Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah

Beginning in August 2002, Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner to undergo “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Since the Spanish Inquisition, these practices have been characterized as torture.[1][2] There is disagreement among government sources as to how effective these techniques were; some officials contend that Abu Zubaydah gave his most valuable information before they were used; CIA lawyer John Rizzo said he gave more material afterward.[3]

.. Since 2006, Abu Zubaydah has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While in CIA custody, Zubaydah lost his left eye.[4]

.. Although President George W. Bush claimed in 2006 three examples of intelligence derived from the torture of Abu Zubaydah by the CIA, which he said showed that it was justified, later reporting has established that the prisoner gave two of the names under conventional interrogation by the FBI, and intelligence analysts already had leads from other sources to the third person.[1]

.. Ali Soufan stated that “[w]e kept him alive. It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.”[6] The agents attempted to convince Abu Zubaydah that they knew of his activities in languages he understood: English and Arabic.[7][8] Both agents believed they were making good progress in gathering intelligence from Abu Zubaydah.[1][9]

 .. During these sessions, Abu Zubaydah revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as “Mukhtar” to Abu Zubaydah, was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks[10] and that American José Padilla had wanted to use a “dirty bomb” in a terror attack.[1][5][6][7]
.. When the CIA interrogation team arrived a week or two later than the FBI team,[10] they concluded that Abu Zubaydah was holding back information and that harsher techniques were necessary.[5][7][9] The CIA team was led by CIA contractor and former Air Force psychologist James Elmer Mitchell.[6][11] Mitchell ordered that Abu Zubaydah answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques.[6
.. In 2009 Soufan testified before Congress that his FBI team was removed from Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation multiple times, only to be asked to return when the harsher interrogation tactics of the CIA proved unsuccessful.[12]Ali Soufan was alarmed by the early CIA tactics, such as enforced nudity, cold temperatures, and blaring loud rock music in Zubaydah’s cell.[1][6] Soufan reported to his FBI superiors that the CIA’s interrogation constituted “borderline torture.”[8] He was particularly concerned about a coffin-like box he discovered that had been built by the CIA interrogation team.[6] He was so angry he called the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amaro, and shouted, “I swear to God, I’m going to arrest these guys!”[1][6] Afterward, both FBI agents were ordered to leave the facility by FBI Director Robert Mueller.[6][8][13] Ali Soufan left, but Steve Gaudin stayed an additional few weeks and continued to participate in the interrogation.[8]
.. “We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.”[6]
.. Rohan Gunaratna, an al-Qaida expert and a government witness in the José Padilla case, said that “most of the information that was exceptionally useful to the fight against al-Qaida came from Abu Zubaydah, and it came before the U.S. government decided to use enhanced techniques
.. Dan Coleman, a retired FBI official and al Qaida expert, commented that after the CIA’s use of coercive methods, “I don’t have confidence in anything he says, because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted. He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn’t believe him. The problem is they didn’t realize he didn’t know all that much.”[9]
.. Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.[13]
.. The SERE program was originally designed as defensive in nature and was used to train American pilots and other soldiers how to resist harsh interrogation techniques and torture if they fell into enemy hands.[1][18] The program subjected U.S. military trainees to techniques such as “waterboarding . . . sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to extreme temperatures, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds at extremely damaging decibel levels, and religious and sexual humiliation.”[22] For the CIA, Mitchell and Jessen adapted SERE into an offensive program designed to train CIA agents and contractors on how to use the harsh interrogation techniques or torture to get information from prisoners
.. All of the tactics listed above were later reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross as having been used on Abu Zubaydah
.. Mitchell and Jessen relied heavily on experiments done by the American psychologist Martin Seligman in the 1970s known as “learned helplessness.
.. Mitchell believed that Zubaydah must be treated “like a dog in a cage.”[1] He said the interrogation “was like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.”[1]
.. the Washington Post reported in 2009 that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions
.. A former intelligence official stated “[w]e spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”[27] Ron Suskind said, “we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.”
.. Abu Zubaydah claims he lied under interrogation to prevent further torture.[29]

Some of the various false leads he provided are the following:

  • Al Qaeda planned on blowing up “soft targets” such as apartment buildings, supermarkets, and shopping malls.[30]
  • Attacks could occur against the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.[31]
  • There were plots against banks in the Northeastern United States.[32]
  • There was going to be a nerve gas attack on a major U.S. subway system sometime around July 4.[33]
  • Al Qaeda plotted to detonate a jacket full of explosives on a civilian airliner and that the planners had used their own metal and explosive detectors to figure out how to successfully accomplish the mission.[34]
  • Al Qaeda knew how to build and smuggle a dirty bomb into the United States.[35] Abu Zubaydah later retracted this allegation.[36]

.. George Tennet who was so impressed that he initially ordered us to be congratulated. That was apparently quickly withdrawn as soon as Mr. Tennet was told that it was FBI agents, who were responsible.

.. Immediately, on the instructions of the contractor, harsh techniques were introduced, starting with nudity. (The harsher techniques mentioned in the memos were not introduced or even discussed at this point.) The new techniques did not produce results as Abu Zubaydah shut down and stopped talking. At that time nudity and low-level sleep deprivation (between 24 and 48 hours) was being used.

.. After a few days of getting no information, and after repeated inquiries from DC asking why all of sudden no information was being transmitted (when before there had been a steady stream), we again were given control of the interrogation. We then returned to using the Informed Interrogation Approach. Within a few hours, Abu Zubaydah again started talking and gave us important actionable intelligence. This included the details of Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber.”

.. The tapes were destroyed on November 9, 2005.[38] When this became public in 2007, the CIA Director at that time, Michael Hayden, asserted that the continued existence of the tapes had represented a risk to the CIA personnel involved.[39] He asserted that if the tapes had been leaked, they might cause the CIA personnel to be identified and targeted for retaliation.[40]

Psychologists are facing consequences for helping with torture. It’s not enough.

Prior to settling, Mitchell and Jessen denied any legal responsibility, and their attorneys argued their inculpability by comparing them to the low-level technicians whose employers provided lethal gas for Hitler’s extermination camps.

.. The case marks the first instance of legal accountability of any kind for psychologists who abandoned ethical standards — and basic decency — while claiming they were merely following government orders on torture.

..  The perverse rationale: According to memos from government lawyers at that time, “close observation” by health professionals constituted clear evidence that there was no specific intent to cause severe pain or suffering.

.. None of these psychologists has ever been sanctioned for ethics violations by state licensing boards or professional associations — even the relative few whose identities are known. In part, this is because the American Psychological Association (APA) — the largest membership organization of psychologists in the world — did not effectively defend the profession’s bedrock do-no-harm principles.

.. In public forums, the APA’s ethics director dismissed reports of detainee abuse as “long on hearsay and innuendo, short on facts.”

.. One association president condemned dissident voices as “opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars.” Another advised us to “turn down the temperature on outrage.” A high-profile military psychologist boasted in his memoir, “I confronted one of my critics and threatened to shut his mouth for him if he didn’t do it himself.”

.. The APA commissioned a comprehensive independent review, conducted by attorney David Hoffman of the Sidley Austin law firm. The 500-page report confirmed what our own research and investigations had found. It concluded that the APA, despite growing evidence of detainee mistreatment, had secretly coordinated with Defense Department officials to promote ethics policies that matched the government’s preference

.. This was accomplished, in part, by stacking a key APA task force with military intelligence insiders and relying on Pentagon representatives

.. APA leaders took this path to “curry favor” with the military establishment — a source of lucrative grants and contracts

.. we have an authoritarian-minded commander in chief who’s insisted that “torture works.”

.. Donald Trump declared that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

.. Since taking office, Trump has appointed both a CIA director who argued that the likes of Mitchell and Jessen are patriots, not torturers, and a deputy director who ran a CIA torture site and participated in the unlawful destruction of videotape evidence.

.. nominated for an administration position a lawyer who authored some of the infamous “torture memos

.. given serious consideration to reopening CIA black sites and expanding the use of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

.. many Americans (roughly half, sometimes more) support the torture of terrorism suspects
..  contributed to radicalizing a new generation of adversaries.
.. Psychologists understand the lasting impact of trauma very well. The demons of deep psychic wounds can continue without end. Colleagues who work with torture survivors describe the victims’ overwhelming feelings of helplessness, brokenness and disconnection from other people, direct results of having been subjected to agonizing abuse and humiliation at the hands of another human being.
..  are haunted by flashbacks and nightmares, and a lasting sense of safety seems impossible to achieve.
.. psychologists’ complicity, whether through active participation or silent acquiescence, is so egregious.