Kevin Drum gets it exactly right. The torture of Zubaydah has several critical elements: direct involvement by the president, barbaric forms of torture, and the fact that this already mentally-ill man spewed countless threats that turned out to be meaningless. Nothing could better reveal the sadism, stupidity and illegality of Dick Cheney's "Program." Some details worth remembering via Kevin follow. First from Spencer:
Risen charges that Tenet caved to Bush entirely on the torture of al-Qaeda detainees. After the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, a bin Laden deputy, failed to yield much information due to his drowsiness from medical treatment, Bush allegedly told Tenet, "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" Not only did Tenet get the message brutality while questioning an enemy prisoner was no problem but Tenet also never sought explicit White House approval for permissible interrogation techniques, contributing to what Risen speculates is an effort by senior officials "to insulate Bush and give him deniability" on torture.
Then there is the critical role of George W. Bush in insisting on the torture of Zubaydah, primarily, according to Suskind via Gellman, to save his own face:
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics...
Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"
Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
These tapes could have brought all this home to the American public and the world, revealing the president to be an active proponent of torture, even of a mentally ill man who provided nothing of any worth. They were and are critical to proving - in way that could not be denied or buried - that we have a war ciminal in the Oval Office. That is surely the simplest and most obvious reason they were destroyed. And it's the most plausible reason that on a matter in which he was very personally involved, a matter where he risked being exposed as a war criminal, the president "has no recollection" of being informed about the tapes' destruction.
I've long argued that the simple facts of the detention and interrogation program leave no doubt in my mind that war crimes have occurred. I've also believed that at some point, the guilty men would be exposed and brought to justice. That may be about to happen. And it is the Congress's and the Attorney Genera's vital responsibility to see that justice is served, whomever it applies to.
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