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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Who are you going to believe? An al Qaeda terrorist or an ex-Marine?

If you're George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, it's a no-brainer (literally). You pick the one who tells you what you want to hear. Former Marine and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter spent most of 2002 telling anyone who would listen that Iraq had no credible weapons with which to threaten us. Meanwhile, a captured al Qaeda operative rotting in a cell somewhere was saying that Iraq helped to train al Qaeda terrorists. Shut up, Marine, ye of impeccable credentials! The terrorist has something to say! From the NY Times:
A senior leader of Al Qaeda who was captured in Pakistan several months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was the main source for intelligence, since discredited, that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to members of the organization, according to American intelligence officials.

Intelligence officials say the detainee, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle, recanted the claims sometime last year, but not before they had become the basis of statements by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that involved poisons, gases and other illicit weapons.

Mr. Libi, who was captured in Pakistan in December 2001, is still being held by the Central Intelligence Agency at a secret interrogation center, and American officials say his now-recanted claims raise new questions about the value of the information obtained from such detainees.
"New" questions? Assuming Libi actually was an al Qaeda agent, wouldn't any intelligence officer take anything he said to be highly dubious? If his will hasn't been broken by torture or "abuse," what he says would likely still be calculated to further al Qaeda's causes. If he was broken, his statements would most likely be whatever he thought his interrogators wanted to hear. My guess would be that the proper assumption to make with statements made by such prisoners would be that everything they say is false, or at best worthless, until it has been corroborated by several other sources. Even then you would have to consider whether the sources may have agreed on a story. Of course, to use logic like this you can't be a bloodthirsty ghoul like Cheney or an idiot like Bush.
Intelligence officials declined to say precisely when Mr. Libi changed his account, and they cautioned that they still did not know for sure which account was correct. They said they would not speculate as to whether he might have been seeking to deceive his interrogators or to please them by telling them what he thought they wanted to hear.
Given aWol's public belligerence against Iraq, starting with the "axis of evil" speech in early 2002, Libi would have realized that there was no conflict between deceiving his interrogators (or at least their bosses) and telling them what they wanted to hear. Since both the US and Saddam were enemies of al Qaeda, deceiving the interrogators by telling them what they wanted to hear--that is, that Iraq had supported al Qaeda--was both the smartest and simplest thing Libi could have done. Not only did he possibly make things better for himself, at least temporarily, but he furthered al Qaeda's cause. Saddam is out of power, and the US is bogged down in a bloody and pointless occupation which has earned it the hatred of almost the entire Muslim world.

If this type of "information" from captured al Qaeda operatives was what convinced gullible Americans in power, like Powell, Rice and Kerry*, that we needed to go to war in Iraq, we would have been far better off never to have captured a single al Qaeda member. While the total number of American dead from the war in Iraq hasn't yet reached the total from 9/11, it seems likely that it will. But it seems certain that the long-term damage and cost to the nation of the war greatly exceeds that of 9/11.

(*I'm giving all three probably undeserved benefit of the doubt for being gullible rather than being craven warmongering beasts like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. And I pick on Kerry out of the hundreds of members of Congress who voted for the war for obvious reasons.)