Jul 17, 2008

Bad intelligence

From Jane Mayer's The Dark Side:—
  • Ibn al-Shaykn al-Libi, a top Qaeda commander, was rendered to Libya, where he was tortured for several months. He gave up false information about Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda and his WMDs. Paul Pillar, the senior national intelligence officer said his testimony was "was just so confusing, it was James Joycean." It was nevertheless used by President Bush in the run-up to war with Iraq and by Colin Powell in his address to the United Nations. "They were killing me," Al-Libi said later. "I had to tell them something.
  • Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born citizen of Australia, was tortured for three weeks in Pakistan — hung from the ceiling by his arms while standing on a cylindrical drum that was then electrified. He confessed multiple times to being a member of Al Qaeda, then released without charge in 2005, after The Washington Post established his innocence.
  • Mahed Arar, a Canadian telecommunications engineer was rendered to Syria, where he was whipped with two-inch thick electrical cables, and beaten on and off, for a year. "Not even animals could withstand it," he said. "You become like an animal." He confessed to having trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, even though he had never been to the country. He was released without charge in October 2003. "I was ready to do anything to get out of that place, at any cost," he said.
  • Abu Zubayda, the first suspect to be waterboarded on the orders of the president, was also locked in a tiny coffin for hours at a time, kept naked in a cage at night, doused and subjected to freezing temperatures, and thrust headfirst into concrete walls. After a few months, he was reduced to masturbating furiously in his cage "like a monkey in a zoo," said one CIA officer. "I guess he was bored, and mad." He repeatedly confessed to dozens of imaginary plots to blow up American banks, supermarkets, malls, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and various nucelar power plants. Teams of federal agents were dispatched to each, only to find them intact.
Again and again, in Mayer's book, you read the same story: the FBI starts its interrogations, winning trust, getting them to talk, and they get great information. Then the CIA take over, and the detainees start spouting Finnegans Wake to make the pain stop. Nobody knows the information is false until years later; for the moment, they have instant results.

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