''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

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That's the famous quote wrested by Ron Suskind from a "senior adviser" to president Bush. We have long thought of it as a coda to the refusal to see reality in the fiasco of the Iraq war (and the failure of the Afghanistan war). But, in retrospect, it might also tell us something about the real point of the torture program. If the CIA were telling Cheney that Zubaydah, for example, had told everything he could know, and Cheney had not secured the informtion linking Saddam to 9/11, torture was an obvious next option. It could "create a reality" that comported with what Cheney already believed as a matter of faith. If you want to "create" such a reality, you can "fix" the intelligence to make the case for war, as we now know happened; but if you want to "create" the original intelligence, you need to torture. Specifically, you need to craft torture techniques designed to procure false confessions. Ta-da! We have SERE, inversely adapted from Communist totalitarian methods for producing propagandistic false confessions.

From David Rose's VF piece last year:

On March 27, 2007, Abu Zubaydah was able to make a rare public statement, at a “Combatant Status-Review Tribunal” at Guantánamoa military hearing convened to determine whether he should continue to be detained. Everything he said about the details of his treatment was redacted from the unclassified record. But a few relevant remarks remain: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information … they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.”

The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is redacted, asked him: “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Abu Zubaydah replied: “Yes.”...

Some of what he did say was leaked by the administration: for example, the claim that bin Laden and his ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. There was much more, says the analyst who worked at the Pentagon: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaydah’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

Within the administration, Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation was “an important chapter,” the second analyst says: overall, his interrogation “product” was deemed to be more significant than the claims made by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, another al-Qaeda captive, who in early 2002 was tortured in Egypt at the C.I.A.’s behest. After all, Abu Zubaydah was being interviewed by Americans. Like the former Pentagon official, this official had no idea that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured.

“As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done,” the Pentagon analyst says. “I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.”

The deception was real and premeditated:

“We didn’t know [Zubaydah] had been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” the former Pentagon analyst tells me. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” To draw conclusions about the importance of what Abu Zubaydah said without knowing this crucial piece of the background nullified the value of his work. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective. I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”

Remember too that the only previous hard evidence of a Saddam-Qaeda link came from another torture victim, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. For those in power, torture is a drug, because it can create the evidence to sustain their power.

The more you think about the role torture played in constructing a false premise for a war where more torture would be unleashed, the more terrifying and dark this chapter in American history becomes.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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