Rachel Maddow Show: Tracing Torture's Trail

From The Rachel Maddow Show May 14, 2009. Rachel lays out the time line for how torture was used in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and to justify
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From The Rachel Maddow Show May 14, 2009. Rachel lays out the time line for how torture was used in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and to justify the invasion after the U.S. had already gone in.

MADDOW: But we begin with a major development in what we know about former Vice President Dick Cheney and his role in authorizing torture. Over the past three months, there has been a steady stream of new information released about the Bush administration‘s torture program. Today, the dots started to connect—all the way up to the office of the former vice president of the United States.

Within three months after the attacks on 9/11, the Bush administration began making the case for invading Iraq, because Iraq, they said, was connected to al Qaeda. Vice President Cheney went on “Meet the Press” and said that Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, met with Iraqi officials before the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what we now have that‘s developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that—which has been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It‘s been pretty well confirmed, said the vice president. In fact, that report turned out to be false.

But we now know that something else was going on in secret—inside government—while Dick Cheney was making those public pronouncements, like that one that you just saw from December 2001. According to the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, as far as back as December 2001, the Pentagon was seeking information from the agency that runs the SERE program. The SERE program trains U.S. troops to resist the kinds of torture that were used by communist forces to get false confessions from American troops for use in propaganda.

By July, the people who ran the SERE program had written to the Defense Department, warning the Pentagon explicitly that it would be a mistake to base an interrogation program on SERE techniques—since they were not known to produce reliable or accurate information. Despite that warning, the Bush Justice Department signed off on the techniques the very next month. At that time, U.S. officials are questioning their first known high-value detainee, Abu Zubaydah.

Through normal FBI interrogation techniques, Zubaydah is spilling all sorts of information. He identifies Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of 9/11. He tells of a supposed dirty bomb plot leading to the arrest of Jose Padilla. He‘s singing, but what he‘s not providing is that link between Iraq and al Qaeda.

An order then comes from somewhere that Abu Zubaydah should be interrogated by other means. And in August 2002, Abu Zubaydah is waterboarded 83 times in one month—despite the warning from the people who train American soldiers to survive waterboarding that that technique was developed to produce false confessions.

Now, around the same time, October 2002, out in public, the Bush administration is stepping up the case to the American people that the link exists between Iraq and al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy—the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high level contacts that go back a decade. We‘ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The following month, in November of 2002, President Bush continued to hammer away at this Saddam-al Qaeda link.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 7, 2002)

BUSH: He‘s a threat not only with what he has. He‘s a threat with what he‘s done. He‘s a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Still unable to prove this link that they are now repeating over and over and over again, the Bush administration gets what they think could be a gold mine. On March 1st, 2003, they capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. By this point, the administration‘s march toward invading Iraq is unstoppable.

And in that month, the same month of the invasion, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is waterboarded 183 times—six times a day. And while he admits to everything from kidnapping the Lindbergh baby to shooting JFK on the grassy knoll, KSM fails to provide one thing the Bush administration desperately needs at that moment.

The White House is launching its invasion of Iraq without any clear evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. On March 20th, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. They‘re still waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at that time. Shock and awe—the war begins.

The Bush White House has two huge problems on its hands. One, it still hasn‘t proven a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. And two, it needs to find the weapons of mass destruction that they said were in Iraq. Enter Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. weapons inspector who is sent to Iraq after the invasion to help locate those weapons.

In April of 2003, the month after the invasion, Duelfer is involved in the questioning of a high-ranking Iraqi, who was an intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein. Duelfer and the rest of the team are getting information from that officer. He is, as they say, being cooperative.

But at some point during the process, a message comes from Washington. Quote, “Some in Washington at very senior levels, not in the CIA, were concerned that the debriefing was too gentle. They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding should be used.”

Duelfer says he considered the request to be reprehensible. He believed the rationale for the order was political. The request it seemed was to use waterboarding to find the Iraq-al Qaeda link, a link the White House had failed to prove for more than two years despite even using methods known to provide false information.

U.S. officials were being asked to waterboard not to prevent some imminent attack, but to justify an attack that had already been launched by us—against Iraq.

Today, the bombshell news from former NBC News investigative producer, Bob Windrem, that the suggestion to torture this Iraqi source, to use torture not to prevent an attack but to find that link, that suggestion came directly from the office of Vice President Cheney.

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