Ali Soufan, an FBI interrogator, writes in the NYT yesterday that “for seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.”
But with the release of the memos, Soufan comes clean about his experience:
“One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another FBI agent, and with several CIA officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.
We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.”
That’s important, because defenders of torture have tried to claim that Zubaydah coughed up information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed only after “enhanced interrogation techniques” had been applied.
“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan writes. “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.”
Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, confirmed Soufan’s account in an interview with Vanity Fair published last December:
I ask Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still calls “enhanced techniques”?
“I’m really reluctant to answer that,” Mueller says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to elaborate: “I don’t believe that has been the case.”
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others have claimed that waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allowed them to break up a conspiracy to attack Library Tower in Los Angeles using an airplane, just as al Quaida had done on 9/11. Former Bush speechwriter Mark Thiessen repeated that claim in a piece in the Washington Post this week.
Timothy Noah, writing in Slate, explains a pretty basic flaw in that claim:
“In a White House press briefing, Bush’s counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader (in the Libary Tower plot) was arrested in February 2002, and “at that point, the other members of the cell” (later arrested) “believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward” . A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, “In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.”
These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got — an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush’s characterization of it as a “disrupted plot” was “ludicrous” — that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t captured until March 2003.”