Accountability demanded for those who condoned torture
By Cindy Piester 09/10/2009

It’s been eight years since the attacks of 9/11 and long after the Bush administration’s bipartisan commission issued its report that Osama bin Laden and 19 al-Qaida hijackers were responsible.

The passage of time, however, has only served to raise more questions from pilots, scientists, scholars and even intelligence professionals. Despite being vilified or losing esteemed careers, many are still offering new information. A telephone poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS in 2006 showed 81 percent of the public felt the Bush administration was either “hiding something” or “mostly lying” about the 9/11 attacks. Are these people insane or do they have cause for suspicion? Weren’t the commission’s findings based on solid research and irreproachable sources?

Maybe not. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, chair and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, respectively, admitted in their book Without Precedent, the Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission that they could not vouch for the report’s reliability. NBC news analyst Robert Windrem reported that more than a quarter of the footnotes that the official report used were based on information gathered under torture. The sometimes uncorroborated confessions of al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah and particularly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) were central to the 9/11 Commission’s final report.

The commission, for example, wrote:

Bin Laden … finally decided to give the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late 1998 or early 1999…. bin Laden also soon selected four individuals to serve as suicide operatives….

Atta — whom Bin Laden chose to lead the group — met with bin Laden several times to receive additional instructions, including a preliminary list of approved targets: the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

The note for each of these statements says: “interrogation of KSM.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report suggests that medical personnel were on hand as Mohammed was taken to the brink of death repeatedly. Waterboarded 186 times in one month, he admitted to a list of crimes so extensive as to destroy all credibility.

As for al-Nashiri, the ICRC reports that as a part of his interrogation at an unnamed black site, he was threatened with the rape of his entire family.

Zubaydah was a Palestinian who sustained a serious head wound while fighting in the U.S.-backed resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Here, the ICRC reports are even more disturbing. He was, reportedly, the only detainee subjected to every form of enhanced interrogation technique (EIT). His interrogations were the source of a split between the CIA and the FBI. Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, decided that they would not participate in the use of such techniques, even with legal assurances from the Office of Legal Counsel.

In a 2008 Vanity Fair article, FBI counterterrorist veteran Dan Coleman reported on the content of Zubaydah’s extensive diary, saying, “There’s nothing in there … about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment.”

While the Bush administration claimed it was getting actionable intelligence carried out only against the “worst of the worst” as a means of gathering information, saving American lives and avoiding future attacks, the CIA’s actions suggested otherwise.

The CIA filmed hundreds of hours of Zubaydah’s interrogations, stored the tapes in a secret prison in Thailand, denied their existence, eventually admitted only to having two video tapes, and ultimately destroyed 92 others. Compliance with the ACLU’s request for copies through the Freedom of Initiative Act and the orders of 17 different judges was avoided.

During a hearing on a 2008 survival evasion resistance and escape (SERE) training, Senator Carl Levin raised concerns. He asked how stress positions, forced nudity and sleep deprivation “based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions — were turned on their head and authorized at senior levels of our government for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”

“Elicit false confessions”? The “few bad apples” theory disappeared in light of the Justice Department’s legal cover for those in power.

“Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions concocted as a means of escaping from distress,” common knowledge reflected in an early CIA document known as the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation manual.

As secretary of defense under Bush senior, Cheney was well-versed in these kinds of issues. In 1992, he signed off on corrective action for improper material in Spanish-language intelligence training manuals, which dealt with interrogation and other related issues.

We can do better than to follows Cheney’s advice that we must go to the dark side.

Given the facts, a new 9/11 investigation is in order, and those at the highest levels who condoned and approved torture should be held accountable.

Cindy Piester is the chair of Citizens for Accountability, Ventura County

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