Maddow Guest Touts Alleged Success of Pre-9/11 Legal Strategy Against al Qaeda

It's not often I hear three jaw-dropping claims in the course of a single day.

On "The Rachel Maddow Show," this can happen in a matter of minutes, especially when author Ron Suskind is the guest.

Suskind appeared on Maddow's MSNBC program on April 22 and wasted little time making dubious assertions stemming from the Senate Armed Services report that questioned the legality of al Qaeda interrogations --

SUSKIND: What's fascinating in the Senate report is finally clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House that was actually driving action. The quote, in fact, inside of the Senate report from a major said that as frustration built inside of the White House, that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House at the very start, there is no Saddam-al Qaeda link, we checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry, the White House simply wouldn't take no for an answer and it went with another method, torture was the method, get me a confession, I don't care how you do it, and that bled all the way through the government, both in the CIA side and the Army side. It's extraordinary.

Mind you, Rachel, this is important, this is not about an impetus to foil a (sic) upcoming potential al Qaeda attacks. The impetus here is largely political-diplomatic. The White House had a political-diplomatic problem, it wanted it solved in the run-up to the war, and mind you, and I think that the data will show this, after the invasion when it becomes clear in the summer, just a few months after in 2003 that there are no WMD in Iraq, that's the summer of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, my goodness, there are no WMD, now the White House is being hit with a charge that they took us to war under false pretenses, that's when the frustration is acute.

My question and the question for investigators now is how many of these interrogations were driven specifically by a desire to come up with the Saddam-al Qaeda link. It's essentially rivers coming together. This gets, the key issue certainly in criminal cases, intent. What was driving action? What were they looking for? What was the real impetus and now I think you have your first clear answer that affirms some of the things that we've been hearing.

MADDOW: The prospect that it was being done because of the ticking time-bomb scenario was troubling enough. The prospect that it was being done specifically for political reasons, in order to come up with good information you could spin for political reasons, is just (fists balled in frustration), yeah!

I might actually agree with Maddow on this if harsh interrogations were conducted absent the "ticking time-bomb scenario." But "because" of this? Troubling only to the bomb-makers themselves, and to useful idiots in the West apologizing for them.

This was jaw-dropper number one. Suskind gets credit for the next two -- 

MADDOW: I want to raise one other issue about the FBI with you, Ron. It's notable that one of the groups of interrogators that isn't being singled out here is the FBI. The Levin report says that between the time, for example, with Abu Zubaydah, between the time that he was captured and four months later when those memos said, go ahead, torture him, in effect, FBI interrogators walked out, wouldn't participate, the FBI director specifically told his agents not to be part of it. What do we know about that decision, about the FBI's non-role in this?

SUSKIND: Yeah, well, that's been reported some too, it's fascinating. The FBI  wanted to get in at the start. They essentially said, look, we're the experts at this. You know, CIA, you do a different job, we're about debriefing. And in fact the FBI was quite successful in interrogating, debriefing al Qaeda members which resulted in all those prosecutions in 19-, in the 1990s, the '93 World Trade Center bombings (sic), the embassy bombings.

Yeah, that "quite successful" prosecutorial approach had a chilling effect on al Qaeda, didn't it? I recall the day in May 2001 when four conspirators were convicted for their roles in the 1998 embassy bombings. Four months later and less than a mile from the courthouse, the felons' cohorts reduced the World Trade Center to crematoria.

From that day, President George W. Bush rejected the anti-terrorism policy he inherited of waiting until we were hit before rounding up the usual suspects. And while Suskind can delude himself with happy talk about conviction rates against terrorists, there's something to be said for Bush's approach of circumventing crimes against humanity before they occur. In other words, Never Again as actual policy.

Suskind went beyond this, however, with his whopper of a claim that the Senate Armed Services report provides "clear confirmation" that harsh interrogations of al Qaeda were motivated by a desperate Bush desire to show links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Setting aside the fact there were undeniable links between Saddam and al Qaeda in the decade leading to 9/11, as documented by Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard and others, Suskind's claim is not borne out by the report itself.

No mention of this alleged motivation, for example, can be found in the executive summary of the report, nor in its seven-page list of contents (the report can read in its entirety by following this link).

I spent the better part of last evening scanning through the entire 232-page report, not reading every word, but scouring every page for this alleged "clear confirmation." To the extent it exists at all, I found a single instance of it, on page 41 when a person identified as Major Paul Burney testified in April 2006 to the Army Inspector General --

[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link .... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.

It's not only the break in the last sentence that raises eyebrows. Notice how Burney prefaced his remarks -- "this is my opinion." I'm not a lawyer as the saying goes, but I know enough about lawyering to doubt this counts as evidence of anything beyond Burney's opinion. And did you happen to notice when he pointed out that interrogations yielded "useful" information?

Suskind wasn't alone in claiming this motivation as blockbuster. So did leftist online bulletin board The Huffington Post. On the morning of April 22, the same day Suskind would appear on Maddow's cable show that evening, Huffington Post ran this story with the headline, "Senate Report: Harsh Tactics Used in Attempt to Establish Non-Existent Iraq-al Qaida Link."

Sure enough, the only example cited in the Huffington Post story (by way of McClatchy) is the same statement from Burney quoted above.

To trumpet this as the most newsworthy aspect of the Senate Armed Services report is akin to describing 9/11 with a singular focus on the weather. Agreed, it was noteworthy, but hardly the headline.

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts