Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bush Administration Knew Iraq Intelligence Was Questionable

An intelligence report from 2002 questioned the credibility of an Al-Qaeda prisoner who said that Iraq was training members of that terrorist organization. Yet Bush asserted that information as fact in the same Cincinnati speech from which Tenet managed to excise the Niger-uranium information.
Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.’’

It's another example of the Bush Administration's use of questionable intelligence to make unequivocal statements about Iraq's ties to terrorism and possession of WMD.

The talking point: "Republicans were not alone in making prewar assertions about Iraq, illicit weapons and terrorism that have since been discredited."

The anti-talking point: Politicians outside the White House relied, in good faith, on the Bush Administration to supply them with reliable evidence. Since the Bush Administration did not share the fact that much of their intelligence was questionable, politicians were forced to conclude what the Administration wanted them to conclude.

In an interview on Friday, [Senator Carl] Levin also called attention to a portion of the D.I.A. report that expressed skepticism about the idea of close collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, an idea that was never substantiated by American intelligence but was a pillar of the administration’s prewar claims.

“Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements,’’ the D.I.A. report said in one of two declassified paragraphs. “Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.’’

This is not new news to me. I recall making this argument to my mom before the war started -- Saddam and Al-Qaeda are not friends, and Saddam would not give weapons to an organization that might use them on him. Her rationale for war always came back to breached U.N. Resolutions because I always shredded the rationale that Iraq was a danger to the U.S..

Why did I know that the reasons for going to war were questionable, and Colin Powell didn't?

Update: Via Atrios. And why would al-Libi (is that his real name or a play on alibi?) make up such a silly story?

At the time of al-Libi's capture on Nov. 11, 2001, the questioning of detainees was still the FBI's province. For years the bureau's "bin Laden team" had sought to win suspects over with a carrots-and-no-sticks approach: favors in exchange for cooperation. One terrorist, in return for talking, even wangled a heart transplant for his child.
With al-Libi, too, the initial approach was to read him his rights like any arrestee, one former member of the FBI team told NEWSWEEK. "He was basically cooperating with us." But this was post-9/11; President Bush had declared war on Al Qaeda, and in a series of covert directives, he had authorized the CIA to set up secret interrogation facilities and to use new, harsher methods. The CIA, says the FBI source, was "fighting with us tooth and nail."

The handling of al-Libi touched off a long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration. It is a struggle that continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April—and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won't go away—two months after gruesome photos were published worldwide—is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning.
The agency, say senior intelligence officials, made sure it had explicit, written authorization from lawyers and senior policymakers before using new interrogation techniques. At the same time the agency felt intense pressure to extract information from suspects. So it began experimenting with methods like water-boarding and open-handed slapping. The CIA also asked to use "mock burial," in which a top Qaeda captive would be led to believe he was going to be buried alive.
It's still not clear whether these first decisions made in the war on terror eventually led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. What does seem clear is that despite early efforts to vet interrogation techniques, the administration grew less and less careful as pressure built to get good intelligence. White House officials last week insisted that President Bush had made clear in an early-2002 policy directive that torture would not be used during the interrogation of Qaeda detainees. "The instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law," Bush himself told reporters. But the law according to whom? Bush originally said this was a war in which the old rules did not apply. But he may be learning now that they do.

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