CIA Refusing to Interrogate al Qaeda

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The CIA refused to interrogate an al Qaeda prisoner who was captured in recent weeks, because the Obama Administration's inconsistent position and likely untrustworthiness in their assurances to the CIA has led the CIA to be so scared of what might happen that they're just washing their hands of it.

This wasn't the emphasis of most of the resistance to releasing the memos, which focused on what our enemies would now know about what the U.S. would be willing to do if they were captured. This problem is on the side of our inability to do anything, apparently. So it seems even those opposing the memo release underestimated how seriously it would harm the effort in fighting against al Qaeda. The president's action didn't logically entail this response, but I think it's surely correct to say that it caused it. This has effectively crippled the CIA, and this particular prisoner may well have dated information that their fear at what Holder's Justice Department might do has led them not to try to get. It also makes me wonder how likely they think conventional interrogations would produce any worthwhile information, because surely they're not scared of doing that.

Update: I guess this argument has been prominently made, but I hadn't see it before. Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA director and Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General, said in a WSJ op-ed:

Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.

The rest is well worth reading. Even if I became convinced that this interrogation program was illegal or immoral, I would still think the case against releasing these memos was extremely strong.

32 Comments

That's unfortunate, but I do agree with Ignatius' conclusion:

"America will be better off, in the long run, for Obama's decision to expose the past practice of torture and ban its future use. But meanwhile, the country is fighting a war, and it needs to take care that the sunlight of exposure doesn't blind its shadow warriors."

But something needs to changed so that they don't feel held back.

As for the question of conventional interrogations, I wouldn't question their effectiveness just yet. Check out THIS ARTICLE

Either there's another link you meant to include in this post, or you need to go back and re-read that article. The CIA handed off the prisoner to the army, which is perfectly capable of interrogating suspects, and does so according to principles and rules set out in the army field manual. The article said nothing about the CIA sitting on its hands with a terror suspect, or the possibility that time-sensitive information had been missed.

Did my comment disappear into oblivion...?

Or have you not seen it?

Or did you delete/ignore it? - which seemed strange...

Mike, I've just been so busy with grading that I haven't had a chance to look at comments. It hadn't even been 24 hours in your case. The comments on the other torture post were sitting there for three days before I could get around to looking at them, approving them, and responding.

I'm not questioning whether conventional interrogation methods can get information. Since they only used any of these memo-described techniques on about a third of their detainees with al Qaeda connections, they presumably thought conventional methods were sufficient for those detainees. Since they only used the most extreme of these on a handful of captives, they presumably thought the less extreme ones even in the memos were sufficient for most of that third. But there were a handful of cases where they determined that even the lesser techniques in the memos wouldn't produce enough of the highly-important information that they were convinced those few genuinely had. Out of the three who were waterboarded, we've been told that two of them had especially important information that hadn't been surfacing before they turned to waterboarding.

Tim, I'd been reading it as saying that they'd been holding this guy for several weeks and only then had handed him over, but reading it again suggests that maybe they handed him over immediately. Since that doesn't affect my main point, I've edited the post to make it a more accurate description. Thanks for the correction.

First of all, I'm not sure if you simply haven't had time to edit the above post, or if your edit is too subtle for my eyes to catch. You're still giving the impression that this prisoner has yet to be interrogated, when that information is no where found in the article. The article clearly states that the CIA handed him off to the Army, not kept him around for weeks while an important opportunity was let slip.

Second of all, I'm not sure how you can say it doesn't affect your main point. You state "This problem is on the side of our inability to do anything, apparently." A more neutral reading of the article, which I suggested in my first comment, again above, and I believe is backed up by the text of the article itself, does nothing to suggest that the United States has any such inability. Rather, the interrogations are being taken out of the hands of the CIA, which is an entirely good thing in my opinion. The CIA had to reverse engineer our SERE program (which was designed to inoculate our soldiers against techniques meant to induce false confessions) to put together their interrogation/torture regime. It's a much better result for prisoners to be in the hands of the Army (or the FBI if we were interested in criminal prosecution).

Third of all, and less germaine to the above discussion, is your final note: "Even if I became convinced that this interrogation program was illegal or immoral, I would still think the case against releasing these memos was extremely strong." (e.m.) Uh...

What part of "waterboarding, forced nudity, total sensory deprivation, slamming against walls, multiple beatings, hypothermia, stress positions, hooding, phobias (dogs, insects), confined coffin-like spaces, and brutal long-term sleep deprivation" strikes you as moral and legal? What part of 266 instances of waterboarding (as if the practice and its singular use weren't enough) strikes you as moral and legal? What about the deaths (and in many cases likely homicides) of hundreds of prisoners strikes you as moral and legal? What on earth would you have to see to be persuaded of the immorality and illegality of torture?

I agree that Obama's policy has been inconsistent. However, that column is ridiculous. Here is the entirety of the claim about the CIA's refusal to interrogate that alleged al Qaeda member:

I'm told that in the case of an al-Qaeda suspect seized in Iraq several weeks ago, the CIA didn't even try to interrogate him. The agency handed him over to the U.S. military.

Told by whom? (No hints at all? Is this an administration source, an agency source, a field operations source, a military source, an Iraqi source, a party headquarters source, a congressional committee source, another reporter, what? Were there multiple sources, as best practices on this sort of thing require, or did somebody casually mention the story over drinks?) Was the al Qaeda suspect supposed to be a local member of al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, or an international operative? That makes a big difference -- in the former case, the CIA probably shouldn't be wasting its time on him in the first place.

Note that Ignatius doesn't actually even come out and say that the CIA ever intended to interrogate the suspect. He just juxtaposes "the CIA didn't interrogate him" with "the CIA is afraid of Obama," and hopes we'll make the necessary assumptions. Clever move.

Furthermore, Ignatius makes astonishing observations like this one: In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a "scrub" of the agency's assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were told they shouldn't jettison sources who had provided truly valuable intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was: "Don't deal with assets who could pose political risks." A similar signal is being sent now, he warns.

"Political" risks? The CIA was implicated in the work of Guatemalan death squads. (In fact, the CIA helped start the war by fomenting a military coup in 1954.* Over 35 years, an estimated 40,000 people were "disappeared" in that long civil war.*) That's not politics. That's mass murder. And this is only one example in a long history of CIA complicity in political murder. Thus, I'm not even slightly sympathetic with the (alleged) complaint of CIA agents who feel their hands are tied by this sort of publicity. We're supposed to be living under a government of laws.

Tim, I edited the post as soon as I saw your comment on Saturday night, well before I had a chance to do any comment-responding Sunday morning. I'm not sure why it reverted, but I've fixed it again.

I'm not sure why you're taking a statement about CIA fears of not being able to do anything as implying the the U.S. can't do anything. All the article suggests is that the CIA fears even doing conventional interrogations out what seems to be a worry that the Obama Administration reassurances amount to nothing and a conviction that conventional interrogations aren't worth doing in this case.

I see nothing in this about the CIA being told not to do it. The entire argument makes no sense unless they found it not worth doing themselves.

I'll refrain from turning this post into a topic that it's not about and simply point to the ongoing discussion that this post is a mere followup to. It wouldn't have taken much effort to take a quick glance at this blog's main page to see that two posts down is a lengthy discussion of exactly the points that you're pretending I'm completely ignorant about and have no arguments about. It's clear enough there what I'm saying, what I'm not saying, what I'm not sure about, and how I evaluate some of the key moral and legal arguments.

Jonathan, it's certainly true that we don't have good sourcing, but this is exactly what Mukasey and Hayden, who certainly do know the CIA better than any of us, were predicting and seeing as a very bad thing. I don't know about Hayden, but Mukasey at least doesn't seem to be the kind of person who would simply cater to the more extreme elements in the Bush Administration. He got the AG job precisely because he was more of an outsider who would be able to clean up the Justice Department, which he seems to have done a pretty good job at (not that it lasted long under its new leadership, since it's pretty much returned to being a rubber stamp for the more extreme elements in the current administration without much sensitivity to evidence or argument).

In context, the line that you're saying could mean that they handed him over because he wasn't important or because he wasn't their responsibility cannot really mean that. There's a rule in English language use that a statement has to have some relevance to the conversation, and it doesn't if it doesn't involve being handed over when it would normally be their responsibility to do it. What the sentence says is logically consistent with the way you're interpreting it, but it's not consistent with the pragmatic conversational rules of English.

I don't know much about the Guatemalan issue, but I don't think the statement in question requires excusing everything that took place. The point is that they're scared even of sticking with their past contacts. Even if some of those relations involved some pretty odious things, it's still a bad thing to lose sources of intelligence, isn't it? The fact that some of those sources may well have been asked by the CIA to do things that would be illegal for the CIA to do doesn't change the fact that they're sources of good information, and it may well be that not all of these sources are tied up in such things.

George Tenet asked George Bush not to probe CIA failures prior to the 911 attacks because he did not want to undermine the morale of his agents. Bush agreed. After that, the Tenet assured Bush that the case for WMD in Iraq was a “slam dunk.” One can’t help but wonder whether Tenet’s judgment was clouded by the loyalty he felt towards Bush for protecting him from recriminations.

The CIA has never been the kind of intelligence gathering organization America needs. It was wrong on WMD. It failed to connect the dots prior to 911. It missed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. It was surprised by the fall of the Soviet Union. Its failures go all the way back to missing China’s entry into the Korean War. It was rarely, if ever, held responsible for intelligence failures because Presidents were always too entranced with the CIA’s covert operations.

Holding parties responsible for their mistakes may invite “institutional timidity and fear of recrimination,” however, declining to do so invites incompetence and misplaced loyalties. I don’t know whether releasing the memos was right or wrong, but lack of accountability at the CIA has been a big problem from its inception.


As if the CIA alone had the wrong judgment about the extent of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs. The entire intelligence community had pretty much the same view on those before the war. It's not as if the CIA was special.

Also, it's not as if the information was entirely wrong. It's true that there weren't large stockpiles or ongoing production of WMD, as many people were expecting, but Bush and Blair's argument didn't actually rely on there being any. The basic claim of the WMD argument was that we needed to prevent the possibility of Saddam Hussein becoming an imminent threat by preventing him from developing programs that, once instituted, could quickly produce WMD, and it turned out that all the post-war intelligence showed that his programs were stalled only because of the sanctions that were becoming ineffective because top UN governments were in bed with Saddam and the UN investigations that Blix was determined to use to prove to the world that Saddam was no longer a threat, after which Saddam could proceed unhindered by the UN. CIA intelligence, along with intelligence from all the other intelligence organizations, was indeed accurate enough on those issues to support the substantial claim the argument rested on.

The only things I can think of where the CIA stood out as being alone in being wrong were the aluminum tubes, where the evidence could have gone either way, and they turned out to favor the one way that wasn't right (not that the tubes were legal for Saddam to import either way), and the yellowcake issue, which turned out not to be a CIA issue to begin with but was really just an oversight by Tenet when reviewing a speech. Tenet had removed some language from earlier speeches about this because he knew there had been a forgery involved, but in the famous State of the Union case he missed it, and Bush said something technically inaccurate even if very close to the truth (since there are documents showing Joseph Wilson's determination, one he lied later about, that Saddam Hussein had indeed sought to buy yellowcake from Niger but had been rebuffed).

The Bush administration claimed that Saddam was actively producing and stockpiling WMD. Go read Colin Powell's speech to the U.N. if you have any doubts. Most members of the international intelligence community did not believe that this was true. They believed that he probably had some chemical and biological weapons left from the Iran-Iraq war, but it was the CIA that concluded that he was actively producing them.

The aluminaum tubes evidence only pointed in one direction. Only the CIA analysts thought they could be used for centrifuges. The scientists at the Department of Energy never thought they could nor did the analysts at the State Department.

They claimed that he was actively producing them, yes. But their argument didn't depend on that. Bush's repeated claim that we needed to stop Saddam before he became an imminent threat did not require him to be actually making them. All it required is for him to be able to begin production relatively quickly once the sanctions ended or ceased to be productive and once the UN was off his case with inspections (or was reduced to ineffectiveness in them because of preconceived conclusions that he was disarmed, as Blix made it clear he thought it was his mission to confirm).

The only instances I know of for why the CIA thought they were actively being produced (and maybe some are still classified) are the two I mentioned. Powell did talk about phone intercepts, van movements, and things of that nature during his talk. Was that specifically CIA information? It does seem relevant evidence to me, even if it's not strong evidence apart from other considerations (although there were some other considerations, such as his past programs and obvious ambitions).

Do you know of others? The intelligence everyone agreed on did give cause to worry about whether he was actively producing them. I do remember hearing after the fact that Saddam had been leading his top lieutenants to believe that he still had WMD programs operating, so if the CIA got information from them then it was inaccurate precisely because Saddam was misleading his own people. It's hard for me to say much about this without specific cases of pieces of intelligence that were wrong and why they were wrong. I haven't seen anyone doing that agency by agency. Perhaps the CIA was systematically more problematic than anyone else, but I'd be a bit surprised if that's true unless it's true because of a few people who had a major impact on this particular issue.

About the tubes, it's not true that only the CIA thought they were for nuclear use. Here's a passage from Arthur Borden's A Better Country (p.44):

In fact, as reported later by the Financial Times, French intelligence had intercepted a separate shipment of tubs and, testing their tolerance, had concluded they were too refined for conventional uses. The French denied Powell permission to use this information before the U.N. But Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, then Powell's chief of staff who is now so opposed to the administration that he has called for the impeachment of both Bush and of Cheney, nonetheless had this to say in 2005:
The French came in the middle of my deliberations at the CIA and said, we have just spun aluminum tubes, and by god, we did it to this RPM, et cetera, et cetera, it was all, you know, proof positive that the aluminum tubes were not for mortar casings or artillery casings, they were for centrifuges. Otherwise, why would you have such exquisite instruments? We were wrong. We were wrong.

As it turns out, the consensus was that the tubes were designed for conventional purposes. But again, this was only established in fact afterward.

Don't get me wrong. I do think there was enough information out there for the administration to know better than to rest very much on the tubes. I don't think their argument really needed to rest much on them because the argument didn't really require active weapons programs at all (and from the outset didn't until very close to the actual invasion, when they kept looking for a smoking gun to convince the fence-sitters). But it's not accurate that the CIA were the only ones saying what they said. The French also thought the same thing about the similar tubes they'd intercepted.

They claimed that he was actively producing them, yes. But their argument didn't depend on that. Bush's repeated claim that we needed to stop Saddam before he became an imminent threat did not require him to be actually making them.

I don't know how an argument can be said not to depend on all of the evidence that is offered to support it. I agree that Bush might have made an argument for war that cited different evidence, but I think the American people would have been much less receptive.

Here's an argument that doesn't depend on the evidence offered to support it:

1. If I don't get to the airport an hour early, I might not have enough time to make it on the plane.
2. I want to make it on the plane.
3. Therefore, I ought to get there an hour early.
4. Besides, if I get there early and get through the line more quickly than I expect, I'll have time to make some phone calls I should have made last night before I get on the plane.
5. So I ought to get there an hour early.

4 is entirely unnecessary to support 5. I've already established 5, because it's equivalent to 3. It's given in support of the thesis, but the argument doesn't depend on it.

Similarly, Bush and Blair's original WMD argument (which wasn't his only argument anyway) was that if Saddam Hussein were to be left alone, he would certainly have WMD within a year or a few years, depending on which kind of WMD you're talking about and whether he could manage to get fissile uranium instead of having to make it himself. Adding a separate argument late in the game that he already had WMD doesn't change the original argument. It just increases the sense of urgency and aims to bolster the case.

Here's an argument that doesn't depend on the evidence offered to support it:

1. If I don't get to the airport an hour early, I might not have enough time to make it on the plane.
2. I want to make it on the plane.
3. Therefore, I ought to get there an hour early.
4. Besides, if I get there early and get through the line more quickly than I expect, I'll have time to make some phone calls I should have made last night before I get on the plane.
5. So I ought to get there an hour early.

4 is entirely unnecessary to support 5. I've already established 5, because it's equivalent to 3. It's given in support of the thesis, but the argument doesn't depend on it.

Similarly, Bush and Blair's original WMD argument (which wasn't his only argument anyway) was that if Saddam Hussein were to be left alone, he would certainly have WMD within a year or a few years, depending on which kind of WMD you're talking about and whether he could manage to get fissile uranium instead of having to make it himself. Adding a separate argument late in the game that he already had WMD doesn't change the original argument. It just increases the sense of urgency and aims to bolster the case.

You apparently have not heard the old saying among business travelers that anyone who never misses a flight is spending too much time in airports. The idea is that the time lost from the occasional missed flight is less than the extra time that has to be allowed in order to make sure that you are never late for your flight. Therefore, an argument for getting to the airport early based solely on catching the flight is not the same argument as one based on catching the flight and making constructive use of the waiting time. You may find both arguments equally convincing but not everyone would.

Well, it depends on the circumstances, doesn't it? This might be the flight that you have to be on in order to make it to an appointment on time, so you have to be there early enough to make it. That doesn't mean it's best never to miss, but in this case you need to be there on time.

As for the two arguments, they don't have to be equally convincing. As long as the second argument is unnecessary because the first is sufficient, it's an adequate analogy. If you don't like this one, there are lots and lots of arguments that have the structure I intend.

I think we have to consider three possible arguments:

One argument would be that you should get to the airport an hour early for no other reason than to be certain that you make the flight. The strength of this argument depends solely on your assessment of the importance of catching your flight.

A second argument would be that you should get to the airport an hour early for no other reason than to have time to make some phone calls. The strength of this argument would depend solely on your assessment of the value of getting those calls made.

The person making the argument is certainly free to make them as independent and mutually exclusive arguments. On the other hand, he can also make a third argument that you should get to the airport an hour early both to assure that you catch the flight and to give yourself time to make those phone calls. The strength of that argument depends on an assessment of the combined value of those two reasons.

One of the problems with your example is that you seem to be making the argument for your own benefit. As a result, once you have enough reasons to convince yourself to go an hour early, any other reasons are superfluous. On the other hand, if you are trying to convince someone else to arrive an hour before their flight, you might include reasons that turn out to be unnecessary. That doesn’t mean that your argument did not depend on all the reasons. It means that the person’s decision did not depend on all the reasons.

Bush’s argument for war in Iraq depended both on what Saddam Hussein was presently doing as well as what he might do in the future. I am well aware that people like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith believed in taking on Iraq solely based on Saddam’s potential for future mischief. I have actually heard Feith say that he wished that the administration hadn’t made such a big deal about the WMD. Nevertheless, Bush did make the WMD argument and he would not have gotten the support of Congress and the American people without it.

You are certainly welcome to believe that the war was justified based on Saddam’s desire to reconstitute his WMD program, but maintaining that the administration’s argument didn’t depend on the belief that he had already done so is pure fantasy.

But you haven't really given an adequate analogy. In your original argument, you correctly note (4) is unnecessary. (1-3) are completely sufficient on their own to merit the conclusion of (3) and (5). In the real world, the Bush administration's version of (1-3) (that Saddam merely had the capacity to produce WMDs) was not sufficient to move the U.S. to war. The Bush administration needed the case to be made to the American public, to the U.N., and to the world that intervention was necessary AND that it was necessary now. Without the argument (which we now know to be false) that Saddam already possessed WMDs, there's not sufficient support for war. Without the argument (which we now know to be false) that there was some sort of link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, there's not sufficient support for war. For further evidence that, at the very least, the Bush administration understood the necessity that there actually be WMDs and that there actually be a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, see the rationale behind our wonderful new "interrogation techniques."

Vinny, it's not a problem with my example that it isn't like the example we're primarily discussing in ways that aren't like the one feature that's relevant. The one feature that's relevant is that I gave a counterexample to your claim. You claimed that it's impossible for there to be an argument that doesn't depend on all the component premises, and that's simply not true. Premises can be irrelevant. They can independently support the conclusion. They can fill in a needed gap to complete an argument. They can provide inductive evidence that combines with other inductive evidence to make the inductive support stronger. There's lots of things premises can do, and they can indeed do the one thing I was saying here. Whatever other disanalogies you might find don't matter at all, because I wasn't trying to make Bush's argument plausible with this argument. I was simply pointing out that your claim is false. As a reply to the argument I was making, your claim doesn't cut it, because it's simply not true. Arguments can function the way I'm saying. A conclusion can be established even if you drop a premise out as long as the remaining premises continue to support the conclusion. That means the argument doesn't depend on the premise in question.

We need to distinguish between two arguments. One is the chemical and biological weapons programs, and the other is the nuclear programs. In the latter issue, we know that he was a year away from having nuclear weapons at the time of the first Gulf War. We didn't know how much he'd kept in terms of information, supplies, and people who could reimplement the program, but it turned out he had almost everything he had except the fissile uranium (he had his own uranium, but that takes a few years to make fissile). So we didn't know how close he could be, but it was plausible that it could be easily pretty quick. We knew he made attempts to get fissile uranium, even if the one famous incident turned out not to be successful. It also turned out that the best estimate is that he would have been a year from it. Waiting much longer and letting the UN become totally ineffective at preventing him from getting the fissile uranium surely would have guaranteed a nuclear Saddam. So the threat would indeed have been imminent had we not acted soon.

He never said Saddam had nukes for sure or even that we knew he'd definitely have them within a year. He presented information that indicated he was actively seeking to do things that could place him in a position to reinstate the program.

On the other WMD, we did think he had them, but all the intelligence agreed on that. The debatable intelligence at the time had to do with nukes, not biological and chemical weapons. Everyone thought he had those. So the fact that he was wrong on that was not relevant. We evaluate him based on whether the information he had justified what he did, and I happen to think it did. Some think it didn't.

Bush's argument was essentially this:
1. Saddam Hussein has violated a UN resolution that ought to be enforced in numerous ways, including oppressing his people, harboring terrorists and permitting their operation in Iraq, developing biological and chemical weapons throughout the 90s, illegally holding foreign citizens as prisoners, firing on US and UK planes, manufacturing and purchasing weapons he has agreed not to possess, including materials that would be usable in the production of nuclear weapons, and actively maintaining or resuming some of his WMD programs. Some of this was inference from his past actions (being willing to develop such programs even when inspectors from the UN were in the country), some from his clear and indisputable ambitions (to control a much larger portion of the Middle-East than he had, and some from intelligence (both good and what turned out to be faulty but nonetheless mostly agreed-upon internationally).
2. If the UN doesn't act, such resolutions are made useless. When the UN didn't act, the coalition determined that the next highest level of authority within the UN, i.e. national governments who agreed to the action, should do so, seeing as how the level that would normally make such a determination had proved incompetent to do so. (This turned out to be far more true than anyone had even suspected, since the French, Germans, and Russians were actually complicit in Saddam's violations of the UN resolution and were thus not about to authorize combat operations against their ally in their illegal dealings.)
3. Given all of this information, Saddam Hussein is a grave threat and must be stopped.

Now someone can indeed look at that argument and think the case completely falls apart if there weren't large stockpiles of WMD. One might, on the other hand, as I do, think the case is weaker but still easily sufficient as long as the WMD programs are still present in their infrastructure but inactive and as long as the weapons could be produced within a year once the UN's role becomes useless as it was rapidly becoming.

I'm not saying that no one would think the argument is as strong without that component. I'm saying the argument doesn't actually rest on it, because it's still a good argument even without that. The case depended on UN violations and the growing danger of Saddam becoming a major threat to stability in the Middle-East, to the economic interests of much of the world, and to the safety of anyone he might see as his enemy, including all the prominent nations who held him accountable in the first Gulf War.

One component of that case was a claim that Saddam Hussein was closer to distributing or using WMD than he actually was, but I don't think the general argument depends as much on that as you think it does. There are too many other components, most of them demonstrably true, for the absence of actual stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons to defeat the urgency of the argument. I do think that, even if we knew then what we now know, it would have been correct for the UN to listen to him and to enforce the resolution with armed combat, and I do think given the demonstrated incompetence of the UN security council, that the only viable option was for Bush and Blair to lead a coalition as they did.

Tim, Saddam did possess WMDs. They weren't large stockpiles, but they were certainly there, and there were enough that if he had worked something out with some terrorist organization it could have done some serious damage. It doesn't take very much.

As for the link between Saddam and al Qaeda, that's now been well-established. They weren't actually cooperating on anything and hadn't actually agreed to cooperate on anything, but they certainly had had meetings, they certainly shared goals, and he was perfectly willing to give them shelter and permit their operation within his borders.

Now presuming the accusations of this anonymous coward are true (and the anonymity is sufficient grounds to be extremely skeptical), the presumed fact that administration officials wanted such an operational connection revealed does not mean the argument rests on it, as if its truth is necessary for the argument to be a good one. All that's required to see why someone might be motivated to do such a thing is that there are enough people who (wrongly in my view and in the administration's view) insist on such a connection before they will see that the argument is good. Such an established connection would then win over such people even by their own (again, incorrect) standard. So wanting such information, especially if you think it exists, does not amount to thinking the argument really does rest on such information being true. All that matters is that some people (wrongly) insist that such information would be necessary, and your comment shows that such people exist, since you have admitted to being one of them.

If you drop a premise, you are making a different argument.

Bush could have made the argument for war based solely on the factors you enumerated, but he didn't. He included Saddam's current production and stockpiling of weapons as a premise.

The fact that you would have found the other argument persuasive doesn't mean that the argument he made did not depend on the premises he offered. The fact that you view one of his premises as irrelevant or unnecessary does not make it any less a part of his argument.

You are welcome to believe that the words that came out of Bush's mouth about Saddam's activities were irrelevant to the argument he was making for going to war with Iraq, but please don't expect anyone else to accept such nonsense.

On the question of prewar intel, Doug Feith has a website in which he has posted some declassified, prewar memos indicating what the state of the evidence was:

http://www.dougfeith.com/

I didn't say dropping a premise means it's the same argument. I said the argument doesn't depend on that premise.

I'm not sure why you think I'm saying that what Bush said is irrelevant to his argument. All I said is that some of the things he said are unnecessary to reach the conclusion he reached. That doesn't mean the other considerations are unnecessary. In fact, I several times said that they give further support to the same conclusion. So of course it would be nonsense to say that the parts of Bush's argument were irrelevant to his argument, but that's not what I said.

The debatable intelligence at the time had to do with nukes, not biological and chemical weapons.

BTW, this is dead wrong. Saddam's mobile biological weapons laboratories were a key part of Powell's speech to the U.N. This information came primarily from an Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" that no one from the CIA had ever met or interviewed. The Germans had him and they did not consider him reliable. This intelligence was every bit as controversial as the tubes and the yellowcake from Niger.

I suspect you need to broaden your sources of information. FYI, Doug Feith is not a credible source on the state of pre-war intelligence.

Perhaps you misunderstand me. I'm not saying that there were no at-the-time controversial pieces of intelligence having to do with biological or chemical WMD. I'm saying that the conclusion that Saddam Hussein actually had those kinds of WMD and active programs producing them was uncontroversial among the major intelligence-gathering organizations. You didn't find a lot of people seriously questioning that conclusion, whereas there were plenty of people who were much more hesitant on the nuclear question.

Sure, I suppose you could think of the situation in late 2002 that way: that there were a bunch of people sitting around thinking "I'd be convinced to go to war only if there were evidence of a connection between the group that attacked my country on 9/11 and only if Saddam Hussein appears able to reconstitute his biological weapons program in violation of U.N. sanctions." And the administration, knowing how important it was to go to war, decided to include such information to convince such people, even though they didn't need to. I think a much more likely (and historically accurate rather than revised) situation is this: the case for war was insufficient without attempting to connect Saddam to 9/11 and without attempting to demonstrate Saddam's current possession of WMD and immediate ability to reconstitute a programme producing more. Therefore the administration made those connections as necessary supports for their case for war.

I think the truth of such a situation is self-evident. I would use a hypothetical to demonstrate: if the Bush administration had been completely convinced at the time of the sufficiency of their argument without any connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda and without any ability on Saddam's part to either possess WMD or reconstitute such a program, they would never include such claims in their argument. But they did include such claims. Therefore, they were aware that the argument was not sufficient.

I don't think we're going to convince each other of anything, though. Perhaps you just mean that the Bush administration was wrong at the time, and should have made their argument without the extraneous claims. Perhaps you're finding a new rationale that wasn't present in late 2002, early 2003. I will assume you're arguing in good faith, though, and agree to disagree.

On the connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, though, and on the possession of WMD, you're going to need to provide some support. Your claims fly in the face of he available evidence. Because what I remember reading at the time (and can find support for now) shows that there were no WMD in Iraq and the search for such weapons ended in embarrassment for the administration. What we see now is that there was NO connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

Whether he had active programs is precisely the issue that was controversial. Many intelligence organizations believed that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons left from the 1980's. There was no consensus that he was actively engaged in manufacturing them in 2002 because there was no solid evidence that he was.

By the by, your comment about the "anonymous coward" and the fact that "anonymity is sufficient grounds to be extremely skeptical" would seem to call into question the entire grounds for your original post, being that the article has not a single named source for its direct quotations.

Tim, all I have to do is read the articles you linked to. The one with the inaccurate headline about no WMD being found does indeed list several that were found along with Duelfer saying he wouldn't be surprised if more isolated WMD were found.

Read the Wikipedia entry for a summary. They didn't find conventional weapons laced with chemical agents except that they found shells with sarin gas and mustard gas that might not have worked in every case but had been kept since the earlier program. But David Kay determined that they intended to resume their WMD programs as soon as sanctions were lifted and that they had enough samples of the biological and chemical agents in question to begin doing so. They found laboratories with some of this stuff that hadn't been reported to the U.N., and even though they ended inspections without much hope of finding weapon-ready WMD, Kay thought that if they'd kept looking they would have probably found more of the chemical and biological agents. They also found enough uranium in a ready mode for use in one nuclear weapon in 2004, and just last year they found 550 metric tons of yellowcake.

In Kay's words, ""So there was a WMD program. It was going ahead. It was rudimentary in many areas." In addition, ISG said, ""We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002." Kay told Tom Brokaw in an interview, "I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized. Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq well could have been that supplier if the war had not intervened."

As for the al Qaeda contact with Saddam Hussein's government, keep in mind what I said. I said that the various inspections and intelligence review panels and committees agreed that there was no operational link between them but that there had been discussions and an opening for potential cooperation, and this is true even if there was no strong evidence of any actual plans and some reason to think that they would face some obstacles if they ever did consider working together.

As for anonymity, I have extreme dislike for those who make accusations against particular individuals while not standing behind such claims. I don't have nearly as many hesitations about those who present information that isn't directed at accusations of particular individuals, particularly when it's a case where an anonymous source mentions something that isn't central to the main argument being made and also simply confirms something named individuals had been saying would happen all along.

Vinny, the issue is primarily whether people believed that he had the weapons to use in an attack if he so desired, and no one thought he didn't.

Actually, there were plenty of people who thought he didn’t. General Anthony Zinni had been the top U.S. Commander in Iraq prior to Bush’s election and he continued to have access to the intelligence coming out of the region in 2001 and 2002 as a CIA consultant. He said there was nothing to support the administration’s certitude on WMD.

In 2002, the world was filled with bad people who hated us and would have liked to hurt us if they ever got the chance, and it continues to be. An argument like the one you suggest could be used to justify an attack on North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, and who knows how many other countries. There were and are plenty of countries whose capacity for mischief, possession of dangerous weapons, and contact with terrorists equaled or exceeded Iraq’s.

Bush had to make an argument that justified singling out Iraq as the one unique threat that required immediate military attention. They had to justify diverting resources from confronting other people who hated us and wanted to hurt us as well as from hunting down the people who actually had hurt us. I think the rationale within the administration was that flexing our military muscle by knocking off Saddam and installing a pro-American government in Baghdad would scare the bejabbers out of Iran and North Korea and all the other bad guys.

However, having campaigned on the idea that the United States was not the world’s policeman, the administration needed to convince congress and the American people that Iraq posed a threat that was so much greater than all the other threats out there in the world that Saddam Hussein couldn’t be allowed to remain in power. That argument did depend on the things that the administration and the CIA were either wrong about or lied about: aluminum tubes for centrifuges, operational contacts with Al Queda, yellow cake purchases in Africa, unmanned drones that could make chemical attacks on Israel, and mobile biological weapons laboratories. It could not be made solely on what Saddam hoped to do someday.

Right, there were individuals. I'm talking on the level of intelligences agencies internationally. Pretty much every nation we've got close contact with on intelligence matters agreed on this due to their own intelligence, which suffered from the same problems as ours. The human intelligence was unreliable. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that Saddam was misleading his own generals about this issue.

Of course there are a few other places that could be the object of an argument like this, just as there are a few other places that could be part of a similar argument on the human rights issue, just as there are a few other places that could be part of a similar argument on the issue of defending our economic interests (and the economic interests of most of Europe) in that region related to oil. But there are also few enough resources that, given a moral obligation to do what we can with one or two of these situations, we have to make a choice which ones to do. The immediacy of 9-11 did prioritize places like Afghanistan. The U.N. resolution, together with the confluence of all three of the issues I listed above and the greater likelihood of Iraq than North Korea or Cuba, of having contact with al Qaeda (and keep in mind that we did have human intelligence making much stronger claims than mere contact) can easily bring Iraq to the forefront. It's pretty crazy to say that every prima facie obligation becomes an obligation in cases where limited resources mean you can only handle one or a few such prima facie obligations. But it still might mean you ought to do one or a few if that's genuinely possible.

I don't buy the conspiracy theory. I think Bush genuinely changed his mind on these kinds of interventions after 9-11 for security reasons. Remember how much fear the general populace had at the time, and imagine it increased to the nth degree because of the pressures of governing. It wasn't until Saddam was neutralized that the opposition party started questioning any of Bush's motivations, and I don't buy the argument that this was because he lied to them, especially now that we see Speaker Pelosi changing her tune on something she'd signed off on willingly before in such a blatantly dishonest way. He stuck to his guns on something that they realized a little distance could allow them to use for their own political gain even though they'd been fully on board for the same reasons until they felt safer. His language, tone, and body language have always come across to me not as someone caught in a lie but as someone sideswiped by facts that don't line up with what he'd been told and by betrayals by those who had assured him they were on his side.

The administration wasn't wrong about Saddam trying to purchase yellowcake in Africa, by the way. He did try. They weren't about to deal with him, but Joseph Wilson confirmed that he did make the attempt in his initial report. He just lied about it later. There was a forgery involved at one point during the process that everyone knew was suspect and that George Tenet kept telling Bush not to rely on (and it slipped his attention when someone let it get into the State of the Union), but the British seem not to have relied on that forgery from what I've been able to tell, and Wilson's report confirmed that the attempt was made by Saddam.

But it still might mean you ought to do one or a few if that's genuinely possible.

It might, but it might not. That is why the decision depends on everything that it going on at the time and all the potential costs and benefits. That is why I don’t think you can say that the strength of the argument didn’t depend on things like whether Iraq was actively producing and stockpiling biological and chemical WMD as opposed to merely retaining some from the pre-Gulf War era, and whether Iraq was presently entering contracts for yellowcake as opposed to making inconsequential contacts four years earlier, and whether Iraq was cooperating operationally with Al Queda rather than having the kind of intelligence-gathering contacts that any country would try to have with such a group.

Personally, I was opposed to the idea of going to war with Iraq even before I knew about all the problems with the intelligence. Based on my understanding of Middle East history, I thought the odds that Iraq would become a stable pro-American democracy were extremely remote. This is the area that angers me more than anything else because Cheney had always defended the decision not to topple Saddam in 1991 on the grounds that the United States would find itself in the very kind of quagmire that it wound up in 2004 and 2005. I have never seen any evidence that the administration had any basis to believe that transforming Iraq was “genuinely possible” and lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq leads me to believe that it was little more than wishful thinking.

I agree that Bush changed his mind after 9-11. I think he truly embraced the neoconservative idea of using American power to transform the political culture of the Middle East. Unfortunately, I don’t think Rumsfeld and Cheney were looking beyond the opportunity to flex America’s military muscle by taking down one of our enemies. The differing motivations left a vacuum in planning for an occupation and no one was interested in listening to Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” warnings.

I just finished reading Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam by Gordon M. Goldstein and it’s a fascinating story. From 1961 on, Kennedy’s advisors told him that he should put in American combat troops into Vietnam, but he resisted because he was never satisfied that he would ever be able to get them out. Johnson, on the other hand, had the exact same concerns, but he went in anyway. We can’t be sure that Kennedy wouldn’t have made the decision after the 1964 election, but the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis had made him skeptical of the hawks in his administration whose first choice was military force. Sometimes a President has to just say no like Truman did to McArthur in Korea and Reagan did after the bombing of the Marines barracks in Lebanon.

You are quite right about everyone having the same problem with unreliable human intelligence. I think that is why pointing to others who shared the administration’s beliefs about WMD is unpersuasive. Others may have thought that Iraq had them but they didn’t claim that the case was solid when it wasn’t and that things were well confirmed when they were in fact very sketchy. I share your disdain for Democrats who lacked the guts to challenge the administration and for the neocon cheerleaders who tried to distance themselves after things went sour. Nevertheless, Bush was “the decider” and the buck stops with him.

BTW, I am not sure that Joe Wilson confirmed “an attempt” to buy yellowcake. I think he said that an official in Niger had been approached by an Iraqi official about resuming trade relations, but the Nigerian official declined to have any substantive discussions. It seems more like a teenager who enters a liquor store and talks to the clerk for awhile and then leaves. We know what the guy had on his mind when he initiated the conversation but he really didn’t try to complete a transaction. In any case that contact had occurred in 1999 and the CIA did not appear to attach any weight to it. I am not sure that Wilson was wrong about what the administration knew about the Niger situation although I think he lied about being the one who told them.

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