Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Waterboarding and Disagreement Between the CIA and the FBI

An FBI agent is calling into question both the intelligence value of Abu Zubaydah and the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques to obtain information from him. Zudaydah was considered a major figure in al Qaeda at the time of his capture. Last week, according to an ABC News interview with John Kiriakou, a CIA agent involved in the capture and subsuquent interrogation of Zubaydah:

1. Zubaydah refused to provide any substantive intelligence information in the immediate aftermath of his capture and until waterboarding was used upon him.

2. Zubaydah was subject to increasing degrees of "enhanced interrogation" that he resisted.

3. Zubaydah ws ultimately waterboarded one time for about 30 seconds. After he was waterboarded, he had a visit from Allah in his sleep who urged him to fully cooperate - and he did.

4. No further "enhanced interrogation techniques were used upon Zubaydah after that.

5. The information that Zubaydah provided was critical in breaking up dozens of al Qaeda attacks planned about the time of his capture.

6. The additional information that Zubaydah provided was general in nature as to the operational systems and tactics of al Qaeda.

See here.

The Washington Post article calls at least some of this information into question. Specifically:

During his first month of captivity, Abu Zubaida described an al-Qaeda associate whose physical description matched that of Padilla, leading to Padilla's arrest at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in May 2002. A former CIA officer said in an interview that Abu Zubaida's "disclosure of Padilla was accidental." The officer added that Abu Zubaida "was talking about minor things and provided a small amount of information and a description of a person, just enough to identify him because he had just visited the U.S. Embassy" in Pakistan.

Other officials, including Bush, have said that during those early weeks -- before the interrogation turned harsh -- Abu Zubaida confirmed that Mohammed's role as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.

. . . According to Kiriakou's account, which he said is based on detailed descriptions by fellow team members, Abu Zubaida broke after just 35 seconds of waterboarding, which involved stretching cellophane over his mouth and nose and pouring water on his face to create the sensation of drowning.

But other former and current officials disagreed that Abu Zubaida's cooperation came quickly under harsh interrogation or that it was the result of a single waterboarding session. Instead, these officials said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months.

The videotaping of Abu Zubaida in 2002 went on day and night throughout his interrogation, including waterboarding, and while he was sleeping in his cell, intelligence officials said. "Several hundred hours" of videotapes were destroyed in November 2005, a senior intelligence officer said. The CIA has said it ceased waterboarding in 2003.

According to the 9/11 Commission, which had access to FBI and CIA summaries of the interrogation, after August 2002 -- when the harsh questioning is said to have begun -- Abu Zubaida identified Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri as a productive recruiter for al-Qaeda. Nashiri was subsequently captured and subjected to harsh interrogation, including waterboarding, but videotapes of that questioning were also destroyed by the CIA.

The commission also said Abu Zubaida provided further information in 2003 and 2004 about Mohammed's conversations with bin Laden and about Abu Turab, a key trainer for the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Even under intense pressure, Abu Zubaida remained a wily adversary, according to a former senior intelligence official familiar with the interrogation, who explained that he seemed "very selective in what he protected and what he gave up." Another former official said that when the measures turned harsh, Abu Zubaida constructed a rationale for why he should cooperate. He decided that "God will not try you beyond your ability to resist," as the former official put it.

Coleman, a 31-year FBI veteran, joined other former law enforcement colleagues in expressing skepticism about Abu Zubaida's importance. Abu Zubaida, he said in an interview, was a "safehouse keeper" with mental problems who claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did.

Abu Zubaida's diary, which Coleman said he examined at length, was written in three distinct personalities -- one younger, one older and one the same age as Abu Zubaida. The book was full of flowery and philosophical meanderings, and made little mention of terrorism or al-Qaeda, Coleman said.

Looking at other evidence, including a serious head injury that Abu Zubaida had suffered years earlier, Coleman and others at the FBI believed that he had severe mental problems that called his credibility into question. "They all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone," Coleman said, referring to al-Qaeda operatives. "You think they're going to tell him anything?"

Tenet disagreed, writing in his book that CIA psychiatrists concluded that Abu Zubaida "was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself" in the diary, which was "hundreds of pages" long.

Coleman said reports of Abu Zubaida's statements during his early, traditional interrogation were "consistent with who he was and what he would possibly know." He and other officials said that materials seized from Abu Zubaida's house and other locations, including names, telephone numbers and computer laptops, provided crucial information about al-Qaeda and its network. . . .

Read the entire article here. This is one of the few times when I would like to see intelligence information declassified and made public to the maximum extent possible. If there is to be a national debate on "enhanced interrogation" and whether to retain waterboarding as a potential tool in our arsenal, then we should know the details of its use to date. Otherwise, the debate will turn on emotion and supposition. When the issue is one of national security, that is not acceptable.

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