This story is almost unimaginably repulsive.
McClatchy reports that one of the prime pressures that led to using torture as an "interrogation technique" was the prewar effort to find "links" between al Qaida and Iraq -- links which the intelligence community already were confident did not exist:
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document. [...]
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."
Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
According to another source, from the Senate Armed Services report:
"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."
I sat myself down to write a long essay about this, but I could not.
We have here the foul nexus between the Bush administration pushing "enhanced" interrogation techniques, and the ginned up case for the Iraq War. As early as 2002, torture was being used not to break "resistant" subjects, but in an effort to gain information that would be primarily politically useful.
Two points are critical. First, that both the approval for which "enhanced" techniques would be used and the political pressure to use them came directly from members of the Bush administration.
And second, that the torture was used in spite of the intelligence services involved knowing that the torture was extremely unlikely to produce any useful information, because they already knew -- despite the pressure from "Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people" -- that there were no such links. And yet they tortured prisoners in an attempt to find them.
They ordered torture; they approved the specific methods to be used, including "waterboarding", a long-recognized method of torture; they did it in an attempt to extract politically expedient information from prisoners; they did it in spite of knowing that the prisoners would almost certainly not be able to provide any such information.
I cannot come up with any rationale for why this would not be, unambiguously, a war crime.