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FBI Agent Who Interrogated Abu Zubaydah: The Torture Advocates Are Lying to You

Last updated: 07/31/2020 08:00 | 04/23/2009 05:20
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Elisa Mueller

You know an op-ed’s going to be good when it starts out like this:

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

This is the account of Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent — and superstar — whom Lawrence Wright profiled in a riveting New Yorker piece in 2006. Soufan was part of the original team that interrogated Abu Zubaydah from March to June 2002, “before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August” thanks to the go-ahead from the Office of Legal Counsel’s Jay Bybee and John Yoo. He says that an iterative, rapport-building approach yielded “important actionable intelligence,” including the imminent arrival of Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber” (that one didn’t work out so well), to the United States; and the role of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the architect of the 9/11 attacks. “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.”

And people like former Vice President Dick Cheney are lying when they say that the torture of Abu Zubaydah was necessary to extract crucial data points:

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

Marcy Wheeler has some questions about another aspect of Soufan’s op-ed. More on that in my next post.

Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.

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