TWO STORIES….After the United States captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in the weeks after 9/11, the CIA tortured him in an effort to get him to talk. Here’s how Ron Suskind described what happened, starting with what CIA investigators found in Zubaydah’s diary:
“The guy is insane, certifiable, split personality,” [Dan] Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul….There was almost nothing “operational” in his portfolio. That was handled by the management team. He wasn’t one of them….”He was like a travel agent, the guy who booked your flights….He was expendable, you know, the greeter….Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar’s Palace, shaking hands.”
….According to CIA sources, he was water-boarded….He was beaten….He was repeatedly threatened….His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.
….Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda….Zubaydah said banks — yes, banks — were a priority….And also supermarkets — al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation’s economy would be crippled. And the water system — a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.
Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiplied by ten, there still wouldn’t be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried.
Sometime later, Zubaydah finally provided some actionable intelligence: the name of Jose Padilla and the news that “Mukhtar,” a code name that had popped up multiple times on NSA sigint, was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But that information didn’t come because Zubaydah had been tortured. It came only after a CIA interrogator slipped under Zubaydah’s skin by convincing him, with the help of some ideas from the Koran, that Zubaydah was predestined to cooperate with them
That’s Suskind’s account. Over at ABC News, though, Brian Ross has an interview with a former CIA officer named John Kiriakou, who says just the opposite about Zubaydah: “He was highly thought of in al Qaeda, and he was very, very good at logistics….We knew that he was really one of the intellectual leaders of the group.” And he was waterboarded:
Ross: What happened as a result of that?
Kiriakou: He resisted [for] probably 30, 35 seconds….And a short time afterwards, in the next day or so, he told his interrogator that Allah had visit him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because his cooperation would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. And from that day on he answered every question just like I’m sitting here speaking to you.
….Ross: So in your view the water boarding broke him.
Kiriakou: I think it did, yes.
Ross: And did it make a difference in terms of —
Kiriakou: It did. The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.
Same guy. CIA sources for both accounts. But diametrically opposite conclusions. So who’s right?
I don’t know. But even if waterboarding worked Kiriakou has since decided that it was wrong. Why? “Because we’re Americans, and we’re better than that.”