Following the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the torture techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency on terror suspects after September 11, 2001, the reason given for the use of practices such as waterboarding, rectal feeding, and sleep deprivation, was that the CIA was in search of information that would secure the nation’s defense against any post-9/11 attacks.
With the emphasis on preventing another 9/11-style attack on the United States, Vice President Dick Cheney stated that while he wouldn’t call the methods used by the CIA “torture,” he would say that they had worked, and that he would “do it again in a minute.”
While President Barack Obama admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks,” and that “some terrible mistakes were made,” he defended the Bush administration, stating that it acted in self-dense, and that there were “a lot of people who did a lot of things right and worked very hard to keep us safe.”
On Tuesday, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, revealed that there were other motives behind the torture program, and that the U.S. government used it to gather information from hostages to build false information, and to link al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.
One of the main cases presented on why the United State should invade Iraq, stemmed from a speech Powell gave to the United Nations in February 2003. In that speech, Powell used the testimony of Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, a hostage who was sent by the U.S. to a prison in Egypt.
Libi asserted that Iraq gave chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda, which fueled the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. However, Libi later recanted the statement, claiming that he had been tortured, and had “only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear.”
Wilkerson helped Powell prepare his speech for the UN, and he told Democracy Now that the choice to include Libi’s statement in the speech was the most “seminal moment” in his memory of the time he spent at CIA headquarters.
Wilkerson detailed a confrontation with Powell, in which Powell lectured Wilkerson on how “he was dissatisfied with and very unhappy with the portions in his presentation that dealt with terrorism, particularly the connections with Baghdad and al-Qaeda.” Wilkerson said that he felt the same way, and that he and Powell agreed to remove that section of the presentation.
However, Wilkerson said that shortly after the confrontation, CIA Director George Tenet “laid a bombshell on the table.”
“He essentially said: ‘We have learned from the interrogation of a high-level al-Qaeda operative that not only were there substantial contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad, that those contacts included Baghdad Mukhabarat, secret police, Saddam’s special people, training al-Qaeda operatives in how to use chemical and biological weapons.'”
Following Tenet’s statement, Wilkerson said Powell turned to him and told him to put the portion on terrorism back into the presentation. Wilkerson went on to say that while he did “take some of the stuff out,” he did so with George Tenet’s counterterrorism czar standing behind him, trying to prevent him from removing parts of the presentation.
“People were trying to get that portion back into the presentation,” said Wilkerson. “But the damage was done. The secretary, as you know, presented the information as if there were substantial contacts.”
Wilkerson said that after the “Abu Ghraib incident was made public,” Powell instructed him to look into how the U.S. had gotten to that point. During his investigation, Wilkerson discovered that the CIA’s torture program had been used for more than just ensuring the prevention of another 9/11-style attack:
“I learned that there was, as early as April-May 2002, efforts to use enhanced interrogation techniques, also to build a legal regime under which they could be conducted, and that those efforts were as much aimed at al-Qaeda and contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, and corroboration thereof, as they were trying to ferret out whether or not there was another attack coming, like 9/11.“