Waterboarding Is No Basis for Truth

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The Guardian/UK

Waterboarding Is No Basis for Truth

by
Richard Norton-Taylor

George W Bush has resorted to the most obvious and, he apparently believes, convincing, defence of torture - namely, that it has saved lives. And what is better than claiming it has saved the lives of the citizens of your interlocutor? Waterboarding, the technique of simulated drowning regarded as torture in Britain and most other countries but as entirely legal by Bush's advisers, saved British lives by preventing attacks on Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf, so he argues.

Bush makes the claim, which is not new, in an interview with the Times, now serialising the memoirs of the former president. It is based on claims made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks as he was being waterboarded 183 times after his capture in Pakistan in 2003.

No other evidence has been offered to back up the claims. Indeed, the CIA prevented British intelligence officers from questioning KSM, as he became known, not even telling the British where he was being held (part of the time in a secret prison in Poland).

In 2006, he described his torture to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Unsurprisingly, he said he told his interrogators what they wanted to hear to stop them torturing him.

Bush also mentions Abu Zubaydah, who after capture in Pakistan in 2002, was subjected to temperature extremes, music played at debilitating volumes and sexual humiliation. He was subjected to beatings, isolation, wall standing, continuous cramped confinement, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Zubaydah was suspected of being a high-ranking al-Qaida leader. Bush administration officials claimed Zubaydah told them that al-Qaida had links with Saddam Hussein. He also claimed there was a plot to attack Washington with a "dirty bomb". Both claims are now recognised to be false, even by the CIA, which also admits he was never a member of al-Qaida.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve, points to a third individual whose torture was authorised by Bush's advisers. Under torture, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi claimed there was a link between Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida and WMD. "We also know that when Bush said this was a reason to go to war, he was making an enormous mistake, causing the endless bloodshed that followed," says Stafford Smith.

Bush cannot be allowed to get away with making these kind of claims about information based on torture, information that Britain's security and intelligence agencies treat with deep scepticism and - as far as the supposed links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are concerned - incredulity.

Richard Norton-Taylor is the security editor for the Guardian

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