Abu Zubaydah’s Psychological Profile

One of the things we got in yesterday’s document dump is the psychological profile which John Yoo used to assert that Abu Zubaydah was fit to be tortured. There are four key details of it:

The Date

This document was faxed to John Yoo on July 25, 2002 at 5:04 PM (it was dated July 24), the day after OLC verbally authorized a number of the torture techniques used on Abu Zubaydah. But of course, they had already subjected him to two months of enhanced treatment–we know, for example, that they at least threatened to use the confinement box with him in May.

Which raises several questions. First, did they do any psychological profile before they first subjected him to sleep deprivation and isolation and confinement? Or did they just do one when OLC needed it to pretty  up the OLC opinion authorizing torture?

Also, how much of what it records is itself a reflection of this earlier torture? For example, when they cite Zubaydah admitting he lies,

He said, "I lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, and lie."

Was he referring to something he did before he was captured–or after? Were they taking his retraction of things he said under coercion as proof that he was more generally a liar? (The context suggests it was before, but I’m not sure I buy that.)

No Apparent Mention of Abu Zubaydah’s Head Injury

There are two complete paragraphs redacted and significant other redactions here, so it may be they’ve redacted all discussion of whether a prior, serious head injury ought to preclude someone from torture. But in what is unredacted, there is no mention of his head injury. So, for example, the section on "Emotional/Mental Status/Coping Skills" starts with this claim:

Overall, subject’s background as revealed by self-report (including diaries and interview) does not indicate that he has a history of mood disturbance or other psychiatric pathology. Indeed, his reported and known history indicates that he is remarkably resiliant and confident that he can overcome adversity. During the occasions that he experiences increased stress and/or low mood, he may become somewhat more withdrawn, melancholy, and reflective. However, the shift in mood will likely last a relatively short time. He denies and there is no evidence in his reported history of thought disorder or enduring mood or mental health problems.

Keep in mind, if this assessment was done in July, then the "somewhat more withdrawn" periods mentioned refer to his response to prior abuse!! We know that twice, after Mitchell took control of his interrogation and subjected him to abuse, he stopped talking. But this is how the failure of past abuse got translated into his profile for OLC.

The Claims that Abu Zubaydah Devised Al-Qaeda’s Resistance Strategies

Given the centrality of the Al Qaeda resistance manual used as cover for Mitchell and Jessen’s reverse engineering of SERE techniques, I find the mention of Abu Zubaydah’s alleged role in writing the Al Qaeda manual telling.

Alleged to have written al-Qa’ida’s manual on resistance techniques and lectured on the topic.


He has talked with Ayman al-Zawahiri and it is likely that Zawahiri talked about his experience as a captive of the Egyptians and Russians. In addition, subject is familiar and probably well versed regarding al-Qa’ida’s detentions and resistance training materials. Thus, one would expect that subject would draw upon this fund of knowledge as he attempts to cope with his own detention.

They had to include this bit, of course, because it’s precisely the logic they used to rationalize torturing him. Pointing to his knowledge of Egyptian and, more importantly, Russian torture provides the perfect excuse to use reverse-engineered techniques based on Russian torture. Never mind that this information is all speculative.

And, incidentally, this appears to have gotten into the 9/11 Report.

Abu Zubaydah’s Diaries

The profile also includes details that almost certainly come from a translation of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries that his defense attorneys now challenge. Whereas Zubaydah claimed in his CSRT that he opposed attacks on civilians and 9/11.

I can’t remember exactly what you talk about in my diary. I know exactly what I wrote. — writ wrote [asks for correction from Linguist] –One part I do remember, I write against eleven September.


They killing of our child so we not care to killing their child; it’s not allowed in Islam. I have it exactly, if you read my diary nice, you will understand my idea nice.

The profile states, 

He conceded that he still wrestles with issues regarding the killing of civilians and how to determine who is "innocent." [redaction] He acknowledged that he celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Now, if the government would just give Abu Zubaydah this section of his diary–or at least have a neutral translator translate this section of it–we might be able to see whether these allegations, used in the profile to prove that Abu Zubaydah had directly supported 9/11, were completely fabricated. But the government refuses to give Abu Zubaydah his diaries. 

Which might suggest how confident they are in this psychological profile.

35 replies
  1. Mary says:

    Daniel Coleman is retired now isn’t he? Why not let one of the good guys get some of the “consulting” fees that they typically funnel to the torturers and child abusers and let him produce a report on the diary sections. He’s got the clearance, he’s the guy they sent the original diaries to, etc.

    OT – Sorry. I haven’t looked at much of what was released; started on Uriah’s 2007 conditions of confinement and just couldn’t take it – – but looking at the list of things you have DiFi mentioning I’m guessing that none of the non-redacted stuff they’ve released refers to the torture killing by hypothermia/abuse in Afghanistan, the one where the body was just tucked under dirt somewhere and left to rot, and where there was no real evidence that the person tortured to deat, in his early 20s, was even a member of al-Qaeda,- I’m guessing that isn’t in the non-redacted parts, right? Cuz it isn’ton her list. It’s a hard one to defend on the basis of how much intel we got.

  2. MadDog says:

    Minor typo at the end: pscyhological should be psychological.

    Not Poland? It was only this AM when I had enough sleep I found the reference to Afghanistan.

    Note to self: must in future read with eyes open. *g*

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    They are going to have to give him those diaries if they take him to trial or any attempt the government makes to use information from the diaries will be excluded.

    If I’m AZ’s lawyer, my first goal is to get him in front of a real judge. After that, I challenge every piece of evidence and demand copies of every source that survives challenge.

    I challenge the government to prove AZ is competent to stand trial and I call the governments experts (You know, the ones who examined him during interrogation?) as my witnesses.

    This is why at all costs, AZ must be kept out of a courtroom. Heck, the government might even lose the show trial!

    Boxturtle (Losing a show trial would have to be the ultimate government embarassment)

      • Mary says:

        And there we have the el-Masri precedent.

        Next to the inaction on Padilla, it was a the lowest of the low points in the last few decades of Sup Ct history. More so, even, than Bush v. Gore. Refusal to take cert on el-Masri, even after the international incident of Merkel acknowledging Rice’s confession of our torture, was not only a low point, it kept the conversation from changing.

        It kept the conversation focused on KSM, who by any standard is a pretty evil guy – instead of on a guy with the wrong name at the wrong place.

  4. emptywheel says:

    Thank you both.


    Yeah, they seem to have made a distinction between the extended torture of detainees and that they did to assess detainees. The same distinction was made in DOD. And like CIA, in DOD that’s where the worst abuses came (and most of the killings). Of course, usually these assessment torture sessions were done by a joint team of Special Ops guys and CIA guys. So…

  5. Mary says:

    distinction between the extended torture of detainees and that they did to assess detainees

    in a similar vein, Bradbury distinguishes conditions of confinement not during interrogation from interrogation conditions. Clothing provided – certainly, during, ya know, confinement. During interrogation not so much. Heat provided – certainly, during, ya know, confinement. During interrogation not so much.

    Really, after seeing the stuff I’ve looked at to date, I get more and more creeped out by the old story on KSM’s kids, with the guy going on about how they have a child psychologist at hand with them. It really reads very differently when you know the purpose of the psychologists is to assess how much torture and to help prolong the toture experiments.

      • Mary says:

        I will – plus I still have to slog through the 2007 one. It probably won’t be until this weekend or at least Friday though. I’m driveby and hit and miss until then.

        Sideways to topic – while I think everyone who wants to make the torture arguments in absolutist terms is correct, and while the arguments on what covered which things when is also something that needs to be done, I don’t think that’s how anyone can “win the case” with the American jury.

        To do that, I think you have to put a face on the victims and if that face is KSM, or possibly even a pathetic thing like Zubaydah, you lose the case. You win the case by putting the face of a victim on the crime and that hasn’t been done for so long now (or rather, KSM and a vague “the worst of the worst” have been the faces for so long now) I’m not sure it can be done. But just as Fitzgerald in his closing for the embassy bombings case personalized it all, under the face of Roselyn Wanjiku Mwangi the torture debate needs a face other than KSM.

        The face of KSM’s children – the face of Maher Arar’s children – the face of Khalid el-Masri’s children – the face of Aafia Siddiqui’s children – the face of Dilawar’s mother – the faces of the relatives of the detained in Bagram – the faces of the victims of American torture needs to be changed to change the conversation IMO. Right or wrong, I think we lose the case if we let the framing remain, even if technically the argument against torture applies with equal force to the torturers of KSM as to those who disappeared his children or those who handed off Aafia Siddiqui’s American child to Afghan intelligence trying to have him disappeared or who sadistically tortured a young Afghan cab driver to death, leaving the witnesses so traumatized that they lied about what happened to his mother because they felt no mother should have to hear about those things happening to their son.

        IMO, every time they release info on what was done to KSM and al-Nashiri, there needs to be some pushback on those kinds of bases, the children, the mothers with no one to care for them, the wives like el-Masris who have their husband disappeared without knowing what happened, or like Boumediene’s who watched a court rule in Bosnia that her husbad was being illegally held and should be released only to watch US “peacekeeping” forces assist in kidnapping him to Guantanamo before her eyes, helpless.

        If the narrative never changes, I fear it’s all a loss.

  6. Garrett says:

    Did he have a psychiatric pathology that would prevent him from being tortured?

    He thinks he is number three man in al-Qaida. He’s friggin crazy.

  7. Nell says:

    I respect the willingness to get in among the weeds, but just so everyone retains the big picture…

    From a 2004 interview between Ellen Ray and Michael Ratner, excerpted from their book Guantanamo: What the World Should Know

    Ray: Is there any argument that can be made that torture and similar abuses are lawful if not used against prisoners of war but against unlawful combatants?

    Ratner: Absolutely not. The Convention Against Torture applies to every human being. The Geneva Conventions apply to every type of combatant in a war. Even if one argues that al Qaeda suspects are not governed by the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties ratified by the United States prohibit torture as well as other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

    Nor does the Convention Against Torture permit any excuses for torture. Article 2 says that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever”—whether a state of war or a threat of war, political instability, or any other public emergency—may be evoked as a justification of torture. It goes on to say that an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture. That is an illegal order, and you can be punished as a criminal for carrying it out.

    The convention is crystal clear: under no circumstances can you torture people, whatever you call them, whether illegal combatants, enemy combatants, murderers, killers. You cannot torture anybody ever; it’s an absolute prohibition.

    So classifying these people as threats to the United States has nothing to do with how you must treat them. They still have to be treated humanely, and humane treatment does not include torture.

    In addition, torture committed by U.S. soldiers or private contractors acting under U.S. authority is a violation of federal law, punishable by the death penalty if the death of a prisoner results from the torture. Another federal statute criminalizes any grave breach of the Geneva Conventions—including torture, willful killing, inhuman treatment, and causing great suffering to those in custody—as a war crime. Furthermore, a special statute criminalizes such conduct if carried out by so-called private contractors working with the U.S. military.

    The memos by Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury, and any other lawyers purporting to provide legal guidance that would permit torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are by definition written in bad faith.

    It is highly unlikely and implausible that from “preliminary review” (not even investigation) of cases referred for criminal investigation and prosecution during the Bush administration but never pursued, we are going to get to the prosecution of the real crimes — “legalizing” what can never be made legal, and authorizing/instituting a torture policy overall.

  8. MadDog says:

    I was reading the Bradbury Confinement memo last night (August 31, 2006 Letter to Rizzo from OLC concerning Conditions of Confinement – 26 page PDF) and was simply stunned at how childish his disingenuousness was.

    While Yoo simply repeatedly ignored facts/law that contradicted his assertions, Bradbury takes a different tack into fantasyland with straightfaced assertions like this from page 6:

    …6. Finally, the CIA use leg shackles to enhance security “in all aspects of detainee management and movement.” Id. Shackling, however, is kept to the minimum required by the CIA’s security concerns; the number of hours per day that a detainee is shackled is calibrated to the threat that the detainee poses to detention facility staff. Id. Detainees thus are not shackled while in their cells unless they have previously demonstrated that they are a threat to themselves or to facility personnel while in their cells…

    …We understand that detainees, while shackled, are able to walk comfortably…

    Now compare and contrast that with this December 30, 2004 Fax from CIA to OLC providing generic description of the CIA’s combined use of various interrogation techniques (19 page PDF) from page 2:

    …Effective interrogation is based on the concept of using both physical and psychological pressures in a comprehensive, systematic, and cumulative manner to influence HVD behaviour, to overcome a detainee’s resistance posture. The goal of interrogation is to creat a state of learned helplessnes and dependence conducice to collection of intelligence…

    And then this from page 6:

    …b. Sleep Deprivation. The HVD is placed in the vertical shackling position to begin sleep deprivation. Other shackling procedures may be used during interrogations…

    Bradbury seems to feel his personal calling is to “gild the lily” on all of this stuff in an amateurish attempt to make everything into ordinary, everyday, prisoner management activities.

    Again, read all of his descriptions of hooding and googling to block a detainee’s vision, head and face shaving, solitary confinement, white noise, 24 hour illumination, and shacking in that document (26 page PDF), and then compare and contrast each of those “conditions of confinement” to the CIA’s own generic description of the CIA’s combined use of various interrogation techniques document (19 page PDF).

    I wonder who Cheney & Co. in the end preferred to run OLC; Yoo or Bradbury? I suspect Bradbury by a nose.

  9. perris says:

    The use of the following techniques and of comparable, approved techniques does not violate any Federal statute or other law, where the CIA interrogators do not specifically intend to cause the detainee to undergo severe physical or mental pain or suffering (i.e., they act with the good faith belief that their conduct will not cause such pain or suffering):

    that’s a complete contradiction of terms, the very purpose of said techiques IS to cause severe physical and mental pain and suffering, that is the VERY purpose

  10. TarheelDem says:

    Tell me what exactly the interrogators learned that they could not have learned from the news items about al Quaeda.

    A lot of the narrative about who Abu Zubaydah is seems constructed from public sources and then inferred by the interrogators as what they would have done had they been in Zubaydah’s situation. And dismissive of any information that would have been, er, real information.

    • perris says:

      actually they would have learned more if they used other methods besides torture, more information, more actionable with a far greater return on assets invested

  11. TheraP says:

    Any psychological eval should provide the dates of evaluation and what types of evaluation were used (including interview, review of records, any testing techniques) and the date the report was issued. Included in any eval should be a weighing of how anything in the past – like the head injury or even exposure to combat – could explain current behavior. If the eval was done only subsequent to capture and ill treatment, then the eval MUST take that into account in terms of weighing current behavior, current difficulties, and the impact of any ongoing or future harmful treatment (including simply keeping the person in solitary confinement). Not only that, it’s important that the person doing the evaluation have a lot of training in providing such reports. There’s a pretty standard structure for evaluations and reports – and there needs a be a presentation of facts (and where/how you’re ascertaining these facts), an analysis, which includes a consideration of alternative explanations. Any final recommendations must be supported by the facts and the analysis and conclusions from facts and analysis.

    From what we know I doubt the “eval” was more than a whitewash and a willingness to “sign off” to whatever would please the higher-ups and line the pockets of those seeking further govt contracts. Prove me wrong with hard data. Otherwise color me totally skeptical!

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Well, EW, I’m your man. I’ll try and get to that soon. As someone who has conducted evaluations of torture victims (and others) for years (as a secondary task; I mainly conduct psychotherapy), the “evaluation” of AZ is a fascinating look at how the CIA goes about this kind of business.

        A few thoughts here:

        First, every eval has a presenting question, e.g., does this child have a learning disability? is this patient psychotic? etc.

        Re AZ, the presenting question most likely was, what psychological strengths or weaknesses does this person have that we can exploit in our interrogation cum torture plan?

        The section on Primary Weaknesses is totally redacted (it follows the section on “Primary Strengths.” It is the meat of the report.

        What’s interesting is the lack of any attention to relevant past history that any psychologist would find important, e.g., the quality of his family relationships, the existence of prior traumas, his actual work and school history, etc.

        The man they present, in a most amateurish fashion, cannot be in fact a real person. They present him as a superman (he wrote the Al Qaeda resistance manual, ran training camps, was chief of counterintelligence, “no one came in and out of Peshawar, Afghanistan without his knowledge and approval,” but still had time to be involved in every major Al Qaeda operation, and direct the start-up of an Al Qaeda cell in Jordan!). A real busy guy.

        The discussion of his personality sounds like it was cribbed from a printout of a computerized personality assessment. The CIA used to use the Gittinger personality profile, but who knows what these guys used. In any case, that’s why you get the contradictions in the portrayal, e.g., he “wrestles” with idea of killing civilians, but “celebrated” 9/11; he has discipline, drive, creativity and pragmatism of a good leader, but is private and vigilant of others’ intentions, and doesn’t trust people, and oh, yes, wants to be one of the guys.

        I’m beginning to believe that even by their own standards, the psychological profile just isn’t that important, or the job done wouldn’t have been so slipshod. Compare this with profiles done on Nazi leaders during WWII.

        Instead, this bolsters my thoughts that the torture was meant to satisfy terroristic and/or experimental purposes, or to simply be brutal in order to coercive false confessions (to go to war against Saddam).

        I’ll have more to say later, but this “evaluation” is obscene, unprofessional, and I’m ashamed that my profession, which has helped so many people, has been dragged into the worst sort of crimes and unethical, illegal behavior.

        • R.H. Green says:

          I missed your entry as I was writing mine. I concur with your points regarding the “professional” nature of the document and its presentation. Glad to see someone with the practical experience in the field getting on this.

        • TheraP says:

          Bless you, Jeff. I endorse you doing it! (Right now I’m seriously in need of a break. But glad to chime in when I’m able.)

          EW: Your request that I do it is a great honor. But I’m glad to cede the task to Jeff – who truly has earned the right!

          Jeff, I would bet there was also a question about whether or not the types of techniques to be used would be harmful. I bet that was there (or should have been!) on the basis of earlier torture memos, which appear to have been based on such a report. That’s a biggie here.

          Yes, exactly, they present “conclusions” without any evidence of where they got facts and what possible hypotheses were considered to explain the facts. We see nothing but conclusions – abstractions without any basis provided! Could you just imagine the lawsuit if you did this in actual practice????

          Like you, I am just totally outraged and ashamed at what’s been done in the name of psychology!

          I look forward to your essay, Jeff.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Thank you, Jeff.

          I cannot shake the feeling that torture was embraced quite happily, and that the principle motivation, beyond the twisted titillation of doing it, is a reflection of the pathology of those at the ‘top’, who have spent their lifetimes abusing and manipulating others without hindrance or cost, daring themselves to do it, to prove both their “manliness’ and their ‘resolve’, mostly to themselves, but also as a means of insuring loyalty among their cohorts and a legacy as “great” historic figures. These are hardly complex or evolved men, this is the behavior of frightened, narcissistic and shallow beings.

          Neither Bush nor Cheney score very highly on empathy, regarding it as weakness and failure.

          Mitchell and Jessen, to the shame of a certain profession, are cut from the same cloth and were only too happy, as less than mediocre practitioners, at best, to oblige, believing, no doubt, that being connected to power at that rarefied level, would confer both legitimacy and fame, if not wealth upon them.

          Lawyers may have their Addingtons, Bybees and Yoos, but psychologists of merit or even sturdy capacity are saddled with the knowledge that among their ranks are those who have no interest in healing or helping but of using the tools and insights of their profession to break-down and destroy the psychological integrity of others at the mere whim of the carelessly powerful.

          I look forward to reading what you have to say after looking back, and actually examining what happened, how it happened, and perhaps even why.


        • lllphd says:

          jeff, you’ve covered most of my complaints about this excuse for an eval. i’ve never seen anything like this; beyond appalling, actually. and yes, below amateurish. no reference to measures, no weighing of data or hypotheses, no real interview as such, just… what the hell IS this, really??

          that first long section reads like it was spoon fed to mitchell and jessen from the olc wish list, completely without reference to source and completely without the first hint of objectivity necessary for a valid analysis. and it should be noted that all that info would sure seem to be quite top secret stuff (even if most of it might be wrong). regardless of why any psychologist might be tasked to assess this man, it is hard for me to imagine why that particular or any psychologist would need to know these things in order to deliver the info requested for the reason/s requested. either that section was added later, for whatever reason, or the psychologist was privy to some extremely serious top secret data, odd in the face of all those secret data out there the spooks won’t give up to anyone for any reason. then again, this eval may well have been done by mitchell and/or jessen themselves, which strikes me as doubly unethical; yes, i’m assessing this victim’s ability to withstand the torture that i’ve been tasked to design. immoral and creepy on so many levels.

          the document is also void of life history aside from this book jacket promo piece, as you point out. that section really makes you wonder how/when/why it was written, because it sure reads like a quick and dirty, thrown together PR package, attempting to convince the reader (congressional leaders? IG officials?) that whatever was done to this guy, he deserved it. so no need to require real psych eval stuff here, foregone conclusions and all that, just a lick and a promise and a wink.

          and dw, i’m ashamed to admit that the profession of psychology harbors some of the worst. or maybe just more of them, i don’t know. have been trying to figure out why it might be the case — low in the pecking order, too many out there with poor training, who knows? — but it’s extremely serious and the profession is really suffering. would that mitchell and jessen were just the worst of the lot. there was also the apa’s craven stand on the whole issue of torture, the disgusting way in which their task force shoved the whole policy through, the despicable way dissent was rejected, and so on. and none of that even addresses the general ethical problems in day to day conduct of business, etc. i’m looking to get out, myself.

          thanks, jeff; look forward to your further ponderings on this. and thanks to you too, theraP; knew you’d have pearls of wisdom for us on this.

    • R.H. Green says:

      Always asking, “what is known and how is it known?”, I read with interest the “Psychological Profile”. I quickly came to the conclusion that this report should in no way be confused with what is refered to as a “psychological evaluation”. It is not an obective and systematic compilation of data that results in a comprehensive overview of the mental/emotional/behavioral fuctioning of an individual. Rather it is a compilation of selected factoids that should be regarded as more useful than as truthful. It is the sort of evaluation managers make of employees they want to promote or to demote. For example, saying that the detainee is strongwilled may be true, but conveniently offers a rational for invoking procedures to overcome such “narcisism” and its subsequent resistance to interrogation. This is administrative, as you say, whitwash to justify extraodinary treatment.

      • TheraP says:

        Yes, more like a fictional description …. which is what it like was! But even novelists might likely do better!

  12. JTMinIA says:

    I believe that the US method of torture was “reverse-engineered” from Chinese methods (as used in Korea), not from Russian methods.

    • emptywheel says:

      The program was absolutely a response to Korean torture. But it came to integrate Soviet methods as well, since they were the big enemy during the period.

  13. Jkat says:

    i’m wonderin’ .. can we come with a “category’ of “unlawful citizens” and then wing it like the bushies from there ..

    i can see a lot of advantages in having such a category .. /s

    • DWBartoo says:

      But,but … if Dylan is correct, and these folks are “living outside the law …”

      Well, Jkat, wouldn’t there be “honesty” issues?/ssssssss

  14. tjallen says:

    On the topic of alleged “waterboarding resistance” again. If you look on Youtube and elsewhere, there are dozens of waterboarding videos, with radio station announcers and college campus waterboardings, and google reveals numerous “I was waterboarded” articles by press members. There are a variety of waterboarding techniques, from the towel and gallon milk container of water, to duct-taped mouth and eyedropper of baby oil squirted up the nose. In none of the videos I saw was any kind of waterboarding resistance shown – almost everyone bails out in 6-10 seconds, before even half of the water container is expended. In one video, the waterboarder presses his hand on the abdomen of the victim, and says that there is a resistance technique of swallowing the water, but that this only works up to a point, and can be prevented by the pressure on the abdomen. So apparently there are no real physical techniques to waterboarding resistance, and anything KSM and others did to resist waterboarding’s effects would have to be mental. Is exhibiting a dissociative state a form of waterboarding resistance, or a common, natural and even involuntary reaction to extreme stress? This whole idea that someone might learn waterboarding resistance, justifying 186 waterboardings, seems crazy to me. No one ever volunteered for it twice.

  15. Kinmo says:

    The use of psychologists as guides in torture experiments will also be fodder for the Scientology cult. They sure didn’t need any material to support their paranoia. Everyone involved in this should be brought to a judge and jury. Particularly the Medical professionals; people that are supposed to be dedicated to the health and well-being of all of mankind. I just can’t stand it anymore.

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