Cheney's Role Deepens

Published on
by
The Daily Beast

Cheney's Role Deepens

by
Robert Windrem

At the end of April 2003, not long after the
fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House
officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between
al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was
the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam's secret
police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons
and contacts with terrorist groups.

"To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been
a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular
interest," Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man
in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so
that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the
interrogation was proceeding.

In his new book, Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq,
and in an interview with The Daily Beast, Duelfer says he heard from
"some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA)," who
thought Khudayr's interrogation had been "too gentle" and suggested
another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere.
"They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be
used," Duelfer writes. "The executive authorities addressing those
measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only
to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet
terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this
creature."

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of
waterboarding, saying only: "The language I can use is what has been
cleared." In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time
tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the
Office of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, of course, has vehemently
defended waterboarding and other harsh techniques, insisting they
elicited valuable intelligence and saved lives. He has also asked that
several memoranda be declassified to prove his case. (The Daily Beast
placed a call to Cheney's office and will post a response if we get
one.)

Without admitting where the suggestion came from, Duelfer revealed
that he considered it reprehensible and understood the rationale as
political-and ultimately counterproductive to the overall mission of
the Iraq Survey Group, which was assigned the mission of finding Saddam
Hussein's WMD after the invasion.

"Everyone knew there would be more smiles in Washington if WMD
stocks were found," Duelfer said in the interview. "My only obligation
was to find the truth. It would be interesting if there was WMD in May
2003, but what was more interesting to me was looking at the entire
regime through the slice of WMD."

But, Duelfer says, Khudayr in fact repeatedly denied knowing the
location of WMD or links between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda and was
not subjected to any enhanced interrogation. Duelfer says the idea that
he would have known of such links was "ludicrous".

This proposed use of enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture,
in Iraq was not the only time these methods were actually used to
derive information for a purpose other than the stated one-to derive
intelligence about imminent threats to the United States following the
9/11 attacks.

An extensive analysis
I conducted as a reporter for NBC News of the 9/11 Commission's Final
Report and its monograph on terrorist travel showed that much of what
was reported about the planning and execution of the terror attacks on
New York and Washington was based on the CIA's interrogations of
high-ranking al Qaeda operatives who had been subjected to "enhanced
interrogation techniques."

More than one-quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Report refer to
CIA interrogations of al Qaeda operatives subjected to the
now-controversial interrogation techniques. In fact, information
derived from the interrogations was central to the 9/11 Report's most
critical chapters, those on the planning and execution of the attacks.

The NBC analysis also showed-and agency and commission staffers
concur-there was a separate, second round of interrogations in early
2004, specifically conducted to answer new questions from the 9/11
Commission after its lawyers had been left unsatisfied by the agency's
internal interrogation reports.

Human-rights advocates, including Karen Greenberg of New York
University Law School's Center for Law and Security and Michael Ratner
of the Center for Constitutional Rights, have said that, at the least,
the 9/11 Commission should have been more suspect of the information
derived under such pressure.

Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (later counselor to
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) admitted, "We were not aware, but
we guessed, that things like that were going on. We were wary...we tried
to find different sources to enhance our credibility." (Zelikow
testified before the Senate on Wednesday, May 13, that he had argued in
a 2005 memo that some of the tactics used on suspected terrorists
violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.)

A former senior U.S. intelligence official told me the Commission
never expressed any concerns about techniques and even pushed for a
second round of interrogations in early 2004, as the Commission was
finishing up its work. The second round of interrogations sought by the
Commission involved more than 30 separate interrogation sessions.

"Remember," the intelligence official said, "the Commission had
access to the intelligence reports that came out of the interrogation.
This didn't satisfy them. They demanded direct personal access to the
detainees and the administration told them to go pound sand."

"As a compromise, they were allowed to let us know what questions
they would have liked to ask the detainees. At appropriate times in the
interrogation cycle, agency questioners would go back and re-interview
the detainees. Many of [those] questions were variants or follow-ups to
stuff previously asked."

At least four operatives whose interrogation figured in the 9/11
Commission Report have claimed that they told interrogators critical
information as a way to stop being "tortured." Those claims came during
their hearings in the spring of 2007 at the U.S. military facility in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

For Duelfer, an experienced interrogator, the details now being laid
out in CIA and White House memoranda and in congressional hearings
cannot be justified. While admitting that the interrogators faced
enormous pressure in 2002 and 2003, he said he had problems with the
overall strategy.

"Interrogation is about two humans who are face to face, sweat to
sweat. Is your hand going to hit them?" he notes. "That's a
relationship that becomes very deep. If you are going to reach someone
at an intellectual or emotive level, it's hard to see how you can do
that and still be the person who accosts that person. I don't know how
to do that."

Robert Windrem is a Senior Reserach Fellow at the NYU Center on
Law and Security. For three decades, he worked as a producer for NBC
News. During that time, he focused on issues of international security,
strategic policy, intelligence and terrorism. He is the winner of more
than 40 national journalism awards for his work in print, television,
and online journalism, including a Columbia-duPont Award, mostly for
his work on international security issues.

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