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PORTSIDE  November 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE November 2010, Week 4


The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of George W. Bush's Memoir


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The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of
George W. Bush's Memoir
By Dan Froomkin,<[log in to unmask]>

WASHINGTON -- These days, when we think of George W.
Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made
of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the
loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of
the United States of America from global champion of
human rights into an outlaw nation.

History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two
things in particular: Launching a war against a country
that had not attacked us, and approving the use of
cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.

And that's why the two most essential lies -- among the
many -- in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate
reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate
reason to torture detainees.

Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if
he keeps making the case for himself -- particularly if
it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as
it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's

It may even be working. Extrapolating from the response
to the book, former vice president Dick Cheney on
Tuesday told a crowd gathered for Bush's presidential
library groundbreaking in Dallas that "judgments are a
little more measured than they were" and that "history
is coming around."

The 'Decision' to Go to War

In "Decision Points," Bush describes the invasion of
Iraq as something he came to support only reluctantly
and after a long period of reflection. This is a
flat-out lie. Anyone who paid any attention to the news
at the time knew Bush was dead-set on war long before
he sent in the troops in March 2003. And there is now
an abundant amount of documentation, in the form of
leaks, unclassified memos, witness interviews and other
people's memoirs to prove it.

The historical record clearly shows that Bush had long
harbored a desire to strike out at Saddam Hussein, was
trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the
terrorist attacks, and finally found the excuse he was
looking for in skewed intelligence about alleged Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction.

The only real question is whether he actively deceived
the American public and the world -- or whether he was
so passionate about selling the public on the war that
he intentionally blinded himself to how brazenly Vice
President Cheney had politicized and abused the
intelligence process. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Bush repeatedly insists in his memoir that he tried to
avoid war. He describes his preferred approach to Iraq
as "coercive diplomacy" and tries to explain away the
military planning, the troop movements and the constant
saber-rattling as being intended primarily to scare
Saddam into "disarming". He even tries to retroactively
justify one of his notoriously long vacations by
suggesting that he needed the time to think. "I spent
much of August 2002 in Crawford, a good place to
reflect on the next decision I faced: how to move
forward on the diplomatic track," he writes.

In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer aired on Nov. 8,
Bush declared, "I gave diplomacy every chance to work."
But as David Corn put it ever so succinctly on Politics
Daily, that is a "super-sized whopper." U.N. weapons
inspectors had found nothing and were getting more
cooperation from the Iraqi government just prior to the
invasion. And Corn offered up one particularly telling
anecdote from the book he co-authored, "Hubris: The
Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the
Iraq War": On May 1, 2002 -- almost a year prior to the
invasion -- Bush told press secretary Ari Fleischer of
Saddam, "I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass
all over the Mideast."

Bush writes in his memoir that the idea of attacking
Iraq came up at a meeting of his national security team
at Camp David, four days after the 9/11 attacks. By his
account, it was then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz who "suggested that we consider confronting
Iraq as well as the Taliban." Bush writes that he
eventually decided that "[u]nless I received definitive
evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 plot I would
work to resolve the Iraq problem diplomatically."

But that's a hugely disingenuous version of events. It
didn't take Wolfowitz and four days after 9/11 for the
idea of attacking Iraq to occur to Bush. As the 9/11
Commission report documented: "President Bush had
wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam
Hussein's regime might have had a hand in it."

In the first tell-all book from inside Bush's national
security team, Richard A. Clarke wrote in 2004 of a
meeting he had with Bush the day after 9/11:

The president in a very intimidating way left us, me
and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted
us to come back with the word there was an Iraqi hand
behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do
something about Iraq from before the time they came
into office....

I think they had a plan from day one they wanted to do
something about Iraq. While the World Trade Center was
still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies
out, people in the White House were thinking: 'Ah! This
gives us the opportunity we have been looking for to go
after Iraq.'

Clarke notes that the following day, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld complained in a meeting that there were
no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that
the U.S. should consider bombing Iraq, which had better

At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was
serious and the President did not reject out of hand
the idea of attacking Iraq. Instead, he noted that what
we needed to do with Iraq was to change the government,
not just hit it with more cruise missiles, as Rumsfeld
had implied.

Just over two months later, on Nov. 21, 2001, Bush
formally instructed Rumsfeld that he wanted to develop
a plan for war in Iraq. Sixteen months after that, in
March 2003, the invasion began. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In the period during which Bush claims he was wringing
his hands about whether or not to attack, he and his
aides were instead intensely focused on building the
public case for what was, in their minds, an

The first concrete bits of evidence to that effect were
the Downing Street Memos, first published in May 1,
2005, which documented the conclusions of British
officials after high-level talks in Washington in July

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted
to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by
the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the
intelligence and facts were being fixed around the

And just recently, the independent National Security
Archives completed a major analysis of the historical
record, including a new trove of formerly secret
records of both the Bush administration and the British
cabinet of Tony Blair. John Prados, co-director of the
archives' Iraq Documentation Project, summed up their
findings this way: "The more we learn about how the
Iraq War began the worse the story gets."

Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly
"demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly
abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi
adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan
subsequent to that except for a military solution, and
enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public
opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to
generate support for a war."

That's right: There never was another plan. And
therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title
of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision
point" either. There were some debates about how to
invade Iraq, and when, but not if.

Prados writes:

In contrast to an extensive record of planning for
actual military operations, there is no record that
President George W. Bush ever made a considered
decision for war. All of the numerous White House and
Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward,
not whether a march into conflict was a proper course
for the United States and its allies. Deliberations
were instrumental to furthering the war project, not
considerations of the basic course.

Former CIA director George Tenet admitted as much in
his own memoir, in 2007. "There was never a serious
debate that I know of within the administration about
the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote, nor "was
there ever a significant discussion" about the
possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

And in June 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee
Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the conclusions of
his committee's exhaustive report on the Bush
administration's public statements regarding Iraq:

Before taking the country to war, this Administration
owed it to the American people to give them a 100
percent accurate picture of the threat we faced.
Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the
Administration made significant claims that were not
supported by the intelligence. In making the case for
war, the Administration repeatedly presented
intelligence as fact when in reality it was
unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As
a result, the American people were led to believe that
the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually

It is my belief that the Bush Administration was
fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda
as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To
accomplish this, top Administration officials made
repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al
Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq
played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration
led the nation into war under false pretenses.

There is no question we all relied on flawed
intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference
between relying on incorrect intelligence and
deliberately painting a picture to the American people
that you know is not fully accurate.

It was, in short, a propaganda campaign. As former
Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his revelatory
2008 memoir, Bush's advisors "decided to pursue a
political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the
American people.... A pro-war campaign might have been
more acceptable had it been accompanied by a high level
of candor and honesty, but it was not."

And as Jonathan Landay wrote for Knight Ridder in 2005,
the materials that had become public to date
demonstrated "that the White House followed a pattern
of using questionable intelligence, even documents that
turned out to be forgeries, to support its case --
often leaking classified information to receptive
journalists -- and dismissing information that
undermined the case for war."

That's what made Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of
the Valerie Plame case so essential. It promised a
public view into the heart of the administration's
dirty tricks department -- and a chance to find out
once and for all who the mastermind was. But Cheney
aide Scooter Libby's lies stymied Fitzgerald, and we
never found out for sure -- even though the signs
pointed pretty clearly to Libby's boss.

Even if Cheney was the driving force behind the war
campaign's deceptions, however, Bush was undeniably the
chief cheerleader. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Precisely to what extent pressure from the White House
was responsible for the intelligence community's
totally inaccurate assessment of Iraq's WMDs remains
unclear. Bush's own WMD commission, not surprisingly,
gave him a pass in their final report. But there was no
doubt the community knew what its chief customers
wanted to hear, and gave it to them.

Even so, the intelligence did not support Bush's
insistence at the time that those weapons posed an
imminent threat.

Paul R. Pillar, the intelligence community's former
senior analyst for the Middle East, wrote in 2006 that
it was only through the overt, intentional misreading,
cherry-picking and politicization of intelligence
findings that the case could be made for war:

If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on
Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -
or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a
messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar
US intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong
and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played
so small a role in one of the most important US policy
decisions in recent decades.

Intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive
Bush's decision to go to war, Pillar continued:

A view broadly held in the United States and even more
so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working,
that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the
best way to deal with the weapons problem was through
an aggressive inspections program to supplement the
sanctions already in place. That the administration
arrived at so different a policy solution indicates
that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other

For Bush, the intelligence findings Cheney and others
were feeding him -- and the media -- were not factors
that needed to be weighed carefully as part of a
decision-making process. There was no decision-making
process. The intelligence findings were simply elements
of a sales campaign.

The one time Bush is recorded as having pushed back at
the intelligence at all was in the famous late 2002
Oval Office scene with Tenet. However, contrary to
popular mythology, Bush's concern was manifestly not
about the intelligence itself, but about its marketing

When Tenet exclaimed "It's a slam dunk case!" it was in
the context of the case to be made to the public.

In the memoir, Bush himself recalls having declared:
"Surely we can do a better job of explaining the
evidence against Saddam." 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or
angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass
destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I
thought about it. I still do."

But as David Corn also points out Bush famously treated
the missing WMDs like a big joke at a March 2004 press
dinner. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to
be somewhere," he said as he narrated a slideshow of
pictures of him looking out his window and under his

And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's
angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly
not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or
that going to war was a sickening mistake.

LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing
to the American people?

BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the
decision was a wrong decision, and I don't believe it
was a wrong decision.

In fact, despite everything, Bush continues to indulge
in the same unfounded rhetoric to this day"For all the
difficulties that followed, America is safer without a
homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror
at the heart of the Middle East," he writes.

And the cherry-picking of the intelligence continues,
as well. As Walter Pincus wrote on Monday (in a story
the Washington Post buried on page A29), the book
"makes selective use" of a Jan. 27, 2003, report to the
U.N. Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix,
"citing elements that support the idea that Hussein was
not cooperating and leaving out parts that indicate his
government was. More to the point, however, Bush fails
to mention two subsequent Blix pre-invasion reports in
February and early March, weeks before U.S. bombs
struck Baghdad. Those show Iraq cooperating with
inspectors and the inspectors finding no significant
evidence that Hussein was hiding WMD programs."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

George W. Bush was no reluctant warrior. The U.S. went
to war in Iraq because he wanted to. The war he
launched was arguably an illegal act of aggression. And
the costs have been enormous.

The United States has spent $750 billion and counting
on the war in Iraq. More than 4,400 members of the U.S.
armed forces have perished, with nearly 32,000 wounded
in action, and somewhere in the ballpark of 500,000
more suffering from brain injuries, mental health
problems, hearing damage and disease. Iraqi civilian
deaths are estimated to number at least 100,000 and
more than a million Iraqis have been displaced from
their homes.

Bush told Lauer it was worth it: "I will say,
definitely, the world is better off without Saddam
Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have
a chance to live in freedom."

But author Nir Rosen recently addressed Bush's claim:

Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are
not better off. Their families aren't better off. The
tens of thousands of Iraqi men who languished in
American and subsequently Iraqi gulags are not better
off. The children who lost their fathers aren't better
off. The millions of Iraqis who lost their homes,
hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, are
not better off. So there's no mathematical calculation
you can make to determine who's better off and who's

Saddam Hussein is gone, that's true. The regime we've
put in place is certainly more representative, but it's
brutal and authoritarian. Torture is routine and
systematic. Corruption is also routine and systematic.
There are no services to speak of, no real electricity
or water. Violence remains very high. So, there's
nothing to be proud of in this. The Iraqi people
deserve much better, and they're the real victims of
Bush's war.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In what was perhaps the single most preposterous
assertion of his book tour, Bush seemed to suggest to
Lauer that he was actually against going to war:

LAUER: So by the time you gave the order to start
military operations in Iraq, did you personally have
any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence?

BUSH: No, I didn't. I really didn't.

LAUER: Not everybody thought you should go to war,
though. There were dissenters.

BUSH: Of course there were.

LAUER: Did you filter them out?

BUSH: I was -- I was a dissenting voice. I didn't wanna
use force.

For the nation's journalists to allow this outrageous
lie to go uncontested is particularly galling. During
the run-up to war, one of the elite media's most common
excuses for marginalizing or ignoring the true voices
of dissension and doubt was that everyone knew an
invasion was a foregone conclusion.

The result back then was that instead of watchdog
journalism, what we got was credulous, stenographic
recitation of the administration's deeply flawed
arguments for war. Or, as former Washington Post
executive editor Len Downie told Howard Kurtz in 2004:
In retrospect, "we were so focused on trying to figure
out what the administration was doing that we were not
giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be
a good idea to go to war and were questioning the
administration's rationale."

Today's journalists would like to think they have
learned some lessons from their poor pre-war conduct.
But letting Bush get away now with saying the exact
opposite of what they knew to be true even at the time
-- and what has since been amply confirmed by the
historical record -- would be yet another major victory
of stenography over accountability.

The Embrace Of Torture

That torture is even a subject of debate today is a
testament to the devastating effect the Bush
administration has had on our concept of morality.

And in his book and on his book tour, far from hanging
his head in shame, Bush is more explicit and
enthusiastic than ever before endorsing one of
torture's iconic forms. "Damn right," he quotes himself
as saying in response to a CIA request to waterboard
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Had we captured more al Qaeda
operatives with significant intelligence value, I would
have used the program for them as well."

Bush's two-part argument is simple; That waterboarding
was legal (i.e., that it was not really torture); and
that it worked.

But neither assertion is remotely true.

Waterboarding -- essentially controlled drowning --
involves immobilizing someone and pouring water over
their mouth and nose in a way that makes them choke. It
causes great physical and mental suffering, but leaves
no marks.

It's not new; villains and despots have been using it
extract confessions for something like 700 years. The
CIA just perfected it.

It is self-evidently, almost definitionally, torture.
The U.S. government had always considered it torture.
In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer who
waterboarded an American with war crimes. It is flatly
a violation of international torture conventions.

And as far as I know, no American government official
had ever even suggested it wasn't torture until a small
handful of lawyers in Bush's supine Justice Department,
working under orders from the vice president, claimed

These lawyers drafted a series of memos so lacking in
legal merit -- and so cruel and inhuman -- that they
were retracted and repudiated even by a later wave of
Bush appointees.

The original "torture memo" from August 1, 2002, for
instance, argued that to "rise to the level of torture"
an act had to cause pain "equivalent to intensity to
the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as
organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even
death." Anything short of that, according to the memo,
was OK.

Lauer asked Bush in their interview why he thought
waterboarding was legal.

"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied.
"He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act.
I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of
people around you and I do."

When Lauer raised the possibility that Bush's lawyers
had simply told him what they knew he wanted to hear,
Bush vaguely denied it and suggested that his book
might shed more light on the topic. But it doesn't, at
least not much. In it, Bush writes:

Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a
careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced
interrogation program complied with the Constitution an
all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.

I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two
that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I
directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was
waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No
doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts
assured the CIA that it did not lasting harm.

I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and
controversial would one day become public. When it did,
we would open ourselves up to criticism that America
had compromised our moral values. I would have
preferred that we get the information another way. But
the choice between security and values was real. Had I
not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda
leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that
the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11,
that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn
responsibility as president was to protect the country.
I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.

But the choice between security and values was not
real. And this is exactly the reason we have laws: To
prevent people from doing what they may for some reason
think at the moment is a good idea, but which society
has determined is wrong. No man is above the law. And
"the lawyer said it was legal" is not a sufficient

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As for the claim that torture worked, Bush writes in
the book:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years
after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA
program. About a third of those were questioned using
enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded. The
information the detainees revealed constituted more
than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their
interrogations helped break up plots to attack American
military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow
Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple
targets in the United States.

But the only thing we know for sure is that detainees
who were tortured made elaborate confessions. That,
after all, is what torture is good for. We don't know
how much valuable information they really provided. We
don't know how much of that information came before
they were tortured, rather than after. We certainly
don't know how much information they would have shared
under proven, standard interrogation techniques.

And under close inspection by investigative
journalists, every one of Bush's specific assertions
about torture having saved lives has been thoroughly

The first detainee waterboarded directly on Bush's
orders was Abu Zubaydah, in August 2002.

During his presidency, Bush repeatedly used Zubaydah as
his Exhibit A for torture. In the book, Bush describes
him as a "senior recruiter and operator" and "trusted
associate of Osama bin Laden."

After CIA interrogators strapped Zubaydah to the
waterboard and suffocated him 83 times in a month, he
broke down. Bush writes:

Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al
Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided
leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al
Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The
Pakistani police picked him upon the first anniversary
of 9/11.

In the book, Bush did not, as he had on several
occasions during his presidency, give Zubaydah credit
for identifying bin al Shibh as a terror suspect in the
first place. That particular claim was undercut by the
fact that, some four months before Zubaydah was
captured, an FBI indictment detailed bin al Shibh's
alleged involvement in the 9/11 plot.

But what Bush did assert in his memoir was equally
untrue. Investigative journalist Ron Suskind, in his
breakthrough 2006 book, "The One Percent Doctrine,"
reported that the key information about bin al Shibh's
location came not from Zubaydah but from an al-Jazeera
reporter who had interviewed bin al Shibh at his
apartment in Karachi.

And Zubaydah was not a major player. According to
Suskind, he was a mentally ill travel booker who under
CIA torture sent investigators chasing after false
leads about al Qaeda plots on American nuclear plants,
water systems, shopping malls, banks and supermarkets.

Almost three years after Suskind's book came out, the
Washington Post confirmed what Suskind had reported:
that "not a single significant plot was foiled" as a
result of Zubaydah's brutal treatment -- and that his
false confessions "triggered a series of alerts and
sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in
pursuit of phantoms."

Another detainee waterboarded on Bush's say-so was Abd
al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who stands accused of plotting al
Qaeda's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

As far as I can tell, Bush has never actually made any
claims about any intelligence whatsoever reaped from
Nashiri's brutal treatment at the hands of CIA
interrogators in Poland (who, among other things, used
a power drill and a handgun to terrify him.)

The unclassified transcript of Nashiri's Combatant
Status Review Tribunal hearing in 2007, while redacted
to eliminate any mention of the specific ways in which
he was tortured, indicates that his response was to
tell interrogators whatever they wanted to hear.

Nashiri was asked about his statements about plans to
bomb other American ships, about a plot to fly a plane
and crash it into a ship, and about bin Laden having a
nuclear bomb.

"I just said those things to make the people happy," he
explained. "They were very happy when I told them those

And then there was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged
mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who the CIA asphyxiated
183 times after Bush so enthusiastically approved his
waterboarding. Bush writes:

He disclosed plans to attack American targets with
anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the
al Qaeda biological weapons program. .He provided
information that led to the capture of Hambali, the
chief of al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate in
Southeast Asia and the architect of the Bali terrorist
attacks that killed 202 people. He provided further
details that led agents to Hambali's brother, who had
been grooming operatives to carry out another attack
inside the United States, possibly a West Coast version
of 9/11 in which terrorist flew a hijacked plane into
the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

There seems to be little doubt that KSM provided
intelligence of some value (along with a number of
false confessions) -- although he might have done
likewise (minus the false confessions) in the hands of
a skilled interrogator using traditional methods.

But despite the lengths that the Bush White House,
intelligence officials and various torture apologists
have gone to over the past several years to help Bush
make his case, there remains not the tiniest shred of
evidence to support his assertion that KSM's torture --
or any other -- actually saved a single life.

As far as we know, none of the alleged plots that were
allegedly disrupted was anything more than a fantasy.
There is no evidence they presented an actual danger.
There is not a single saved life they can point to. If
they could, they would have.

The first time Bush disclosed what he alleged were
thwarted terror plots was in a speech in October 2005.
"Overall, the United States and our partners have
disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots
since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda
plots to attack inside the United States," he said. The
White House then distributed what it called a fact

But a few days later, the Washington Post reported:

Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of
anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity
of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when
most were far from ready to be executed....

The president made it 'sound like well-hatched plans,'
said a former CIA official involved in counterterrorism
during that period. 'I don't think they fall into that

Similarly, in a February 2006 speech Bush offered more
details about that alleged Library Tower plot. The
Director of National Intelligence obligingly
declassified a Summary of the High Value Terrorist
Detainee Program to go along with that. But the
Washington Post soon reported that "several U.S.
intelligence officials played down the relative
importance of the alleged plot and attributed the
timing of Bush's speech to politics."

And even when the CIA last year released documents that
Cheney had sworn would definitively prove that torture
had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not
hundreds of thousands, of innocent people," those
documents turned out to include no such proof -- just a
lot more cover-your-ass language from the CIA.

Senator Rockefeller concluded in March 2008:

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I
have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained
from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an
imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing
that makes me think the information obtained from these
techniques could not have been obtained through
traditional interrogation methods used by military and
law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do
know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to
provide false information in order to make the
interrogation stop.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bush's assertion that torture thwarted plots to attack
Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf got some renewed
attention earlier this month after portions of his
memoir were serialized in the Times of London. The
journalists across the pond, at least, pushed back a

The Guardian reported:

British officials said today there was no evidence to
support claims by George Bush, the former US president,
that information extracted by "waterboarding" saved
British lives by foiling attacks on Heathrow airport
and Canary Wharf....

British counter-terrorism officials distanced
themselves from Bush's claims. They said Mohammed
provided "extremely valuable" information which was
passed on to security and intelligence agencies, but
that it mainly related to al-Qaida's structure and was
not known to have been extracted through torture.

The Daily Mail reported:

Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public
Prosecutions, said: 'These stories about waterboarding
thwarting attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow -- I've
never seen anything to substantiate these claims. These
claims are to be treated with a great deal of

Now it's true that some British intelligence officials
-- notoriously close to their American colleagues --
share Bush's views. The head of Britain's MI5, for
instance, actually defended the use of torture on
familiar grounds last year:

Al Qaeda had indeed made plans for further attacks
after 9/11: details of some of these plans came to
light through the interrogation of detainees by other
countries, including the US, in the period after 9/11;
subsequent investigation on the ground, including in
the UK, substantiated these claims. Such intelligence
was of the utmost importance to the safety and security
of the UK. It has saved British lives. Many attacks
have been stopped as a result of effective
international intelligence co-operation since 9/11.

But he offered no verifiable details, of course.

Meanwhile, the new British Prime Minister, conservative
David Cameron, told the Telegraph that torture was
wrong and that Bush administration detainee policy had
done harm, rather than good.

"Look, I think torture is wrong and I think we ought to
be very clear about that," Mr Cameron said. "And I
think we should also be clear that if actually you're
getting information from torture, it's very likely to
be unreliable information."

When pressed on whether torture saves lives, he added:
"I think there is both a moral reason for being opposed
to torture -- and Britain doesn't sanction torture --
but secondly I think there's also an effectiveness
thing ... if you look at the effect of Guantanamo Bay
and other things like that, long-term that has actually
helped to radicalise people and make our country and
our world less safe. So I don't agree."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There may be little point in speculating on what drove
Cheney and Bush to cross such a clear and important
ethical line. Was it that they were well and truly
terrified? Did they succumb to the lures of the ticking
time bomb-fallacy so popular on TV -- and among the
supremely confident? Some social psychologists have
speculated that the real motivation for torture is

It was the Senate Armed Services Committee, in April
2009, that actually suggested an even more nefarious
possible motive: That the White House started pushing
the use of torture not out of concern about an imminent
threat, but when officials in 2002 were desperately
casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks
in order to strengthen their public case for invasion.

That becomes less incredible when you consider that it
was a false confession extracted under torture by
Egyptian authorities from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a
terror suspect who had been rendered to Egypt by the
CIA, that was the sole source for arguments Bush made
in a key pre-Iraq war speech in October 2002.

"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members
in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said
at the time -- with no caveats. The same false
confession provided a critical part of then-secretary
of state Colin Powell's famous presentation to the
United Nations, a month before the invasion. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Finally, it's hugely important to remember that Bush's
embrace of torture went far beyond the waterboard. For
Bush, the best-case scenario is that the debate remains
about his approval of the use of that one procedure on
three top terror suspects.

But Bush's legacy is one of much more wanton and
widespread cruelty -- a cruelty that was truly
unimaginable before the unique combination of 9/11 and
some particularly cold-blooded people occupying high

Bush and his helpers approved a wide range of other
brutal interrogation practices, including severe
beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep
deprivation, exposure to extreme cold and hot
temperatures, forced nudity, threats, hooding, the use
of dogs and sensory deprivation -- many of which, it
turned out, were cribbed from techniques Chinese
Communists perfected to extract confessions from
captured U.S. servicemen.

Some of these tactics fall short of the legal
definition of torture, some don't, but they are all, as
former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora explained in
2008, morally indefensible:

Many Americans are unaware that there is a legal
distinction between cruelty and torture, cruelty being
the less severe level of abuse. This has tended to
obscure important elements of the interrogation debate
from the public's attention. For example, the public
may be largely unaware that the government could
evasively if truthfully claim (and did claim) that it
was not "torturing" even as it was simultaneously
interrogating detainees cruelly. Yet there is little or
no moral distinction between cruelty and torture, for
cruelty can be as effective as torture in savaging
human flesh and spirit and in violating human dignity.
Our efforts should be focused not merely on banning
torture, but on banning cruelty.

Tactics that violated basic human dignity were not
limited to three men, or even to the three dozen men
subjected to "enhanced interrogation" at the CIA's
black sites in Poland, Thailand, and Romania. They were
employed as a matter of standard practice on countless
detainees held in custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and
Guantanamo Bay.

And once cruelty was adopted as a weapon of war, that
inevitably opened the door wide to abusive and
degrading practices that weren't explicitly authorized.

Far from being limited to ostensibly "high value"
detainees, state-sanctioned cruelty was applied
willy-nilly to many of those unfortunate enough to get
swept up into the system. We literally have no idea how

As a bipartisan Senate report in 2008 concluded:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was
not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their
own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping
detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress
positions, and using military working dogs to
intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had
been approved for use in Afghanistan and at
[Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's
December 2, 2002, authorization of aggressive
interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation
policies and plans approved by senior military and
civilian officials conveyed the message that physical
pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment
for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed
was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be
treated humanely.

The report laid out a clear line of responsibility for
Abu Ghraib that started with Bush and his February 2002
memo exempting war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva

Mora, one of the few voices of conscience inside the
government during that dark period, summed up the
damage this way:

[O]ur Nation's policy decision to use so-called "harsh"
interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a
mistake of massive proportions. It damaged and
continues to damage our Nation in ways that appear
never to have been considered or imagined by its
architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to
have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the
interrogation room. This interrogation policy -- which
may aptly be labeled a "policy of cruelty" -- violated
our founding values, our constitutional system and the
fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy
interests, and our national security. The net effect of
this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses,
not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary
to our national interest.

George W. Bush has managed to duck the ignominy he
deserves for launching this policy of cruelty. He has
done so in part by framing the debate as one solely
about waterboarding -- and counting on a lazy, amnesiac
press corps to neither confront him on that count nor
call him out for the wider moral breach for which he is

Back in 2004, as soon as the photos of detainee abuse
at Abu Ghraib went public, Bush and his collaborators
launched a high-stakes disinformation campaign to
prevent the American people from linking the White
House to the pervasive, inhumane treatment of detainees
-- many of whom were utterly innocent -- at prison
facilities such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo.
Being associated with the waterboarding of three top
terrorists was at least a defensible position. Being
responsible for widescale violations of the laws of war
was not.

That disinformation campaign continues today, in
"Decision Points." If we forget what really happened,
it just might succeed.


Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the
Huffington Post. 

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