had been doing their jobs.
But most journalists did a different job. And most of them faced no consequences whatsoever for being so disastrously wrong.
Why does it matter if Susan Rice serves as secretary of state?
That is a trick question, because in fact, it doesn’t matter at all. American foreign policy will be unchanged regardless of who the next secretary may be. The full force of imperialism will be brought to bear against the people of the world under the Obama administration. The democratic president has made real the goals of the neo-con Project for a New American Century, a 21st century version of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States should rule the world and do so with a vengeance.
Rice’s nomination is a non-issue but is treated as an important one for many black people because of the words of right wing racists. The sight of the embittered sore loser John McCain calling Rice “unqualified” and “not very smart” reminds black people of the slights they are personally subjected to in their lives every day. It is especially galling for the insult to come from McCain, the quintessential entitlement baby. He was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy because his father and grandfather were admirals. The legacy leg up didn’t help much because the mediocre young McCain still graduated at the bottom of his class. McCain’s insistence that the obviously sub-par Sarah Palin was a qualified vice presidential candidate makes the racist slaps at Rice all the more offensive.
The yearning to see a black face in one of the highest and most rarefied places is a very deep one and not to be easily dismissed, but it is crucial to note that Rice is no different from John McCain in her beliefs of how the United States should conduct itself in the world. The facts against Rice and her predecessors are obscured by a corporate media which hides all the atrocities committed by the United States government, making the Rice story appear like nothing more than that of a high achieving black woman being slandered by evil racists.
The case against Rice or whomever is nominated by the president should be a case made against United States foreign policy and all of the people who now or ever were in charge of carrying it out. The presidents, secretaries of state, United Nations ambassadors, national security advisers and their ilk are held up as paragons of virtue, intelligence and moral rectitude. They emerge from elite institutions and are held up as the “best and the brightest” the country has to offer.
A secretary of state not only has a prestigious position, but is considered an elder statesman or woman for life. Of course, he or she also can walk into positions of great wealth after their public service has ended. Corporate speeches, book deals and lucrative board positions await every living secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Condoleezza Rice.
The true horror is that the people who hold these supposedly august positions are in fact no better than criminal enforcers in organized crime families. American secretaries of state have plotted invasions and assassinations, occupied countries, destroyed economies, fomented coups and in a myriad of other ways laid waste to sovereign nations. Countries which try to bring about their own democracies are thwarted if their plans are seen as a threat to American interests.
No secretary of state should be lionized and there is nothing wonderful about black people having the right to perform the evil acts which were once the reserve of whites.The Dulleses and Kissingers and their predecessors and successors made wars on huge swaths of the planet and did in fact crush attempts at democracy so that American businesses might be able to harvest bananas at cheap prices.
The appearance of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as part of the Bush administration foreign policy team ended the white monopoly on American state terror. Colin Powell went to the United Nations with his power point presentation full of lies in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. He also removed Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s democratically elected president, from office. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice covered up her own incompetence and the still murky facts which brought the September 11th terrorist attacks onto American soil.
It was during the Bush administration that the black face in the high place joined in committing the worst kinds of dirty work to be carried out by the United States around the globe. It was also the first time that black Americans began to look the other way and excuse their government’s inhumanity. Defending Colin and Condi became substitutes for analysis and the ideology that once made black Americans the group least supportive of their government’s acts of aggression.
The ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency accelerated this grotesque delusion of racial uplift. Not only are NDAA, kill lists, and naked imperialism to be overlooked, but the black man who destroyed Libya and Somalia and who is on the road to destroying Syria will have another terrorist of color by his side. In a perverse way this terrible duo will increase the joy of a people who a mere five years ago recoiled at the very behavior which Obama and Rice have exhibited toward the rest of the world.
America is and will continue to pose terrible threats to the rest of the world, whether the next secretary of state if Susan Rice or John Kerry or an unknown player to be named later. That should be the crux of any debates about who should serve in these positions. Anything else is just drama playing out while the world burns because the United States keeps lighting the match.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Susan “Genocide” Rice: Is Susan Rice “Bad for Congo” (disquietreservations.blogspot.com)