Rachel Maddow talks to Ron Suskind about what was driving the Bush administrations requests for the "harsh interrogation methods" a.k.a. torture to be used on suspected al Qaeda terrorists. It was not to protect the country but instead to justify the invasion of Iraq.
MADDOW: This new Levin report confirms a lot of the reporting that you did for your book in 2006. Is the headline here at last that the torture goes right to the White House?
SUSKIND: Yes. Well, that‘s what I found back in the reporting back in ‘06, you know? It was directed by the president and the vice president. They were involved day to day.
The president was getting briefings. The vice president—what techniques are we using; he was asking, “Are they working, what is the yield?” This came from the very top.
And that‘s the way it filtered down as the Senate report now shows, all the way through the government. That‘s why we now have coherence, if you will, in terms of techniques, in terms of strategy, in terms of goals, and in terms of who really is driving this. It comes from the big white building.
MADDOW: You‘ve done a lot of reporting on the Bush administration‘s efforts to try to create, try to find some sort of link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda—for all the obvious political reasons in 2002 and 2003. How big of a development is it that these interrogation tactics were being used, in some cases, according to the Armed Services Committee report, these techniques were being used specifically to try to find that Iraq link?
SUSKIND: Well, it‘s fascinating. I heard some of that back when I was reporting the book, but I really couldn‘t confirm it and you need, you know, several sources confirming to put it in the book.
And what‘s fascinating here, if you run the timeline side by side, you see, really, for the first time from that report that the key thing being sent down in terms of the request by the policymakers, by the White House, is find a link between Saddam and al Qaeda so that we essentially can link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us. That was the goal and that was being passed down as the directive.
It‘s, you know, it‘s often called the requirement inside the CIA for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives. “Here‘s what we‘re interested in, here‘s what we, the duly elected leaders, want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.”
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 from the very start there is no Saddam/al Qaeda link. We checked it out. We did 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 on the CIA side and the Army side. It‘s extraordinary.
Mind you, Rachel, this is important. This is not about an impetus to foil an 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 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, 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.