[Guest post by DRJ]
ABC reported yesterday that John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who interrogated al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, claims that subjecting Zubaydah to 35 seconds of waterboarding produced valuable information that thwarted terrorist attacks … and it was necessary torture:
“A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary. In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.
“The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate,” said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News’ “World News With Charles Gibson” and “Nightline.”
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
Kiriakou said the feeling in the months after the 9/11 attacks was that interrogators did not have the time to delve into the agency’s bag of other interrogation tricks. “Those tricks of the trade require a great deal of time — much of the time — and we didn’t have that luxury. We were afraid that there was another major attack coming,” he said.”
The use of waterboarding and other techniques were directed by CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and were always a “last resort:”
“The former intelligence officer says the interrogators’ activities were carefully directed from Langley, Va., each step of the way. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him.’ Or, ‘I’m going to shake him.’ Or, ‘I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’
“Each one of these steps, even though they’re minor steps, like the intention shake, or the open-handed belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations,” Kiriakou told ABC News.
“The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific,” he said. “And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard. So it was extremely deliberate.”
And it was always a last resort.
“That’s why so few people were waterboarded. I think the agency has said that two people were waterboarded, Abu Zubaydah being one, and it’s because you really wanted it to be a last resort because we didn’t want these false confessions. We didn’t want wild goose chases,” Kiriakou said. And they were faced with men like Abu Zubaydah, Kiriakou says, who held critical and timely intelligence.“
Remember Stashiu who recounted threats from GTMO inmates? That’s not unusual – Zubaydah also threatened his captors – and yet Kiriakou believes the US’ success in prosecuting the war on terror makes it unnecessary to continue using waterboarding:
“A former colleague of mine asked him [Zubaydah] during the conversation one day, ‘What would you do if we decided to let you go one day?’ And he said, ‘I would kill every American and Jew I could get my hands on…It’s nothing personal. You’re a nice guy. But this is who I am.‘”
In that context, at that time, Kiriakou says he felt waterboarding was something the United States needed to do.
“At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. And as time has passed, and as September 11th has, you know, has moved farther and farther back into history, I think I’ve changed my mind,” he told ABC News.
Part of his decision appears to be an ethical one; another part, perhaps, simply pragmatic. “I think we’re chasing them all over the world. I think we’ve had a great deal of success chasing them…and, as a result, waterboarding, at least right now, is unnecessary,” Kirikou said.
Now retired, Kiriakou, who declined to use the enhanced interrogation techniques, says he has come to believe that water boarding is torture but that perhaps the circumstances warranted it.
“Like a lot of Americans, I’m involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique,” Kiriakou told ABC News. “And I struggle with it.”
It’s interesting that Kiriakou’s feelings about the urgency to get information from our enemies has changed in the years since 9/11. It doesn’t sound like Zubaydah’s feelings have changed one bit.