First there was the NY Times story that “The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them” in order to avoid torture. (Robert Waldman notes that this did get reported months ago, although it seems to have gone down the memory hole.)
Now comes a suggestion in the UK’s Observer — sadly, not an utterly reliable source — that CIA officers are getting cold feet about carrying on with these ‘renditions’. But not because they produce false intelligence. No, it’s the fear of law suits.
The Observer buried the leed: They start with the Yet Another Torture Allegation (YATA) story that An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies. It seems that
Mr. Binyam Mohammed, 27,
says he spent nearly three years in the CIA’s network of ‘black sites’. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.
Then there’s a tie-in the Padilla case:
Western agencies believed that he was part of a plot to buy uranium in Asia, bring it to the US and build a ‘dirty bomb’ in league with Jose Padilla, a US citizen. Mohammed signed a confession but told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, he had never met Padilla, or anyone in al-Qaeda.
That’s interesting. But the really eye-catching part comes next:
A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in ‘deep crisis’ following last week’s international political storm over the agency’s practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ – transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. ‘The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA's clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,’ he said. ‘They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don’t have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they’re thinking about trying to resign altogether.’
Could we actually be getting somewhere? And does this explain the nearly-rabid efforts by the Bush administration to keep the CIA exempt from suit for torture and ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ treatment?
But don’t get too optimistic: Binyam Mohammed got shipped to Guantanamo in September. UK and US law may not let evidence acquired under torture into court. But, so far that rule is inoperative in Guantanamo.