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Torture is a war crime, I don’t think there’s much debate about that. The Geneva Conventions say so, the United Nations Convention Against Torture says so. What constitutes torture, and whether or not waterboarding qualifies, may be debatable for some, but that’s not the topic for today.

In my opinion, recent revelations have uncovered a greater war crimes than torture. That is the Bush administration taking this country into war in Iraq on false and concocted premises, and the lengths to which they were willing to go to make a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11 to justify that war.

Frank Rich’s excellent op-ed in the New York Times and the chain of events in 2002 makes this clear; from the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, to the Downing Street memo, to the Bybee memo authorizing the use of the “enhanced techniques.”

The timeline:

March to June 2002, Zubaydah was interrogated by the FBI and the CIA, using traditional methods which produced actionable intelligence, such as information on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla.

But that’s not what the Bush administration wanted, as stated in the Downing Street memo from July 2002:

There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

August 1, 2002 brought the Bybee memo calling Zubaydah “one of the highest ranking members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization”,which by that time they knew was untrue, and authorizing the “increased pressure phase” because interrogators were “certain that he has information that he refuses to divulge.” Another lie.

August of 2002, Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, a tactic known to produce false confessions according to one of Zubaydah’s interrogators:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods..

But the Bush administration didn’t care about the reliability, they just wanted someone to say the words establishing the link between Saddam and 9/11. Whether or not it was true, or whether the means by which they achieved that goal were in violation of U.S. or international law was irrelevant.

As Frank Rich put it:

“…the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.”

Attempting to sell a war based on bogus intelligence obtained through illegal means? To me, that is a war crime worse than torture.