“We Don’t Do That”
Boris wasn’t the only person at the location giving [1 word redacted] difficulties. He was in many ways just the front man for powerful backers in Washington. By this time, the Department of Justice was giving verbal permission to Langley to use the coercive interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah. The powers behind Boris in Washington had lots of other minions at the location as well. Every day, the contingent of wisecracking CIA analysts who sided with Boris challenged what [1 word redacted] were doing and lectured [1 word redacted] about how [1 word redacted] were failing to get Abu Zubaydah to cooperate fully. In their minds, Abu Zubaydah was a senior member of al-Qaeda. Based on this assumption, they believed that he should be able to give detailed information on the leadership, down to bin Laden’s hiding places. Therefore, to them, the information [1 word redacted] were getting from Abu Zubaydah wasn’t significant enough, and Boris and his tech-niques were necessary.
To people who knew what they were talking about, the insistence that Abu Zubaydah was the number three or four in al-Qaeda was flatly ridiculous, as were the claims that he wasn’t cooperating. But the analysts kept writing reports that Abu Zubaydah was the number three or four in al-Qaeda, and they managed to get that announced to the American people.
One young CIA analyst, to “prove” to [3 words redacted] that Abu Zubaydah was the number three in al-Qaeda, took to lecturing [1 word redacted] about Abu Zubaydah’s role in the millennium plot in Jordan. [1 word redacted] listened to what he had to say. He had all his facts wrong. As politely as [1 word redacted] could, [1 word redacted] told him: “Listen, you’ve got the millennium plot all wrong, and maybe that’s why you’ve got the wrong idea about Abu Zubaydah.” [1 word redacted] began to list his mistakes.
As [1 word redacted] corrected him, he got increasingly annoyed, his face registering a who-the-hell-are-you look. “How do you know you’re right?” he demanded. “I’ve read all the briefing notes.”
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Even on the smallest of things, the CIA analysts would challenge [1 word redacted], to demonstrate their expertise and point out [1 word redacted] “failings.” During one interrogation session, [14 words redacted]. The CIA analysts told [1 word redacted] afterward that Abu Zubaydah was tricking [1 word redacted], and that the [7 words redacted]. Evidence, they said, that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t cooperating.
[1 word redacted] had [1 word redacted] gone through Abu Zubaydah’s personal effects upon his capture. Among the documents was a letter from the [5 words redacted], which clearly indicated that they were [1 word redacted]. Since the document was in Arabic and the CIA analysts couldn’t read it, [1 word redacted] patiently explained to them what the document said.
“You’re wrong,” one of the analysts responded. “Our translators in CTC did not say what you’re saying.”
“Go back and ask them to review it again,” [1 word redacted] told them. For the next few days, even more tension than usual existed between [1 word redacted] and the CIA analysts.
A few days later, their supervisor, Jen, came up to [1 word redacted] and gave [1 word redacted] a hug. [1 word redacted] was shocked. What was this about? “They were [1 word redacted]. I’m sorry, you were right. The linguists back at Langley had it wrong,” she said.
That apology was a rare one, and for the most part the analysts were skeptical of anything [3 words redacted] said. There were one or two exceptions, but their voices were drowned out. The analysts felt they knew it all and had no need for [1 word redacted]. They’d read the briefs. That was enough. But because they had no experience with terrorists beyond reading some memos about them, they really didn’t understand the broader terrorist network. [1 word redacted] put it this way: “These guys read a lot of Tom Clancy novels, but they have no idea about how things work in the real world.”
[6 words redacted] my personal conclusion regarding [1 word redacted] problems with the people running the CIA interrogation program; later, it was confirmed by John L. Helgerson, the inspector general of the CIA. Helgerson investigated the program at the urging of CIA professionals who spoke out against the mistakes being made. His report, published in 2004 and declassified a few years later, details the lack of experience among the CIA people running the program. The report states: “According to a number of those interviewed for this Review, the Agency’s intelligence on Al-Qa’ida was limited prior to the initiation of the CTC Interrogation Program. The Agency lacked adequate linguists or subject matter experts and had very little knowledge of what particular Al-Qa’ida leaders—who later became detainees—knew. This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee ‘should know,’ [which] information the analyst could objectively demonstrate the detainee did know.”
The report goes on to state: “When a detainee did not respond to a question posed to him, the assumption at Headquarters was that the detainee was holding back and knew more; consequently, Headquarters recommended resumption of EITs.” It was a case of the blind leading the blind. It was because of this lack of knowledge in the CIA that Boris was introduced, because they didn’t understand that Abu Zubaydah was cooperating, and that he wasn’t “twelve feet tall”—a term my friends in the FBI used to refer to the insistence, on the part of Boris’s backers in Washington, that Abu Zubaydah was a senior al-Qaeda member. It was another reference to Braveheart; in one scene, William Wallace, the Scottish revolutionary leader played by Mel Gibson, appears before the Scottish army and announces: “Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.” A young soldier, having never met William Wallace before and having only heard stories about him, tells him that he can’t be Wallace, because “William Wallace is seven feet tall.” Wallace replies: “Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds. And if HE were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.”
The CIA analysts at the location, however, were representative of the views of their masters back at Langley, and soon an order came through that Boris was to be put back in charge. The line taken by experts was the same as before: Abu Zubaydah was not cooperating; he hadn’t given up the information that the number three in al-Qaeda would know, and so Boris was allowed to experiment further.
While Boris in [1 word redacted] first meeting had confidently said that Abu Zubaydah would open up easily and quickly with one or two of his techniques, telling [1 word redacted], “It’s science,” by now his tone and explanations had changed. It was as if he had come to realize that working with terrorists in person was different from classroom theory. He began speaking about how his methods would be “part of a systematic approach to diminish his ability to resist.” He announced that Abu Zubaydah would be deprived of sleep for forty-eight hours now, and that they would reintroduce nudity and loud music at the same time. He had the approval from Langley. [3 words redacted] Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked, loud rock music was blasted into the cell, and he was forcibly kept awake.
[1 word redacted] had assumed that the madness of Boris’s experiments was over. He protested vigorously to his superiors in Langley but got no satisfactory response. Finally, he announced that he was leaving. He packed up his things. As he waited for a car to pick him up, [1 word redacted] sat with him. He told [1 word redacted], “We are almost crossing the line. There are the Geneva Conventions on torture. It’s not worth losing myself for this.” [1 word redacted] was referring to his morals and his license to practice. He returned to the United States.
The CTC polygrapher, Frank, repeatedly voiced his disapproval. Ed, the CTC interrogator who was playing Abu Zubaydah’s “god,” was also worried. Over the weeks that [1 word redacted] were together, Ed and [1 word redacted] had many conversations. [1 word redacted] asked him, “Is this all approved? You do know we could get into trouble for even witnessing it if there is no approval.”
“It has been approved,” Ed replied, “by Gonzalez.” Alberto Gonzalez, George W. Bush’s White House counsel, was the author of a controversial January 2002 memo questioning Geneva Convention protection for al-Qaeda detainees and other terrorists. He went on to serve as Bush’s second attorney general, resigning in 2007 amid allegations of perjury before Congress on a separate matter.
“Who the hell is Gonzalez?” [1 word redacted] asked, as [1 word redacted] had never heard of him before.
“They say he’s Bush’s lawyer,” Ed told [1 word redacted].
“So he’s not from the Department of Justice?”
“No, he’s from the White House.”
“That’s not enough. We need DOJ clearance for these types of things.”
A few days later Ed came to [1 word redacted] and said, “Our guys met with the DOJ lawyers and briefed them, and they said there’s no problem with what’s happening.” Ed had apparently demanded a written DOJ clearance from his CIA superiors. He showed [1 word redacted] the cable he had received. The identities of the DOJ lawyers were not mentioned in the cable, which just noted that the techniques had been verbally approved by the DOJ.
“I’d like to see something in writing from the DOJ,” [1 word redacted] told Ed. “I wouldn’t rely on their word.” There is a saying in government that if it’s not on paper it doesn’t exist: “One day the pendulum will swing the other way and someone will be blamed for this.”
Ed agreed. He told [1 word redacted]: “I’m keeping a record of every order they give me, because one day this is going to be a bad thing.”
As to why Boris himself insisted on reintroducing experiments that he had seen fail firsthand, perhaps the high fees the government was paying him had something to do with it. Reports later indicated that he was paid a thousand dollars a day.
During the period of forty-eight hours of sleep deprivation, Ed would go in and tell Abu Zubaydah, [19 words redacted] Ed would walk out.
Once, Ed went through Boris’s routine and told Abu Zubaydah, [37 words redacted]
[4 words redacted], we watched through the CCTV system as [8 words redacted]. He was simply exhausted from the sleep deprivation. [1 word redacted] would have laughed if there hadn’t been lives at stake.
At another point during the forty-eight hours, at Boris’s instruction, a piece of paper and a crayon were put in front of Abu Zubaydah in the hope that he would write down “intelligence.” He didn’t. [1 word redacted] couldn’t believe that those responsible for running the program believed that this would work, and would be so careless with an important intelligence asset.
During this whole time, [1 word redacted] were detailing the situation on the ground and registering [1 word redacted] protests at what was happening in classified memos to our FBI headquarters through Langley, though [1 word redacted] didn’t know whether the memos were actually reaching FBI headquarters. The information [1 word redacted] had obtained through the use of [1 word redacted] techniques, and the lack of information when the newly imposed techniques were used, was clear in the daily stream of cables—[1 word redacted] and the CTC’s—to Langley. Everything, down to the crayon attempt, was reported. But it didn’t make a difference. Boris had authorization from the top, and there was nothing any of [1 word redacted] could do or say. He was allowed his forty-eight hours.
When the second round of Boris’s experiments failed, once again CIA headquarters reluctantly told [1 word redacted] that [1 word redacted] could go back in to interrogate Abu Zubaydah. [1 word redacted] terms were again that Boris’s experiments were stopped; otherwise, [1 word redacted] refused to go in.
[1 word redacted] gave Abu Zubaydah back his clothes, [1 word redacted] switched off the music, and [1 word redacted] let him sleep. [23 words redacted]
[1 word redacted] found it harder to reengage him this time. Boris’s techniques had affected him. [7 words redacted], but eventually [1 word redacted] succeeded, and he reengaged. [1 word redacted] went through photos with him, along with his diary, phone book, and the rest of his personal effects. [24 words redacted]
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[1 word redacted] followed up on Padilla’s dirty bomb idea [112 words redacted]
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Every terrorist [1 word redacted] questioned is different. Sometimes humor is needed to establish rapport. As [1 word redacted] job is to get intelligence from them, [1 word redacted] use whatever legal tools [1 word redacted] can to put them at ease and gain their cooperation. It was odious to sit and laugh with a committed terrorist.
I would think of John O’Neill, my former boss and mentor, who was murdered in the World Trade Center. I would think of Lenny Hatton. Lenny was on his way to work on the morning of 9/11 when he saw the first tower on fire. Instead of continuing to the FBI office, he went to the scene to help. And when the second tower was struck, Lenny ran into the collapsing building to help firemen and other rescuers lead people to safety. He led people out and returned for more. He was killed in the tower. I also thought of the seventeen U.S. sailors killed on the USS Cole. [7 words redacted] But [1 word redacted] had to do it. To save lives and get intelligence, [1 word redacted]’d smile as much as needed.
While there were jokes, [64 words redacted]
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As [1 word redacted] continued to succeed with Abu Zuabydah, Boris and the CIA analysts were also now pushing an explanation as to why the forty-eight hours had failed. As one of them said, “Forty-eight hours isn’t enough sleep deprivation,” and “the body only breaks after forty-eight hours.” One day at the safe house [1 word redacted] saw a big [1 word redacted] leaning against a wall. [29 words redacted] as the next stage in his force continuum once he took over.
The CIA officers told [1 word redacted] that Boris expected the approval to come. [8 words redacted], a clear indication that people at CIA headquarters supported the plan. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” [1 word redacted] told the CIA official. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, We have no choice.
[16 words redacted] told the CIA official [1 word redacted] wanted to try it. [61 words redacted]“This is insane,” [1 word redacted] told him, and walked off. He nodded in agreement, with a discouraged look on his face.
[1 word redacted] realized that CIA headquarters was not going to stop Boris’s experiments. [1 word redacted] protests were being ignored. Boris was being given a blank check by the White House and CIA headquarters, and was being urged on by CIA analysts on the ground. Their lack of expertise and fear of the unknown would just lead them to authorize crazier and more abusive things that wouldn’t work. The experiments would become more and more cruel, thus reducing the chances of getting reliable intelligence from Abu Zubaydah in the future. For the first time, [1 word redacted] began to wonder whether the real intent of the people back in Washington was to collect intelligence.
What [1 word redacted] had seen Boris try until now struck [1 word redacted] as borderline torture. [1 word redacted] had stayed on because [1 word redacted] had hoped in [1 word redacted] heart that someone in Washington would put a stop to the madness and allow [1 word redacted] to continue to interrogate Abu Zubaydah. Until now [1 word redacted] hadn’t wanted to give up the chance of getting useful intelligence from him again. But each time Boris tried crazier things, [1 word redacted] got more upset, and began to worry about the people running the program.
On seeing [2 words redacted], [1 word redacted] realized that my hopes of Boris’s being removed were in vain. The person or persons running the program were not sane. [3 words redacted] the interrogation was stepping over the line from borderline torture. Way over the line.
That’s it, [1 word redacted] said to myself. [1 word redacted] picked up the secure phone and phoned FBI headquarters. This was the first time [1 word redacted] had called headquarters directly. All [1 word redacted] previous messages had gone through the standard channels, which was via e-mails sent through the CIA that were meant to be delivered to the FBI liaison, Chuck Frahm, at CIA headquarters. The situation demanded communication outside the regular channels, and [1 word redacted] worried that [1 word redacted] previous complaints hadn’t made it to the director.
[1 word redacted] asked the operator at FBI headquarters in Washington to put [1 word redacted] through to the assistant director, Pat D’Amuro. [1 word redacted] considered him a friend, and [1 word redacted] respected him as a principled public servant and had no doubt he would be outraged by what was happening. [1 word redacted] was right.
[1 word redacted] explained to Pat what had happened over the past weeks, and what it looked like they were going to do next with [2 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] finished by telling him: “I can no longer remain here. Either I leave or I’ll arrest him.” Beyond the immorality and un-American nature of these techniques, [1 word redacted] couldn’t stand by as [1 word redacted] abused someone instead of gaining intelligence that would save American lives.
Pat told me that [3 words redacted] should immediately leave the location and go to a nearby city to wait for instructions. He was going to consult with the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, on how best to proceed. Frank, the CTC polygrapher, joined us. As [1 word redacted] walked around the city, Frank told [1 word redacted], “Hiring that guy was the worst thing I have done.” There was regret and shame in his voice.
[1 word redacted] visited the local CIA station. [1 word redacted] had built a great relationship with all the officers. For the most part, they were on the same page as [1 word redacted]. The COS made it clear to [3 words redacted] that he was apprehensive about what was happening.
A day later the message came back from Mueller: “We don’t do that.” Pat ordered [1 word redacted] to leave the location immediately and return to the United States. [1 word redacted] packed up and flew back to New York.
[1 word redacted] didn’t. When he reported through his chain of command and said he was going to leave, he was told to hold off leaving untilfurther instruction. [1 word redacted] reported through his usual channel—to headquarters. [3 words redacted] had different chains of command. [1 word redacted] was afield agent and reported through the New York chain of command. [1 word redacted] wasn’t an operational agent at the time. He was an assigned supervisory agent in headquarters in Washington, and reported through those channels. Other people in headquarters didn’t agree with Pat’s order and saw a need for [1 word redacted] continuing involvement at the site. They allowed [1 word redacted] to stay. [1 word redacted] said: “Look, [1 word redacted], things might change, and they might realize we should be in charge. And if I leave, do you trust these fucking idiots to run the program? Every time they go in, Abu Zubaydah stops talking. We need someone to do the job. What do you think?”
“[1 word redacted], I can’t stay here any longer,” [1 word redacted] told him. “This is out of control, un-American, and downright dangerous. The director agreed that we don’t do this, and Pat ordered us to leave. I’m leaving. But you do what you want.”
“I’m going to stay.”
“Be careful,” [1 word redacted] told him, and said good-bye.
A few weeks later [1 word redacted] returned to Washington for a meeting on Abu Zubaydah. It was only then that Pat found out that [1 word redacted] had stayed. (Pat was based in Washington, and [1 word redacted] returned to New York and so didn’t see him, and no one else briefed him on [1 word redacted]’s decision.) Pat was furious that [1 word redacted] had not followed his orders, and to this day he hasn’t forgiven him. He ordered [1 word redacted] not to return to the location. The FBI would not be party to the harsh techniques.
While others in headquarters disagreed with Pat and felt [1 word redacted] needed to be part of the CTC program, Robert Mueller sided with Pat and [1 word redacted]. He understood that things had already gone too far, and that those pushing these techniques were not prepared to turn back. And he had the final say. [1 word redacted] stayed in Washington. That was the end of the FBI’s involvement in Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation.
After [1 word redacted] left, Boris had to keep introducing harsher and harsher methods, because Abu Zubaydah and other terrorists were trained to resist them. In a democracy such as ours, there is a glass ceiling on harsh techniques that the interrogator cannot breach, so a detainee can eventually call the interrogator’s bluff. And that’s what Abu Zubaydah did.
This is why the EIT proponents later had to order Abu Zubaydah to be waterboarded again, and again, and again—at least eighty-three times, reportedly. The techniques were in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy, ensuring that harsher and harsher ones were introduced.
Cruel interrogation techniques not only serve to reinforce what a terrorist has been prepared to expect if captured; they give him a greater sense of control and predictability about his experience, and strengthen his resistance. By contrast, the interrogation strategy that [3 words redacted] employed—engaging and outwitting the terrorist—confuses him and leads him to cooperate. The art of interview and interrogation is a science, a behavioral science, and [1 word redacted] were successful precisely because we had it down to a science.
Evidence gained from torture is unreliable. There is no way to know whether the detainee is being truthful, or just speaking to either mitigate his discomfort or to deliberately provide false information. Indeed, as KSM, who was subjected to the enhanced techniques, later told the Red Cross: “During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.”
Boris’s methods were aiming at compliance rather than cooperation. In compliance you get someone to say what he thinks you’ll be happy hearing, not necessarily the truth. A good example of this is the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Liby, Abu Zubaydah’s partner at Khaldan. Liby later confessed that he “decided he would fabricate any information the interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government].” For the same reason, after undergoing waterboarding, Abu Zubaydah “confessed” to being the number three in al-Qaeda, which was a lie and a dead end for the investigators. A 2006 investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) found that the CIA relied heavily on information from Liby to assess connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. This information played a crucial role in making the Bush administration’s case for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, outlined in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN weeks before the invasion.
In contrast, the Informed Interrogation Approach yields information that is accurate, actionable, and useful in our legal process. A major problem with Boris’s techniques is that they ignore the endgame. After getting intelligence from terrorists, at some point we have to prosecute them. We can’t hold people indefinitely. Whether it is one year later or ten years later, eventually a trial becomes necessary; otherwise they’ll have to be released. But information gained from torture is inadmissible in court. Even in military commissions—courts run and staffed by military officers, with rules and requirements different from those of regular courts—it is problematic.
[1 word redacted] had a conversation with Ed about this, and [1 word redacted] asked him, “What’s the endgame with Abu Zubaydah after using these techniques?”
“I guess they intend that he’ll go to a military commission.”
“Military commissions may have a lower standard of evidence than regular courts,” [1 word redacted] replied, “but we both know that they’re not kangaroo courts.”
Ed and [1 word redacted] were familiar with the operation in Guantánamo Bay, and the preparation used in other cases for military commissions. Already, in early 2002, military lawyers were telling investigators to be careful with evidence, and to keep notes. There was also the discovery process; and anything [1 word redacted] had [1 word redacted] were required to share with the defense. It was clear to [1 word redacted] that even in a military commission, evidence gained from harsh techniques wouldn’t be admissible. Ed agreed.
Coercive interrogations are also slow. [1 word redacted] were spent on each unsuccessful technique, with nothing to show for it. [1 word redacted] were, in effect, playing right into the hands of the enemy. The Manchester Manual instructs captured terrorists to hold off answering questions for forty-eight hours, so that their comrades can change safe houses and phone numbers, even flee the country. There is always the possibility of a “ticking time bomb” scenario hanging over any interrogation of a terrorist, which is why wasting minutes or hours, let alone whole days, is completely unacceptable.
A July 29, 2009, report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) stated that Boris’s techniques “were not expected or intended to produce immediate results. Rather, the goal of the CIA interrogation program was to condition the detainee gradually in order to break down his resistance to interrogation.” I wonder if the person who wrote the word “gradually” had any idea of the urgency of counterterrorist operations.
I later learned that Boris’s path from being an independent contractor with no interrogation or Islamic extremism experience to running one of the most crucial fronts in our battle against al-Qaeda—our interrogation program of high-value detainees—had its origins on September 17, 2001. On that day, President Bush gave the CIA the authority, in an authorization known as a memorandum of notification, to capture, detain, and interrogate terrorism suspects.
In previous decades, the CIA had primarily operated as an intelligence collection agency. It was the FBI, along with military outfits such as the NCIS, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, that had interrogated suspects. John Helgerson’s 2004 report on detention and interrogation activities explains in detail that the post-9/11 CIA detention program “began with almost no foundation, as the Agency had discontinued virtually all involvement in interrogations after encountering difficult issues with early interrogation programs in Central America and the Near East.”
In their July 29, 2009 report, OPR investigators wrote that CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo had told them that throughout most of its history the CIA had not detained subjects or conducted interrogations. Before 9/11, CIA personnel debriefed sources (these portions were censored and do not appear in the report), but the agency was not authorized to detain or interrogate individuals. Consequently, the CIA had no institutional experience or expertise in that area. (Rizzo was incorrect. Before 9/11, the CIA’s polygraph division, formerly known as the interrogation branch, was responsible for interrogations abroad. After 9/11, this responsibility was taken out of their hands and given to the CTC.)
Because of this lack of institutional experience, when President Bush ordered the CIA to institute the detention program, they needed to find someone to run it. Brought to their attention—it’s not yet publicly known by whom—were two contractors, Boris and another psychologist. Helgerson writes: “In late 2001, CIA had tasked an independent contractor psychologist [Boris] . . . to research and write a paper on Al-Qaida’s resistance to interrogation techniques.” Boris collaborated with a Department of Defense psychologist, and “subsequently, the two psychologists developed a list of new and more aggressive EITs that they recommended for use in interrogations.” (Military personnel who knew the two contractors described Boris as extremely arrogant, and his partner—whom I never met—as someone with a terrible temper. Arrogance and anger—a dangerous combination.)
I later found out from a Senate investigation that in December 2001, CIA officials had asked Boris and his partner to analyze al-Qaeda’s Manchester Manual. It was on the basis of the information in this manual that the two reportedly concluded that harsh techniques would be needed to break al-Qaeda detainees. This constituted a misreading of the Manchester Manual, and in fact Boris’s techniques played into what the manual instructed captured terrorists to do.
A few weeks after [1 word redacted] left the location, [1 word redacted] saw Pat D’Amuro. He told [1 word redacted] that Robert Mueller had had a conversation with George Tenet, during which Mueller had asked about the lack of intelligence coming from Abu Zubaydah. (This was after [3 words redacted] had left the location.) Tenet had replied, “Your guys really messed him up. We have to fix him all over again.” It was clear that after [1 word redacted] left, Boris’s experiments continued to fail. His backers were struggling to find a new excuse to explain away the failure.
In 2006, when President Bush gave a speech acknowledging the existence of the harsh interrogation program and listed its “successes,” I received a phone call from an assistant director of the FBI. “Did you see the president’s speech?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. I was overseas at the time, working on a project.
“Just remember, this is still classified. Just because the president is talking about it doesn’t mean that we can.”
I later read through the speech and understood the phone call. The president was just repeating false information put into classified CIA memos. (I believe that President Bush was misled and briefed incorrectly regarding the efficacy of the techniques.) From that speech, and from memos on the program that were later declassified, I learned that backers of the EITs in Washington went on to claim credit for having obtained the information about Padilla’s attempted operation and other intelligence from Abu Zubaydah. They also claimed credit for the news that KSM was Mokhtar, despite the fact that the CTC team wasn’t even at the location when [1 word redacted] learned that information.
The May 30 Bradbury memo states: “Interrogations of Zubaydah—again, once enhanced interrogation techniques were employed . . . identified KSM as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.” Zubaydah, according to the memo, also “provided significant information on two operatives, [including] Jose Padilla [,] who planned to build and detonate a ‘dirty bomb’ in the Washington DC area.” And the apartment buildings and Brooklyn Bridge plots that [1 word redacted] got from Abu Zubaydah, the CIA claimed to have gotten from KSM a year later. Apparently they had no success of their own at any time, and so they had to use [1 word redacted].
There are many other errors. The May 30 Bradbury memo states that Padilla was arrested “on his arrival in Chicago in May 2003.” He was arrested in May 2002. Another declassified memo states that Ramzi Binalshibh was arrested in December 2002. He was arrested in September 2002. These incorrect dates led officials to erroneously state that Padilla was captured because of waterboarding that began in August 1, 2002. In reality, this would have been factually impossible.
With the declassification of several memos, I had a chance to see the CIA’s “psychological assessment” of Abu Zubaydah. The assessment was used by Jay S. Bybee (then assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel) to write a memo for Rizzo on August 1, 2002, giving the CIA permission to use the enhanced interrogation techniques.
The Bybee memo states, referencing the psychological assessment: “According to this assessment, Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps. . . . He also acted as al Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications. Additionally, he has acted as al Qaeda’s counter-intelligence officer and has been trusted to find spies within the organization. . . . Zubaydah has been involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by al Qaeda. . . . Moreover he was one of the planners of the September 11 attacks.”
To this day, I don’t understand how anyone could write such a profile. Not only did we know this to be false before we captured Abu Zubaydah, but it was patently false from information obtained after we captured him. Yet this psychological assessment was cited for the next couple of years in internal government memos.
The psychological assessment also says that Abu Zubaydah wrote al-Qaeda’s manual on resistance techniques and that he is “a highly self directed individual who prizes his independence.” Apparently they didn’t even pay attention to their own rhetoric. Why would someone who “prizes his independence” (which is true) join an organization that requires blind obedience to a leader? And if he wrote al-Qaeda’s manual on resistance techniques, why would they think harsh techniques (which pale in comparison to what they expect) would work? It seems they just put down on paper whatever they could to show that Abu Zubadyah was “twelve feet tall.”
According to the CIA inspector general’s 2004 report by Helgerson, official CIA memos about Abu Zubaydah not only hid the successes [1 word redacted] had with him before [1 word redacted] left but even made it look as though [1 word redacted] had never been there: “To treat the severe wounds that Abu Zubaydah suffered upon his capture, the Agency provided him intensive medical care from the outset and deferred his questioning for several weeks pending his recovery. The Agency then assembled a team that interrogated Abu Zubaydah.” In fact, questioning wasn’t deferred at all, and it was successful.
What’s especially notable about the memos authorizing the techniques is their unquestioning acceptance of information from CIA officials. Bradbury acknowledged that “he relied entirely on the CIA’s representations as to the effectiveness of the EITs, and did not attempt to verify or question the information he was given.” He told the OPR: “It’s not my role, really, to do a factual investigation of that.” With such an attitude, the watchdog was little better than a lapdog.
It wasn’t only the Justice Department that really slipped up. A footnote to Bradbury’s comments to the OPR that his role was not to check the facts states that one official “urged AG Gonzalez and White House Counsel Fred Fielding to have a new CIA team review the program, but that the effectiveness reviews consistently relied on the originators of the program.” Is it fitting for the backers of EITs to be tasked with evaluating their own effectiveness? That would be a sure, and easy, way to guarantee the conclusion they wanted.
The Bybee memo, which authorized the techniques, states: “Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.”
The “facts” granting authorization to use the harsh techniques were that Abu Zubaydah was not cooperating (he was) and that he was a senior al-Qaeda member (he wasn’t). While the authors of the memo may not have been aware of the truth, those providing the content for the memos, and those requesting the authorization to initiate Boris’s experiments, certainly were. Because the advocates of the harsh techniques were allowed to state these lies and claim [1 word redacted] successes as their own, Boris and his partner (under the guidance of their sponsors in Washington) were then granted control over all future high-value detainees captured. Abu Zubaydah was the first person on whom the techniques were used. It was in many ways a trial or test run for the techniques. And because people in Washington rewrote the results to show that they passed the “test case,” they could successfully argue that the techniques be used in the future. Boris and his partner were given control of other high-value detainees.
Back in FBI headquarters, the situation was clear. We gained information using a tried and tested and scientific approach, while what Boris was doing was un-American and ineffective. We were confident that the contractors and their crazy ideas would soon be abandoned. Little did we know that there was a wider effort to disseminate misinformation even to Justice Department officials.
I later learned—from the July 29, 2009, OPR report—that the CIA had initially requested that twelve EITs be used in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. They were as follows (the descriptions are from the report):
1. Attention grasp: The interrogator grasps the subject with both hands, with one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion, and draws the subject toward the interrogator.
2. Walling: The subject is pulled forward and then quickly and firmly pushed into a flexible false wall so that his shoulder blades hit the wall. His head and neck are supported with a rolled towel to prevent whiplash.
3. Facial hold: The interrogator holds the subject’s head immobile by placing an open palm on either side of the subject’s face, keeping fingertips well away from the eyes.
4. Facial or insult slap: With fingers slightly spread apart, the interrogator’s hand makes contact with the area between the tip of the subject’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe.
5. Cramped confinement: The subject is placed in a confined space, typically a small or large box, which is usually dark. Confinement in the smaller space lasts no more than two hours and in the larger space up to eighteen hours.
6. Insects: A harmless insect is placed in the confinement box with detainees.
7. Wall standing: The subject may stand about four to five feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to his shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him and his fingers rest on the wall to support all of his body weight. The subject is not allowed to reposition his hands or feet.
8. Stress positions: These positions may include having the detainee sit on the floor with his legs extended straight out in front of him with his arms raised above his head or kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a forty-five-degree angle.
9. Sleep deprivation: The subject is prevented from sleeping, not to exceed eleven days at a time. [Note: as initially proposed, sleep deprivation was to be induced by shackling the subject in a standing position, with his feet chained to a ring in the floor and his arms attached to a bar at head level, with very little room for movement.]
10. Use of diapers: The subject is forced to wear adult diapers and is denied access to toilet facilities for an extended period, in order to humiliate him.
11. Waterboard: The subject is restrained on a bench with his feet elevated above his head. His head is immobilized and an interrogator places a cloth over his mouth and nose while pouring water onto the cloth. Airflow is restricted for twenty to forty seconds; the technique produces the sensation of drowning and suffocation.
12. [When the document was released, this paragraph was redacted by the government.]
According to the OPR report, on July 24, a Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo, “telephoned Rizzo and told him that the attorney general had authorized him to say that the first six EITs (attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, and wall standing [which is actually number seven]) were lawful and that they could proceed to use them on Abu Zubaydah.”
Only on August 1, 2002, at around 10:00 PM, did the Department of Justice give the agency its written legal approval that ten specific enhanced interrogation techniques would not violate the Geneva Convention torture prohibition and could be used on detainees. The memo was primarily the work of Jay Bybee and John Yoo. (There are actually two versions of the memo, classified and unclassified, and together they are referred to as the Bybee memos.) According to CIA records, the classified Bybee memo was faxed to the CIA at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2002.
After the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, Boris and his partner and supporters in Washington were fully in control of the program. Only after that did the CIA even start “training” its interrogators. According to the 2004 OIG report, only in “November 2002” did the CIA initiate “a pilot running of a two-week Interrogator Training Course designed to train, qualify, and certify individuals as Agency interrogators.” Of course, two weeks isn’t enough to make someone a qualified interrogator. What makes someone a qualified interrogator is not only months of training but knowledge of the detainee and of terrorism.
Enhanced interrogation techniques is a term I first heard long after [12 words redacted] there was no system to what Boris and his backers were doing. They appeared to be experimenting with techniques, with no clear plan. Not only was Abu Zubaydah the first terrorist they had ever interrogated, but he was the first Islamist radical they had ever met.
The techniques that [3 words redacted] described as “borderline torture”) were later declared by George Tenet, in guidelines issued on January 28, 2003, to be “Standard CIA Interrogation Techniques.” According to Tenet, “these guidelines complement internal Directorate of Operations guidance relating to the conduct of interrogations.” His guidelines state that the standard techniques “include, but are not limited to, all lawful forms of questioning employed by US Law Enforcement and military interrogation personnel. Among Standard Techniques are the use of isolation, sleep deprivation not to exceed 72 hours, reduced caloric intake (so long as the amount is calculated to maintain the general health of the detainee), deprivation of reading material, use of loud music or white noise (at a decibel level calculated to avoid damage to the detainee’s hearing), and the use of diapers for a limited period (generally not to exceed 72 hours) . . .”—the rest is redacted.
What failed with Abu Zubaydah was later declared “standard” by George Tenet. It seems that the lesson was not learned.
For the next six years, until documents regarding this period were declassified, I had to remain silent as lie after lie was told about Abu Zubaydah and the success of the techniques. One public defender of the techniques was a CIA official named John Kiriakou, who stated on national television that Abu Zubaydah was uncooperative until he was waterboarded for thirty-five seconds. Kiriakou said he witnessed this himself. “It was like flipping a switch,” Kiriakou said; after that, Abu Zubaydah spilled everything. Later Kiriakou admitted that he had given false information, and we learned that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded eighty-three times—and that no new valuable information was gained from him. (Today Kiriakou works as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)
In FBI headquarters, Boris, his partner, and their high-level backers in Washington were referred to as the “poster boys,” a reference to the FBI’s Most Wanted list, where we believed their methods would one day land them.
What happened at the secret location with Abu Zubaydah was originally taped by the CIA. The tapes were destroyed by the CIA before investigators could see them. Declassified internal CIA e-mails show senior CIA officials stating the urgency and importance of destroying the tapes. [44 words redacted]
One of the most damning condemnations of the CIA program came with the declassification of the CIA inspector general’s 2004 report. John Helgerson examined all the claims about the effectiveness of the techniques, and he had access to the CIA classified memos. He states that while regular interrogation (our approach) achieved many successes, “measuring the effectiveness of the EITs . . . is a more subjective process and not without some concern.” Moreover, he said he couldn’t verify that a single threat listed by the CIA as having been thwarted was imminent. Unfortunately, the report came two years too late.
In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials.
When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, “Remember, an FBI agent always keeps his notes.” Locked in a secure safe in the FBI New York office are my handwritten notes of everything that happened with Abu Zubaydah [4 words redacted].