Torture May Have Provided False Qaeda-Iraq Link Intel
Doug Jehl provides further evidence that intelligence gained under duress is often not very reliable:
The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials. The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration’s heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi’s accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.
The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced.
Steven Taylor adds,
[This] underscores the problems of trying to get important information out of detainee who has been put in the position of feeling the need to tell his interrogators what they want to hear. Do we really want to be making policy based on such information? Is that a wise course of action?
Of course, there is also the problem of relying too heavily on one source for key information. That will get one in trouble in reporting and it will get one in trouble in a research paper, so it is hardly shocking that it would get one in trouble over matters of war and peace.
Kevin Drum includes this story in a “torture roundup” piece that concludes,
The damage that all this has done to our moral standing to fight radical extremism in the Muslim world is hard to calculate. The Bush and Blair administrations have probably set our cause back by a decade by refusing to take a clear and immediate stand against state sanctioned torture from the very beginning.
While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I agree that we are providing the enemy with propaganda fodder while, so far as I can gather, gaining little offsetting value in return.