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Previous: 20. Abu Zubaydah
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21

 

The Contractors Take Over

 

This period of cooperation with Abu Zubaydah [5 words redacted] in the hospital and [1 word redacted] when the CTC finally arrived in the country from Washington, DC. The CIA group included their chief operational psychologist, [3 words redacted]; an interrogator, Ed; and a polygrapher, Frank. There were other CIA personnel: analysts, support staff, security personnel. With them was a psychologist, Boris—a contractor hired by the CIA.

At first [1 word redacted] was pleased when the CTC group arrived. Although [1 word redacted] was meeting Frank for the first time, [1 word redacted] knew [1 word redacted] and Ed well. [34 words redacted], and found [1 word redacted] had similar views on issues back then. Ed and [1 word redacted] had worked together a few times. [1 word redacted] had first met in [1 word redacted] investigating the USS Cole bombing, and [1 word redacted] partnered a few times in interrogations [2 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] respected him. With the two of them present, [1 word redacted] assumed that [1 word redacted] would all work together as [1 word redacted] had done [3 words redacted] elsewhere, and that it would be a smooth operation.

While Abu Zubaydah was in the hospital, [3 words redacted], along with local CIA officers, stayed in a nearby hotel. When [1 word redacted] and the CTC team arrived at the hotel, [1 word redacted] asked [1 word redacted] and [1 word redacted] to join them for a meeting. After greeting [1 word redacted] and exchanging pleasantries, [1 word redacted] said to [1 word redacted], “Washington wants to do something new with the interrogation.” He introduced [1 word redacted] to Boris, who he said had developed the new method of interrogation.

“Why is a [1 word redacted] needed?” [1 word redacted] asked [1 word redacted]. “[9 words redacted], but so far it’s been a series of successful interrogations.”

[1 word redacted] was visibly annoyed. “I’ve interviewed terrorists before. It’s a process. This guy is cooperating, [9 words redacted]?”

“I know,” [1 word redacted] said, “but Washington feels that Abu Zubaydah knows much more than he’s telling you, and Boris here has a method that will get that information quickly.”

“What’s your method?” [1 word redacted] asked Boris, turning to him. He said that he would force Abu Zubaydah into submission. His idea was to make Abu Zubaydah see his interrogator as a god who controls his suffering. [1 word redacted] would be taken away from Abu Zubaydah: [6 words redacted] his clothes. If he cooperated he would be given these things back, and if he failed to cooperate, harsher and harsher techniques would be used. “Pretty quickly you’ll see Abu Zubaydah buckle and become compliant,” Boris declared.

“For my technique to work,” he said, “we need to send the message to Abu Zubaydah that until now he had the chance to cooperate, but he blew it. He has to understand that we know he was playing games, and that the game is now over.” He finished by telling [1 word redacted]: “[2 words redacted] will only see Abu Zubaydah one final time. You will tell him that your ‘boss’ will take over. He alone will speak to Abu Zubaydah. He will determine when Abu Zubaydah [3 words redacted], and whether he lives or dies. After that you will never see him again.” Boris added that the boss would be the CTC interrogator, Ed.

As Boris explained his plan, [3 words redacted] looked at each other in surprise. “Why is this necessary,” [1 word redacted] asked, turning to [1 word redacted] and Frank, “given that Abu Zubaydah is cooperating [8 words redacted]?”

Boris interrupted. “You may have gotten results, [14 words redacted], while my method is more effective. He’ll become fully compliant without us having to do any work.”

[1 word redacted] had heard enough. Boris clearly didn’t understand the nature of ideologically motivated Islamic terrorists like Abu Zubaydah. “These things won’t work on people committed to dying for their cause,” [1 word redacted] warned him. “People like Abu Zubaydah are prepared to blow themselves up and die. People like him are prepared to be tortured and severely beaten. They expect to be sodomized and to have family members raped in front of them! Do you really think stripping him naked and taking away his chair will make him cooperate? Do you know who you’re dealing with?”

“This is science,” was Boris’s response. He seemed shocked to have someone challenging him. Former colleagues of his later told me that he always viewed himself as the smartest person in any room and disliked anyone who questioned him. But [1 word redacted] wasn’t finished.

“So why are you going down a path that can jeopardize the endgame?”

“We don’t need to go down the path,” Boris replied. “It’s easy. He’ll fold quickly.”

“Don’t you realize that if you try to humiliate him, you’re just reinforcing what he expects us to do and what he’s trained to resist?” [1 word redacted] had no idea at that point that Boris’s plans would warp into what later became known as EITs.

“You’ll see,” said Boris. “It’s human nature to react to these things. You’ll soon see how quickly he folds. Human beings always want to make life better for themselves. You’ll see.”

“He’s not a prostitute or a common criminal,” [1 word redacted] replied. “His life getting better involves us all being killed or converting to his brand of Islam. This won’t work.”

“You’ll see,” Boris responded. He had a condescending look on his face, as if he couldn’t be bothered with speaking to such simpletons.

“Have you ever questioned an Islamic terrorist before?” [1 word redacted] asked him.

“No.”

“Have you ever conducted any interrogations?”

“No,” he said again, “but I know human nature.” [1 word redacted] was taken aback by his response. [1 word redacted] couldn’t believe that someone with no interrogation or terrorism experience had been sent by the CIA on this mission.

[1 word redacted] spoke to [1 word redacted] and Frank privately and asked, “Is this a joke? What’s going on? The guy has no experience. This is ridiculous.”

“Give him a chance,” [1 word redacted] said. “His ideas might work.” Frank told [1 word redacted] that Boris was very well known in his field: psychology. He added that [1 word redacted] had no choice but to go along with his methods.

“He is in charge,” Frank added.

[1 word redacted] then said, “You know what, [1 word redacted], he’s meant to be an expert. Let’s just give this guy a chance.” [1 word redacted] seemed to hope that Boris’s technique would work. [3 words redacted] had no choice. The CIA was in charge and [1 word redacted] orders were to assist the CIA officers.

[3 words redacted] went into Abu Zubaydah’s hospital room. [36 words redacted]

[98 words redacted]

Abu Zubaydah was taken out of the hospital and brought back to [1 word redacted] original location. It had been transformed in [1 word redacted] absence. An actual cell had been built for him, monitored by hidden cameras and microphones. It took [1 word redacted] a long time to fall asleep that night. [1 word redacted] stared at the ceiling, struggling to understand why a contractor with no interrogation or Islamic terrorism experience was running our nation’s high-value detainee interrogation program. It didn’t make sense.

Boris’s first action was to order Abu Zubaydah to be stripped naked. Nudity would humiliate him, Boris said, and he’d quickly become compliant in order to get his clothes back. [27 words redacted]

Ed went into the cell, [15 words redacted]

[6 words redacted]

[18 words redacted]

Boris announced that loud music would be blasted into Abu Zubaydah’s cell. The nudity would continue as well. The music, Boris said, would become so unbearable that Abu Zubaydah would start speaking to end the noise. The same track of rock music was blasted into the cell, over and over, for a whole day. Those of us listening in the monitoring room soon got sick of the music, and we could only imagine what Abu Zubaydah was going through. Boris sent Ed into the cell. [9 words redacted]

[9 words redacted] Ed walked out.

A [3 words redacted] that Boris had requested arrived. Boris told [1 word redacted] that the reason the loud music had failed [9 words redacted]. He had intended to use the [3 words redacted] all along—he was just using the loud music [8 words redacted]. It was about three feet tall, and [1 word redacted] thought that perhaps it must be something special. But when it was switched on, [16 words redacted]. “This will make him talk?” [1 word redacted] asked [1 word redacted]. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

[1 word redacted] said, “They could have just turned on the air-conditioning, [5 words redacted].” This went on for [3 words redacted] days, [29 words redacted]

Boris then said that what was needed to make Abu Zubaydah talk was sleep deprivation. [3 words redacted] questioned whether sleep deprivation would actually harm Abu Zubaydah and render him less useful to [1 word redacted]. The CIA officers on the ground were in agreement with [1 word redacted] about the risk of such an approach, and they requested guidance from Langley.

The message came back that Boris could deprive Abu Zubaydah of sleep, but for no more than twenty-four hours. Boris was jubilant, and said that after the sleep deprivation, Abu Zubaydah’s will would be broken and he would automatically give up all the information he knew.

The sleep deprivation lasted for twenty-four hours. But like the nudity, the loud noise, and the white noise, it didn’t work. [10 words redacted] And Ed would walk out. [9 words redacted]

Every moment that [3 words redacted] had previously spent with Abu Zubaydah, from [3 words redacted] with him, [1 word redacted] had gained intelligence from him. Slowly but surely he had cooperated, giving information that saved lives. Now [1 word redacted] had to sit and watch for days as nothing was gained through techniques that no reputable interrogator would even think of using.

[1 word redacted] tried reasoning with the CIA officers present in the hope that they would appeal to their headquarters. Terrorists are trained to resist torture. As shocking as Boris’s methods might be to us, the training terrorists receive in training camps prepares them for much worse—the sort of torture they would expect if caught by dictatorships, for example. Being attacked by dogs, being sodomized, and having family members raped in front of them are some of the things they are physically and mentally prepared to endure. And Abu Zubaydah was not an ordinary terrorist trainee. He was the external emir of Khaldan; he had supervised the training process there. Sleep deprivation and nudity would be unlikely to work on a regular terrorist, let alone someone of Abu Zubaydah’s stature and experience.

After the failure of sleep deprivation, [1 word redacted] began having doubts about Boris. He contrasted [1 word redacted] previous successes with the dearth of information under Boris’s regime. He began to realize that [1 word redacted] evaluation of Abu Zubaydah—as a major terrorist facilitator, but not the number three in al-Qaeda—was correct, as was [1 word redacted] warning that Boris’s experiments wouldn’t work on a terrorist like this one.

Other CTC officials and local CIA officers also began to develop doubts, and their original openness to trying Boris’s techniques was replaced by growing skepticism. They had limited or no interrogation experience and didn’t know anything about Abu Zubaydah, so at first didn’t know better. Boris had seemed to know what he was talking about.

But then they saw that Boris’s experiments were evolving into a risky situation with possible legal ramifications. They also began to realize that while Boris came across as being full of confidence, in reality he was just experimenting. His experience was limited to the classroom. He’d never been involved in an actual interrogation of a terrorist before. [1 word redacted] led the effort to put [3 words redacted] back in control of the interrogation.

Boris dismissed any questions about what he was doing. He tried to rally his supporters and explain away his failure by saying that in fact a twenty-four-hour period of sleep deprivation wasn’t enough. “A minimum of forty-eight hours is really needed for sleep deprivation to be successful,” he announced.

Shortly after the initial CTC contingent had arrived with Boris, a team of CIA analysts, mostly young, had followed. They were unfortunately very receptive to the arguments Boris made, as they believed that Abu Zubaydah was the number three or four in al-Qaeda and therefore wasn’t cooperating. Almost all of them admired Boris and seemed convinced that [1 word redacted] were failing with Abu Zubaydah. Some of the young analysts believed that talk was boring and that [1 word redacted] needed to be tough. Boris sent a request to CIA headquarters asking for permission to try a longer period of sleep deprivation.

CIA headquarters wasn’t being challenged only by [1 word redacted] vocal minority at the location. After a few days [4 words redacted], there were inquiries from other parts of the U.S. intelligence community asking why, all of sudden, [2 words redacted] was being transmitted. The result of all this push-back and questioning was that CIA headquarters authorized [3 words redacted] to reengage with Abu Zubaydah. Although Boris was not called off the case, this was an admission that his experiments weren’t working; it was also breaking Boris’s cardinal rule that only one person would deal with Abu Zubaydah—his “god.” Boris was unhappy, but he had no choice—for once CIA headquarters was taking [1 word redacted] side.

Before speaking to Abu Zubayah, [1 word redacted] had a condition that [1 word redacted] made clear to [1 word redacted]. “We won’t go in while he’s naked, or while Boris is playing any of his games.” He told [1 word redacted] to do whatever [1 word redacted] wanted. [28 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] knew that given his cultural and religious taboos regarding nudity, [1 word redacted] action was appreciated. [8 words redacted]

[19 words redacted] While [1 word redacted] understood and agreed with his sentiments, [1 word redacted] couldn’t tell him. Abu Zubaydah would then know that [1 word redacted] side was dysfunctional, and he would clam up altogether, even with [1 word redacted].

[57 words redacted]

Frank, the CTC polygrapher, worked with [3 words redacted] when [1 word redacted] went back in. He was a trained interrogator and shared [1 word redacted] views. [1 word redacted] took turns with Abu Zubaydah.

Frank’s technique in working with Abu Zubaydah was to focus on convincing him that it was in his interest to cooperate. He would tell him, [25 words redacted]

[71 words redacted]

When one of the [3 words redacted] was in the interrogation room, the others were in an adjacent room watching on a closed circuit television (CCTV) screen. Boris and CIA analysts monitoring and supporting the interrogations were in the room, too, and [1 word redacted] quickly learned that Boris hated Frank. This was presumably because Frank was an actual interrogator, and by word and action made it clear that he disagreed with Boris and supported [1 word redacted] approach to interrogation.

When Frank was in with Abu Zubaydah, Boris often made sarcastic remarks about Frank to the others in the room: “He’s boring the hell out of him,” he might say, or “You know what Abu Zubaydah is saying right now? He’s saying, ‘Just shoot me.’ ” Some of the young analysts would laugh at anything Boris said. [3 words redacted] had no idea what he said about [1 word redacted] when [1 word redacted] were out of the room, but [1 word redacted] could guess.

Ignoring Boris, [1 word redacted] picked up with Abu Zubaydah where [1 word redacted] had left off in the hospital. [39 words redacted]

[58 words redacted]

[79 words redacted]

[71 words redacted]

[79 words redacted]

[60 words redacted]

[76 words redacted]

[53 words redacted]

[6 words redacted]

[16 words redacted]

[31 words redacted]

[28 words redacted]

[24 words redacted]

[36 words redacted]

[62 words redacted]

[41 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] cabled this information straight to Langley, recommending that an international alert be put out for the two. This was done.

A message came back from the CIA station [2 words redacted] that they had passport pictures of two individuals fitting those descriptions. A sharp CIA officer there had made the connection. The Pakistanis had detained the two as they tried to leave Pakistan, suspicious that their passports were fraudulent. The passports were sent to the [1 word redacted] and American embassies, respectively, to check whether they were legitimate.

The U.S. Embassy responded that the American passport, [4 words redacted], was legitimate, as indeed it was. The [1 word redacted] said their passport, under the name Binyam Mohamed, was fraudulent—so much for Abu Zubaydah’s estimate. As a result the Pakistanis had released Padilla and held Mohamed for further questioning.

The two passport photos were scanned and sent to [1 word redacted], and [16 words redacted]

[7 words redacted] that [1 word redacted] had their pictures.

[17 words redacted] An international search for Padilla began.

In the meantime, [33 words redacted]

[66 words redacted]

[11 words redacted]

[23 words redacted]

[5 words redacted]

[16 words redacted]

Abu Zubaydah also said he planned to attack gas stations across the country and a major bridge in New York. [7 words redacted]

[7 words redacted]

[8 words redacted]

[23 words redacted] it was the Brooklyn Bridge.

[6 words redacted]

[29 words redacted]

[22 words redacted]

[9 words redacted]

[8 words redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[1 word redacted]

[13 words redacted]

[2 words redacted]

[66 words redacted]

Continuing with the combination of interpersonal, cognitive, and emotional interrogation strategies that had already yielded so much, [1 word redacted] requested, and were granted, permission from Langley to use three classified wiretapped conversations involving Abu Zubaydah. [41 words redacted]

[1 word redacted] started by asking questions that [1 word redacted] knew the answers to, based on the recorded tapes. [10 words redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[1 word redacted]

[4 words redacted]

[2 words redacted]

[17 words redacted]

[23 words redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[1 word redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[20 words redacted]

[55 words redacted]

[14 words redacted]

[1 word redacted] fluency in Arabic was a definite plus [5 words redacted] as [6 words redacted] and [1 word redacted] did not need a translator; nor could Abu Zubaydah deny or lie about the context. But there were many tricks [1 word redacted] used to outwit Abu Zubaydah that didn’t require Arabic.

Professional interrogators know that one of the central points of influence on a detainee is the impression he has of the evidence against him. The interrogator has to do his or her homework and become an expert in every detail known to the intelligence community about the detainee. The interrogator then uses that knowledge to impress upon the detainee that everything about him is known and that any lie will be easily detected.

In contrast, attempting to “break” detainees into compliance without knowing anything about them or the level of their involvement can have disastrous consequences. Interrogators will not know whether information they are given is accurate, pointless, or false.

The interrogator also uses the fear that the detainee feels as a result of his capture and isolation from his support base. People crave human contact, and this is especially true in some cultures. The interrogator turns this knowledge to advantage by becoming the one person the detainee can talk to and who listens to what he has to say. He uses this to encourage the detainee to open up.

Acting in a nonthreatening way isn’t what the terrorist expects from a U.S. interrogator. This adds to the detainee’s confusion and makes him more likely to cooperate. Our approach also utilizes the need the detainee feels to maintain a position of respect and value to the interrogator. Because the interrogator is the one person speaking to and listening to the detainee, a relationship is built—and the detainee doesn’t want to jeopardize it. This was very much the case with [1 word redacted] and Abu Zubaydah, and [1 word redacted] were able to capitalize on it.

As [3 words redacted] were in the middle of writing our report on Padilla, Abu Zubaydah’s plan to fill American apartment buildings with bombs, and the other intelligence he had given [1 word redacted], Boris walked into our room with a big smile. He came up to [1 word redacted], shook [1 word redacted] hand, and said, “I had you all wrong. It was great.”

[3 words redacted] looked at each other in surprise. [1 word redacted] success had undermined his entire approach and had shown that our technique was the effective one. All [1 word redacted] could say in response was: “There is a lot of work to do here.” [1 word redacted] suspected that [1 word redacted] had told Boris to come to [1 word redacted] to try to repair the relationship. At that point [1 word redacted] was still higher up than Boris, as he was a CTC employee and Boris was just a contractor.

Based on the intelligence [1 word redacted] got, on May 17, 2002, FBI headquarters sent out threat warnings to American apartment building owners generally, and extra security was added to the Brooklyn Bridge. At the same time, the international manhunt launched for Padilla was closing in on him. The Pakistanis knew that he had headed to Egypt. From there [1 word redacted] discovered that he had gone to Switzerland. He was tracked to Zurich, where he boarded a plane for Chicago. A contingent of Swiss officials followed him onto the plane. FBI agents based in New York headed to Chicago to pick him up.

The New York office was given the Padilla case because of his al-Qaeda connection. Kenny Maxwell and the JTTF were in charge, and on a secure line [1 word redacted] spoke to Kenny about Padilla. Kenny told [1 word redacted] that they planned to arrest him as soon as he landed. He sounded annoyed with this decision. His preference, he said, was to instead monitor Padilla and see who met up with him in Chicago.

[1 word redacted] fully agreed with Kenny. [1 word redacted] found it strange that Padilla was heading to Chicago. He was raised in Florida and lived in New York. “What is the Chicago connection?” [1 word redacted] asked.

“That’s what I’d like to find out,” Kenny agreed. He said that headquarters had decided to pick up Padilla on arrival out of fear of losing the tail. They didn’t want to take any risks and thought it was safest to just arrest him. [1 word redacted] understood their concerns.

As Padilla stepped off the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, FBI agents pulled him aside, executing a material witness warrant issued by the Southern District of New York. He was searched and was found to have ten thousand dollars with him, along with a cell phone and a personal telephone book. (Padilla is in a U.S. jail today, while Binyam Mohamed is a free man in Britain.)

The material witness warrant was issued based on an affidavit sworn to by Joe Ennis—Alabama Joe. While the “Ennis affidavit” remains classified, parts of it have been quoted in unclassified court documents: “on or about April 23rdCS-1 ([2 words redacted]) was shown two photographs.” The affidavit states that [2 words redacted] identified the men in the pictures as being Padilla and Binyam Mohamed. Both the Ennis affidavit and the material witness warrant were signed by the then chief judge of the Southern District, Michael Mukasey, who went on to become President George W. Bush’s third attorney general.

After Padilla was apprehended, John Ashcroft, Bush’s first attorney general, held a press conference on the arrest in Moscow, where he was traveling at the time. He described Padilla as a “known terrorist” who was pursuing an “unfolding terrorist plot” to launch a dirty bomb in an American city. This wasn’t true; the former attorney general was misinformed. While Padilla was a committed terrorist set on trying to harm America, he was a brain transplant away from making a dirty bomb, and there was no unfolding plot. Padilla was the plot. Later, when [1 word redacted] returned to New York, [1 word redacted] was shocked to see Padilla on the cover of magazines labeled as “the dirty bomber.”

What Ashcroft said just didn’t fit with the information [1 word redacted] had cabled to Langley. The exaggeration of Padilla’s expertise and ability unnecessarily instilled fear in the American people. Ashcroft’s statement was not only inaccurate, it also made us look foolish in the eyes of al-Qaeda and others who knew their real intentions. The message was that it was easy to fool the United States.

While [1 word redacted] continued to question Abu Zubaydah, CIA officials at the location whom [1 word redacted] had grown close to told [1 word redacted] that Boris and his backers in Washington were agitating for him to retake control. They were still pushing for a longer period of sleep deprivation, having settled on the argument that the only reason his experiments on Abu Zubaydah had failed was because sleep deprivation hadn’t gone on for long enough. In the meantime Boris tried interfering with [1 word redacted] interrogation a few times.

One morning [3 words redacted] walked into Abu Zubaydah’s cell for a session, and [1 word redacted] shivered. The room was very cold. [10 words redacted] It was clear that the room temperature had been deliberately lowered. Boris was trying temperature manipulation, even though [1 word redacted] were in control of the interrogation and had been assured that his experiments would be stopped.

[1 word redacted] walked out and told Boris that Abu Zubaydah was cold. “Are you playing with the temperature?” [1 word redacted] asked directly.

“No, I’m not.”

“Go check.” [1 word redacted] told him, “The room is very cold.” Boris [8 words redacted] to play his [23 words redacted]—and went through the motions of checking the temperature and Abu Zubaydah’s pulse. Boris then walked out, past [3 words redacted], and announced to the team of CIA analysts, “Everything’s fine.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his tone, as though he thought [3 words redacted] had been making things up.

[1 word redacted] wasn’t going to play games with Boris. “Just turn it up right now,” [1 word redacted] said. [1 word redacted] checked with the local CIA officers; none of them were aware of Boris’s having received permission for temperature manipulation. [1 word redacted] told Boris as much, and he walked off, muttering, and said he’d turn the temperature up.

[1 word redacted] made some tea [44 words redacted]

[7 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] knew he was playing a game. [6 words redacted]; nor could the chill in the room [6 words redacted].

[8 words redacted]

[17 words redacted] Nor did the CIA support staff watching through the cameras have any idea.

[1 word redacted] smiled, because [1 word redacted] knew. [44 words redacted]

Mahmoud el-Meligi was a famous Egyptian actor. Not many people know Egyptian actors, so the name meant nothing to [1 word redacted] or the others. But [1 word redacted] recognized the name and [60 words redacted]

[1 word redacted] poured [1 word redacted] a cup of tea and walked back into Abu Zubaydah’s cell. [21 words redacted]

[3 words redacted]

[10 words redacted]

[99 words redacted] [1 word redacted] all laughed.

Previous: 20. Abu Zubaydah
Next: 22. “We Don’t Do That”