The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.
The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show.
Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said.
Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, the official said, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect.” [continued…]
President Obama’s statement on releasing the Bush-era torture memos is a curious and depressing document, but it bears the marks of having been revised with care by the president himself. He takes the occasion to assure the country that a dark age has passed. At the same time he assures the agents of that darkness that they will be exempt from prosecution. The statement betrays an odd mixture of frankness and caution; the appearance of resolution, with a good deal of actual equivocation; a wish to channel the conspicuous truth to one’s own cause without revealing a disadvantageous quantity of truth. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Opinion writers can debate questions about whether President Obama deserves praise for releasing the torture memos and whether he is exercising good or bad political judgment in his appeal that we now “move forward” and not waste “time and energy laying blame for the past.” As Manfred Nowak, the UN’s top torture investigator points out however, Obama has far less leeway here than he is attempting to exercise.
As president of the United States, Obama took an oath to uphold the constitution. The constitution requires that the United States complies with international treaties to which it is bound. This includes the United Nations Convention Against Torture which the US ratified in 1994. This convention requires that torturers be prosecuted. It specifically states: “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Even as President Obama urges the country to turn the page, his decision to reveal exhaustive details about interrogation methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency could lead to a flood of new disclosures about secret Bush administration operations against Al Qaeda, current and former government officials said Friday.
At the same time, the new revelations are fueling calls by lawmakers for an extensive inquiry into controversial Bush administration programs, and Mr. Obama now faces a challenge making good on his promise to protect from legal jeopardy those intelligence operatives who acted within Justice Department interrogation guidelines.
Some members of Congress and human rights lawyers are likely to press for new disclosures about the period of several months in 2002 when C.I.A. interrogators began interrogating Abu Zubaydah, a Qaeda operative captured in March of that year, before the Justice Department had officially endorsed the interrogation program. [continued…]
In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama’s commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations.
Leaders of Israel’s hawkish new government told former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, that they aren’t going to rush into peace talks with their Palestinian neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he’d require Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any future negotiations — a demand that Palestinians have up to now rejected — Israeli government officials said. [continued…]
April has already been a cruel month in Iraq. A spate of bombings aimed at Shi‘i civilians in Baghdad has raised fears that the grim sectarian logic that led the capital to civil war in 2005-2007 will reassert itself. On April 6, a string of six car bombs killed at least 37 people; the next day, shortly after President Barack Obama landed in Baghdad, another car bomb killed eight; and on the morrow, still another bomb blew up close to the historic Shi‘i shrine in Kadhimiyya just northwest of the capital’s central districts, taking an additional seven civilian lives. Worryingly for Iraqis, the bombings occurred following gun battles between the security forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi‘i-led government and Sunni Arab militiamen, fueling rumors that the disgruntled militiamen have spearheaded the violent campaign. [continued…]
A growing number of U.S. intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials have concluded that there’s little hope of preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from disintegrating into fiefdoms controlled by Islamist warlords and terrorists, posing a greater threat to the U.S. than Afghanistan’s terrorist haven did before 9/11.
“It’s a disaster in the making on the scale of the Iranian revolution,” said a U.S. intelligence official with long experience in Pakistan who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Pakistan’s fragmentation into warlord-run fiefdoms that host al Qaida and other terrorist groups would have grave implications for the security of its nuclear arsenal; for the U.S.-led effort to pacify Afghanistan; and for the security of India, the nearby oil-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia, the U.S. and its allies.
“Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al Qaida sitting in two-thirds of the country which the government does not control,” said David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer, a former State Department adviser and a counterinsurgency consultant to the Obama administration. [continued…]