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Soufan on Torture

Here’s Ali Soufan, from his written opening statement and his spoken summary, delivered from behind the wooden partition. One aspect of Ali Soufan’s

Amandeep Coleman
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | May 13, 2009

Here’s Ali Soufan, from his written opening statement and his spoken summary, delivered from behind the wooden partition.

One aspect of Ali Soufan’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah that’s now somewhat cleared up, according to the ex-FBI agent’s opening statement: the FBI and the CIA/SERE-contractor team were in a back-and-forth during the spring of 2002 for how to interrogate him, with each side attempting to win. The “contractor” — probably James Mitchell — “insisted on stepping up the notches of his experiment,” even after Abu Zubaydah apparently stopped cooperating with coercive interrogations. That contractor  “requested the authorization to place Abu Zubaydah in a confinement box” — which Soufan saw as “borderline torture.” He doesn’t give a precise breakdown of when this all happened, but indicates he “was pulled out” by FBI Director Robert Mueller after that; and it all occurred before the August 1, 2002 OLC legal memoranda blessing Abu Zubaydah’s torture. (He wrote in his April New York Times op-ed that it happened in June 2002; the Justice Department’s Inspector General 2008 report suggests it was around mid-May.)

By contrast, here’s how Soufan interrogated an al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Jandal after 9/11. He “advised him of his rights” — what he acidly calls an “Informed Interrogation Approach” — and then the interrogation allegedly reaped:

extensive information on Osama bin Laden’s terror network, structure, leadership, membership, security dtails, facilities, family, communication methods, travels, training, ammunitions, and weaponry, including a breakdown of what machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, and anti-tank missiles they used. He also provided explicit details of the 9/11 plot operatives and identified many terrorists who we later successfully apprehended.

But nothing on how Saddam Hussein was working with al-Qaeda, so you know you can’t trust a detainee who wasn’t placed in a confinement box with an insect. Indeed, Soufan references Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s torture, noting that it led to “false information on Iraq, al-Qaeda and WMD.”  Information obtained through torture provides “no way to know whether the detainee is being truthful or just speaking to either mitigate his discomfort or to deliberately provide false information.” Agents therefore chase “false leads” and waste valuable time and resources.

Just as no accounts of information obtained through torture should be taken at face value, neither should Soufan’s account of information obtained without torture. A thorough investigation has to follow up what he’s said to determine its veracity against other information.  But this is an interesting insight: “Nor can it be said that the harsh techniques were effective, which is why we had to be called back in repeatedly.” That, at least, is one explanation for the FBI’s frequent 2002-2004 participation in military and CIA interrogations that I wondered about in my piece yesterday.

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Amandeep Coleman | Amandeep had never known a moment when she wasn't reading or making up stories, having been born into a family of readers. She took out a pencil and notebook during the now-famous blizzard and started writing down one of those stories. It was there that I began my professional life. Her first book was written after several rejections and manuscripts. She is a member of many writers' organizations and has received several accolades from her peers and the publishing industry. The New Yorker recently dubbed her "America's favorite novelist".


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