Silencing the Witnesses

I am in the village of Tonadico in the Italian Dolomite Mountains, shooting a documentary on Lance Armstrong, who is racing in the Giro D'Italia, the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France.  Here, I post an iphone photo of the director of photography, Dick Pearce, shooting a Venice sunset at the start of the race:


Internet at the hotel is spotty and the server is choking on the massive use of the system by scores of journalists, cyclists and coaches.  I am posting only part one of my thoughts today, owing to the furtive nature of my internet connection.

I have been following the ongoing torture debate and wanted to put the sometimes bloodless discussions of memos in the Office of Legal Counsel into pserspective.  Over 100 detainees died in custody in the war on terror, and some, by the army's own account, were murdered.  "Murder," as Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief-of staff told me, "is the ultimate torture."  

The disposal of witnesses of the torture program is also becoming increasingly worrisome.  This is the situation with Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a Libyan terrorist, who was tortured into giving false information that was used to justify the Iraq War; the other is the story of a 22-year old innocent named Dilawar. 

The basic facts of al-Libi's case (in my previous blog) show that the Bush Administration didn't care for the good, actionable intelligence obtained from al-Libi by the FBI so he was transferred to the CIA who presided over a brutal interrogation in Egypt which led to information linking al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  

Some background here.  Egypt's prisons and its "enhanced interrogation techniques" were a breeding ground for terror, turning radicals like Ayman al-Zawahiri, a former surgeon often known as "the brains of al-Qaeda, into hardened jihadis for whom death became an all-consuming mission.  The Egyptian "techniques" included stripping people naked, tying them to chairs, and letting them be sodomized by wild dogs.  What better place, then, to take al-Libi for his special interrogation program in which the CIA were not-disinterested "observers." 

We don't know exactly what happened to al-Libi in Egypt but he was apparently waterboarded and much more. His ensuing confession about the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq later turned out to be false but only after his "intelligence" was used to make the case for the Iraq War.  

Today, al-Libi would seem to be an ideal witness to try to understand whether or not "torture works," and, further, whether the Bush Administration used "enhanced interrogation techniques" to invent a rationale for invading Iraq. 

Alas, it appears to be too late. A Libyan newspaper reported last week that al-Libi recently died in a Libyan prison.  The cause of death? Suicide.  Oh really?  

Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation.  I agree.  

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Alex Gibney is a documentary filmmaker who made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. He has won an Emmy, a Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and a Grammy. More

Alex Gibney is the writer, director and producer of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, the Oscar-nominated film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, narrated by Johnny Depp. In post-production on My Trip to Al Qaeda, based on the play by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Lawrence Wright, Gibney is also filming a documentary on Lance Armstrong. Gibney served as executive producer for No End in Sight, which was also nominated for an Oscar; a producer for Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, a film about the jazz legend's collaboration with musical talents such as Santana, Sting, and Christina Aguilera; and consulting producer on Who Killed the Electric Car. Gibney's producing credits also include the classic concert film Lightning in a Bottle, directed by Antoine Fuqua; The Blues, an Emmy-nominated series of seven films in association with executive producer Martin Scorsese; and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. Gibney is the recipient of many awards including the Emmy, the Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and the Grammy.

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