11 November 2010

On George W. Bush's Torture Lauding - my letter in the Evening Standard

I had a letter published in the Evening Standard earlier this week. It was a slightly abridged version of the following:

Dear Sir,

One need only read between the lines of George W. Bush’s memoirs to realise that his unapologetic lauding over torture is merely a front of bravado, designed to disguise serious questions about deeper US intelligence failures which facilitated the 9/11 attacks – failures that occurred on his watch.

Former CIA official Robert Baer, a case officer assigned to the Middle East for two decades, told MSNBC Hardball’s Chris Matthews over a year ago that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad had been water-boarded 183 times, leaving him “almost brain dead.” The ex-CIA operator also pointed out that absolutely no useful intelligence was gained from this exercise.

In Time Magazine, Baer dissected transcripts of KSM’s interrogations released by the Pentagon, finding that while he “comes across as boasting, at times mentally unstable”, he is also clearly “making things up.” But worse, Baer points out that the transcripts, for whatever reason, systematically obscure “evidence of state support to al-Qaeda”. He cites well-known evidence in the intelligence community that major US geopolitical allies in the ‘War on Terror’ – Pakistani intelligence services, along with members of the Qatari and Saudi royal families – have harboured and aided al-Qaeda generally and KSM specifically. Worse, and contradicting Bush’s narrative again, Baer emphasises that KSM had “offered no information about European networks”, and that he “apparently knew nothing” about militants planning attacks on London.

Bush played a central role in crushing pre-9/11 intelligence investigations into the deleterious effects of US relations with countries like Saudi Arabia. Multiple FBI leads identifying key financial and other links between Saudi elites, members of the bin Laden family, and Osama bin Laden himself were shut down in 2001, despite a growing crescendo of warnings of an impending attack involving planes being used as bombs. The fact that this may have had something do with cosy financial Bush-Saudi family deals – such as through the defence investment conglomerate Carlyle Group (where both Bush and the bin Laden family had investments) – raises awkward questions about Bush’s current efforts to vindicate his unconscionable failures both before and after 9/11.

In this context, Keith Vaz's pointed question about US-UK intelligence sharing is on the mark. That is not to suggest that such sharing should simply cease, but it is certainly legitimate to wonder to what extent American strategic interests - and ideology - determine the way trans-atlantic intelligence cooperation works. It is not only a matter of how much MI6 might have known about US methods such as torture, but ultimately about the way the US conducts its whole approach to security, and whether it is undermining our own - with fatal consequences at home.

Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

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