Bush & Zubaydah: The "Clear Vision" Problem

Kevin Drum points us today toward this incredible tidbit contained in Barton Gellman’s review of Ron Suskind’s new book:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be….Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda’s go-to guy for minor logistics….And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.”

[Other unrelated bungling described, all of which is worth clicking the link to read.]

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. “I said he was important,” Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. “You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” “No sir, Mr. President,” Tenet replied. Bush “was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?” Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each…target.” And so, Suskind writes, “the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

This is the problem with Dubya’s inability to ever admit a mistake. To do so would require changing your path to fit the circumstances. Here, it appears, it was more important to continue down a path that involved torturing a mentally ill man (though one who probably had done some heinous things) and, more importantly, wasting time and resources chasing down every utterance being coerced out of this literal whackjob’s mouth.

Better that than admitting that Zubaydah’s value was overstated by the President.

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