Posts Tagged ‘Abu Zubaydah’

Britain knew CIA tortured detainee

November 23, 2009

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, The Independent/UK, Nov 20, 2009

The judgement revealed Binyam Mohamad was treated the same way as an al-Qa'ida suspect tortured by the CIA
AFP/GettyThe judgement revealed Binyam Mohamad was treated the same way as an al-Qa’ida suspect tortured by the CIA

Britain knew that American agents were using barbaric torture techniques on terror suspects, including British resident Binyam Mohamed, it emerged yesterday. Secret reports sent between MI5 and the CIA in 2002 reveal that the American security services were using torture practices which included waterboarding, facial slaps and stress positions.

 

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Ex-CIA official John Helgerson says agents lost control after torture go-ahead

August 26, 2009

Times Online/UK, August 26, 2009

Tim Reid in Washington

The author of a scathing report on CIA interrogations during the Bush era has claimed that certain operatives lost control once they had been authorised to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

John Helgerson, the former inspector-general of the CIA, also told The Times that the Obama Administration had cut key passages of his report out of the released version, a decision he found “puzzling”.

Mr Helgerson told The Times that the CIA had given assurances to the Justice Department that although the techniques would be used more than once, repetition would “not be substantial”.

Continues >>

Detainee says he gave false story after harsh interrogation

June 17, 2009

Suspected Sept. 11 organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told U.S. military officials he gave false information to the CIA even after undergoing…

By Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller |  The Seattle Times, June 16, 2009

Tribune Washington Bureau

Sept. 11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Sept. 11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

WASHINGTON — Suspected Sept. 11 organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told U.S. military officials he gave false information to the CIA even after undergoing punishing bouts of interrogation, according to documents made public Monday, a claim likely to intensify the debate over the Bush administration’s use of harsh techniques to gain information from terrorism suspects.

Mohammed made the assertion during hearings held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the militant leader was transferred in 2006 after being held at secret CIA sites since his capture in 2003.

“I make up stories,” Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation likely administered by the CIA concerning the location of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

“Where is he? I don’t know. Then, he torture me,” Mohammed said. “Then I said, ‘Yes, he is in this area.’ ”

The admission could amplify calls for the Obama administration to make public more information about the abuse of detainees or to allow a broader inquiry into the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. Monday’s disclosure, representing the first allegation by a detainee that he lied while being subjected to harsh practices, also could raise more questions about the effectiveness of the techniques.

The transcripts were released as part of a lawsuit in which the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking documents and details of the government’s terrorism-detainee programs.

Previous accounts of the military tribunal hearings had been made public, but the Obama administration reviewed the still-secret sections and determined that more could be released.

Most of the new material centers on the detainees’ claims of abuse during interrogations while being held overseas in CIA custody.

One detainee, Abu Zubaydah, told the tribunal that after months “of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries.”

Zubaydah was the first detainee subjected to Bush administration-approved harsh interrogation techniques, which included a simulated form of drowning known as waterboarding, slamming the suspect into walls and prolonged periods of nudity.

Zubaydah claimed in the hearing that he “nearly died four times.”

CIA terror suspects ‘kept awake for 11 days’

May 10, 2009

UK, May 10, 2009

More than 25 of the CIA’s war-on-terror prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation for as long as 11 days at a time during the administration of former president George Bush, according to The Los Angeles Times.

At one stage during the war on terror, the Central Intelligence Agency was allowed to keep prisoners awake for as long as 11 days, the Times reported, citing memoranda made public by the Justice department last month.

The limit was later reduced to just over a week, the report stated.

Sleep deprivation was one of the most important elements in the CIA’s interrogation programme, seen as more effective than more violent techniques used to help break the will of suspects.

Within the CIA it was seen as having the advantage of eroding a prisoner’s will without leaving lasting damage.

The technique is now prohibited by President Barack Obama’s ban on harsh interrogation methods issued in January, although a task force is reviewing its use along with other interrogation methods, The Times said.

But details in the Justice Department memos released by Mr Obama suggest that the method, which involved suspects standing for days on end, dressed only in a nappy and shackled to the floor, was more controversial than previously known.

According to the memos, medical personnel were present to make sure prisoners weren’t injured. But a 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA program said detainees’ wrists and ankles bore scars from their shackles, the newspaper reported..

When detainees could no longer stand, they could be laid on the prison floor with their limbs “anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort,” a memo dated May 10, 2005, said.

“The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing,” it said.

In the Red Cross report, prisoners said they were also subjected to loud music and repetitive noise.

“I was kept sitting on a chair, shackled by hands and feet for two to three weeks,” said suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner captured by the CIA, according to the Red Cross report. “If I started to fall asleep, a guard would come and spray water in my face.”

In the Justice Department memos, sleep deprivation was described as part of a “baseline” phase of interrogation, categorized as less severe than other “corrective” or “coercive” methods.

“Waterboarding was obviously the most controversial,” said a former senior U.S. government official who was briefed extensively on CIA interrogation operations. But “sleep deprivation is probably the most effective thing they had going.”

The Justice Department memos also cited research that suggested sleep deprivation was not harmful.

“Experience with sleep deprivation shows that ‘surprisingly, little seemed to go wrong with the subjects physically,’ ” said the May 10 memo.

But a British scientist whose name was one of those put on the studies said he had never been consulted by US officials about the study.

James Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, said he didn’t know how his work was being used until the memos were released.

“My response was shocked concern,” Professor Horne told the LA Times. Just because the pain of sleep deprivation “can’t be measured in terms of physical injury or appearance . . . does not mean that the mental anguish is not as bad,” he said.

CIA Says Pelosi Was Briefed on Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogations’

May 8, 2009

By Paul Kane | The Washington Post, May 7, 2008

Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

In a 10-page memo outlining an almost seven-year history of classified briefings, intelligence officials said that Pelosi and then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) were the first two members of Congress ever briefed on the interrogation tactics. Then the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and Goss were briefed Sept. 4, 2002, one week before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The memo, issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to Capitol Hill, notes the Pelosi-Goss briefing covered “EITs including the use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah.” EIT is an acronym for enhanced interrogation technique. Zubaydah was one of the earliest valuable al-Qaeda members captured and the first to have the controversial tactic known as water boarding used against him.

The issue of what Pelosi knew and when she knew it has become a matter of heated debate on Capitol Hill. Republicans have accused her of knowing for many years precisely the techniques CIA agents were using in interrogations, and only protesting the tactics when they became public and liberal antiwar activists protested.

In a carefully worded statement, Pelosi’s office said today that she had never been briefed about the use of waterboarding, only that it had been approved by Bush administration lawyers as a legal technique to use in interrogations.

“As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman.

Pelosi’s statement did not address whether she was informed that other harsh techniques were already in use during the Zubaydah interrogations.

In December 2007 the Washington Post reported that leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees had been briefed in the fall of 2002 about waterboarding — which simulates drowning — and other techniques, and that no congressional leaders protested its use. At the time Pelosi said she was not told that waterboarding was being used, a position she stood by repeatedly last month when the Bush-era Justice Department legal documents justifying the interrogation tactics were released by Attorney General Eric Holder.

The new memo shows that intelligence officials were willing to share the information about waterboarding with only a sharply closed group of people. Three years after the initial Pelosi-Goss briefing, Bush officials still limited interrogation technique briefings to just the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the so-called Gang of Four in the intelligence world.

In October 2005, CIA officials began briefing other congressional leaders with oversight of the intelligence community, including top appropriators who provided the agency its annual funding. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam and an opponent of torture techniques, was also read into the program at that time even though he did not hold a special committee position overseeing the intelligence community.

A bipartisan collection of lawmakers have criticized the practice of limiting information to just the “Gang of Four”, who were expressly forbidden from talking about the information from other colleagues, including fellow members of the intelligence committees. Pelosi and others are considering reforms that would assure a more open process for all committee members.

Straight to the Top

April 27, 2009

By Scott Horton | Harper’s Magazine, April 27, 2009

Correction, April 29, 2009:

This post requires correction in two respects. First, as already noted, Ed Whelan, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, has categorically denied attending the July 2003 meeting mentioned there. Second, I wrongly described his writing at the National Review as “defenses of torture enablers.” This phrase is both vague and inaccurate, and I apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused. Whelan has never written anything for the National Review in defense of torture or torture enablers.

The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:

“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”

It makes clear that sign-off for torture comes from Condoleezza Rice, acting with the advice of her ever-present lawyer, John Bellinger. Another figure making a key appearance is an Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel named M. Edward Whelan III–presumably the same Ed Whelan who is presently melting his keyboard with defenses of the torture-enablers (Update, April 29, 2009: See correction.) at National Review. (Update: Andrew Sullivan also reported on the appearance of Whelan in the memo, but Whelan responded with a categorical denial that he was involved. This suggests that the memo’s chronology is incorrect and requires some clarification.) The central role played by Rice and Bellinger helps explain the State Department’s abrupt about-face on international law issues related to torture immediately after Rice became Secretary of State and Bellinger became Legal Adviser. It also makes clear that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were fully informed of what has happened and approved.

Real World Reasons Against Torture

April 26, 2009

By Coleen Rowley | Consortiumnews.com, April 24, 2009

Editor’s Note: Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration defenders keep insisting that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked and that people would feel differently about these tactics if they only knew the wonderful results.

That, however, is not the view of many professional interrogators who were sickened by the Bush administration’s torture for ethical, legal and practical reasons, as former FBI agent/legal counsel Coleen Rowley notes in this guest essay:

Back in December 2007, when I wrote “Torture is Wrong, Illegal and It Doesn’t Work,” I mentioned that “the FBI agent who reportedly had the best chance of foiling the 9/11 plot, Ali Soufan, the only Arabic-speaking agent in New York and one of only eight in the country, and who has since resigned from the FBI, could and should tell people the truth of how the CIA’s tactics were counterproductive.”

Well guess what?! HE FINALLY DID SO on Thursday!

My Tortured Decision” is how former FBI Agent Soufan titled his New York Times op-ed, speaking out to specifically refute a number of Dick Cheney’s lies about how torture “worked”. The truth, according to Soufan, is quite the opposite.

Soufan wrote: “There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah [the first al-Qaeda suspect subjected to waterboarding and other harsh tactics] that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.

“In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [For the full op-ed, click here.]

Former Agent Soufan is to be applauded for speaking out after seven years, something even FBI Director Mueller has not really found the courage to do (although Mueller was forced recently to truthfully admit that no attack on America has been disrupted as a result of intelligence obtained through “enhanced techniques”).

I agree with almost everything Soufan writes except his wish that no agency officials at the CIA be prosecuted because almost all of them were “good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.” But he says (implying, whether he realizes it or not, the Nuremberg Defense), they simply had to follow orders.

No disagreement exists on how difficult — literally between a rock and a hard place, any government employee finds him or herself when given illegal and wrongful orders.

When the “green light” was turned on to torture, it was akin to the terrible situation that helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. found himself in when he looked down from his helicopter to see Lt. William Calley and his men massacring Vietnamese villagers at My Lai. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Death of an American Hero.”]

It was similar to the horrible situation that Daniel Ellsberg found himself in when he realized what was in the Pentagon Papers undercut several presidential administrations’ lies in launching and keeping the Vietnam War going.

There is presently no protection whatsoever for government whistleblowers who find themselves in these situations, especially those who work in intelligence.

As it stands now, if you follow your conscience and speak out internally, you will, at the very least, be retaliated against, possibly fired and at worst, if you speak out publicly as Justice Department Attorney Thomas Tamm did about Bush’s illegal warrantless monitoring, you will subject yourself to criminal prosecution as a “leaker.”

So it’s quite understandable how former Agent Soufan sees the choice as going along with the illegal orders or resigning to avoid personal direct involvement but maintaining silent complicity.

As I wrote in an April 18 letter published in the New York Times: “It’s true, and proved repeatedly in social psychology experiments, that otherwise good people will tend to conform to authority. It’s true that people, under such circumstances, often fail to listen to their consciences. But don’t conflate this obedience factor with not being able to appreciate the wrongfulness.”

On my own personal note, the final thing I did the day I retired from the FBI (in December, 2004) was e-mail my last mini-legal lecture to every employee in the entire Minneapolis FBI office warning my former colleagues how the “green light” would inevitably go out, and when that happens, it always leaves the little guys holding the bag.

Nearly all the little guys in government knew, by that time, about the green-but-evil light that had been turned on. And even though the FBI was not going along with the torture tactics, it was going overboard in other areas involving massive data collection on American citizens.

Because I was already persona non grata in the FBI for having spoken out about wrongful over-reactions and counterproductive responses after 9-11, I would only catch others’ hushed whispers about the “green light” stuff, but I think nearly everyone was well aware.

That last warning was the least I could do as I walked out the door but in all probability, many who got my goodbye e-mail immediately deleted it as they dreaded any reminder about “green lights” that always go out.

In the criminal justice system, the mitigating circumstances of such difficult, untenable situations and choices of subordinate government employees are not irrelevant and would be evaluated.

In the course of criminal investigation, it’s common to give immunity to underlings who, it is found, had little or no choice but to follow orders and are therefore not as culpable as those in power giving the orders.

Additionally, once the truth of the facts is ascertained, there’s room for all kinds of humanitarian arguments as to what, if any, are proper “punishments.” With respect to those on the receiving end of illegal orders, I’d volunteer to help explain how absolutely difficult their situation is.

I’d even help the defense find a social psychologist or two who can demonstrate what all the experiments on “group think” and “obedience to authority” have proven with regard to human behavior.

But this would go to evaluating relative responsibility and mitigating punishments and should not be used as a reason to jump over the most crucial first phase of the criminal justice process: the fact-finding ascertainment of truth.

We’ve already heard enough from fictional characters like Jack Bauer. It’s time to hear from real agents who operated in the real world like Ali Soufan.

After we hear the facts, then let’s also hear the mitigating circumstances of how difficult, how very difficult it is not to follow a President’s orders in the real world.

Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, was legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003.  She came to national attention in June 2002, when she testified before Congress about serious lapses before 9/11 that helped account for the failure to prevent the attacks.  She now writes and speaks on ethical decision-making and on balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.

Torturers Should Be Punished

April 23, 2009

By Amy Goodman | Truthdig, April 22, 2009

Spokane, Wash. – George W. Bush insisted that the U.S. did not use torture.

But the four Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos released last week by the Obama administration’s Justice Department paint a starkly different picture. The declassified memos provided legal authorization for “harsh interrogation techniques” used by the Bush administration in the years following Sept. 11, 2001. They authorized (as listed in the Aug. 1, 2002, memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee) “walling … facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and the waterboard.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the OLC under Bush “became a facilitator for illegal government conduct, issuing dozens of memos meant to permit gross violations of domestic and international law.”

The memos authorize what the International Committee of the Red Cross called, in a leaked report, “treatment and interrogation techniques … that amounted to torture.”

These torture techniques were developed by two psychologists based in Spokane, Wash.: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Their company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, provided specialized training to members of the U.S. military to deal with capture by enemy forces. The training is called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Mitchell and Jessen, both psychologists, were contracted by the U.S. government to train interrogators with techniques they claimed would break prisoners.

They reverse-engineered the SERE training, originally developed to help people withstand and survive torture, to train a new generation of torturers.

The memos provide gruesome details of the torture. Waterboarding was used hundreds of times on a number of prisoners. The Bybee memo includes this Kafkaesque authorization: “You would like to place [Abu] Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him.”

After President Barack Obama said there should be no prosecutions, he was received with great fanfare at the CIA this week. Mark Benjamin, the reporter who originally broke the Mitchell and Jessen story, said when I questioned him about Obama’s position: “If you look at the president’s statements and you combine them with the statements of Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Eric Holder, the attorney general … you will see that over the last couple of days the Obama administration has announced that no one, not the people who carried out the torture program or the people who designed the program or the people that authorized the program or the people who said that it was legal-even though they knew that it frankly wasn’t-none of those people will ever face charges. The attorney general has announced that … the government will pay the legal fees for anybody who is brought up on any charges anywhere in the world or has to go before Congress. They will be provided attorneys … they have been given this blanket immunity … in return for nothing.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation during the next six months. Though Obama promises to let the torturers go, others are pursuing them. Bybee is now a federal judge. A grass-roots movement, including Common Cause and the Center for Constitutional Rights, is calling on Congress to impeach Bybee. In Spain, Judge Baltasar Garzon, who got Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet indicted for crimes against humanity, has named Bybee and five others as targets of a prosecution.

For years, people have felt they have been hitting their heads against walls (some suffered this literally, as the memos detail). On Election Day, it looked like that wall had become a door. But that door is open only a crack. Whether it is kicked open or slammed shut is not up to the president. Though he may occupy the most powerful office on Earth, there is a force more powerful: committed people demanding change. We need a universal standard of justice. Torturers should be punished.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

CIA destroyed 92 torture videos

March 3, 2009

By Jason Leopold | Consortiumnews.com, March 2, 2009

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes – far more than previously known – to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency’s interrogators subjected “war on terror” detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department.

“The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed,” said a letter written by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin and filed in federal court in New York. “Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed.”

Previously, the CIA had disclosed that it had destroyed two videotapes and one audiotape of harsh interrogations of detainees. The tape destruction has been the subject of a year-long criminal investigation by John Durham, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who was appointed special prosecutor last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In Monday’s filing, Dassin noted that a stay of a contempt motion filed by the ACLU seeking release of the tapes was allowed to expire on Feb. 28 without a request for a continuation – signaling that Durham’s investigation is now complete.

In January, Durham had indicated in a court filing that he expected to wrap up his probe by the end of February. The CIA has asked the court to give the agency until Friday to produce a list of all destroyed records, any memos relating to reconstruction of those records, and identification of witnesses who may have watched the videotapes before they were destroyed.

Dassin’s letter said some information sought by the ACLU may be classified or “protected from disclosure, such as the names of the CIA employees who viewed the videotapes.”

Dassin said the CIA “intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs.”

Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the latest disclosure “provides further evidence for holding the CIA in contempt of court.”

“The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court’s order.” Singh said. “Our contempt motion has been pending in court for over a year now – it is time to hold the CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

The videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005 after The Washington Post published a story exposing the CIA’s use of so-called “black site” prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects with techniques that were not legal on U.S. soil.

The Zubaydah Case

The Post’s story focused on alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and the harsh methods that the CIA used on him and other detainees. Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and reportedly was whisked to a secret prison site in Thailand for interrogation.

Initially, Zubaydah was somewhat cooperative but later became tight-lipped when asked about alleged terrorist plots against the United States and the whereabouts of high-level al-Qaeda operatives.

In July 2002, a meeting was convened at the White House, where former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department attorney John Yoo, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s attorney David Addington, and unknown CIA officials discussed whether the CIA could interrogate Zubaydah more aggressively in order to get him to respond.

It was at this July 2002 meeting that Yoo, Gonzales and Addington gave the CIA the green light to use a wide variety of techniques, including waterboarding, on Zubaydah and other detainees at several secret prisons to “break” them and force them to cooperate with interrogators, according to an account published in Newsweek in late December 2003.

Less than a month after the meeting, on Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo drafted a memo to Gonzales that was signed by Jay Bybee, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. That memo declared that President Bush had the legal authority to allow CIA interrogators to employ harsh tactics to extract information from detainees.

Yoo’s memo – often called the “torture meme” – said Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the Aug.  1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.

Bush Fixated

In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.

However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”

Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.

According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.

Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.

The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.

Last year, Mukasey appointed U.S. Attorney Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the destruction of the CIA videotapes violated any laws, but did not give Durham the authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves violated anti-torture laws.

In December 2008, Bush and Cheney both admitted in exit interviews that they authorized the waterboarding of Zubaydah and two other detainees.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers in January proposed expanding the scope of Durham’s investigation to include a broader review of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

Conyers said he urged Attorney General Eric Holder to “appoint a Special Counsel or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, will soon conduct a secret investigation into the CIA’s interrogation program to determine whether the methods used against detainees worked, according to published reports.

Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.


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