October 24, 2020 / by 


And Did James Mitchell Also Write the Psychological Profile of Abu Zubaydah Bybee Used?

I think Spencer and I are just going to keep tag-teaming the torture memos.

He writes about something I’ve been thinking: to what degree was James Mitchell, almost certainly the contractor involved in making the case that they needed to use torture to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, making that case so he could win a hefty contract?

But is it too cynical to suggest that Mitchell also had an interest in saying that Soufan and the FBI’s (and apparently, in part, CIA’s) non-brutal techniques failed? From page 24 of the Senate Armed Services Committee report:

Subsequent from his retirement from DoD [the Department of Defense], Dr. Jessen joined Dr. Mitchell and other former JPRA [Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which oversees SERE] officials to form a company called Mitchell Jessen & Associates. Mitchell Jessen & Associates is co-owned by seven individuals, six of whom either worked for JPRA or one of the service SERE schools as employees and/or contractors. As of July 2007, the company had between 55 and 60 employees, several of whom were former JPRA employees.

Science may be science, but money is money.

But Mitchell may have done more than certify that the only way to get Abu Zubaydah to speak was to waterboard him. He may have been the guy who did the psychological profile that found him fit to be waterboarded.

The May 30, 2005 memo attributes an incredibly chilling comment, acknowledging that waterboarding exceeded the guidelines laid out in the 2002 OLC memo, to a "psychologist/interrogator."

The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, see IG Report at 5, 44, 46, 103-04, and also that it was used in a different manner. See id. at 37 ("[T]he waterboard technique  … was different from the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency Interrogator …  applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is "for real–and is more poignant and convincing.") [my emphasis]

Is this "psychologist/interrogator" the person who supplied the dubious profile (the one disputed by FBI people) that Bybee used to determine that Abu Zubaydah was fit to be waterboarded?

According to your reports, Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from your proposed interrogation methods. Through reading his diaries and interviewing him, you have found no history of "mood disturbance or other psychiatric pathology[,]" "thought disorder[,] … enduring mood or mental health problems." He is in fact "remarkably resilient and confident that he can overcome adversity." When he encounters stress or low mood, this appears to last only for a short time. He deals with stress by assessing its source, evaluating the coping resources available to him, and then taking action. Your assessment notes that he is "generally self-sufficient and relies on his understanding and application of religious and psychological principles, intelligence and discipline to avoid and overcome problems." Moreover, you have found that he has a "reliable and durable support system" in his faith, "the blessings of religious leaders, and camaraderie of like-minded mujahedin brothers." During detention, Zubaydah has managed his mood, remaining at most points "circumspect, calm, controlled., and deliberate." He has maintained this demeanor during aggressive interrogations and reductions in sleep. You describe that in an initial confrontational incident, Zubaydah showed signs of sympathetic nervous system arousal, which you think was possibly fear. Although this incident led him to disclose intelligence information, he was able to quickly regain his composure, his air of confidence, and his "strong resolve" not to reveal any information.

We know, after all, one of the changes CIA made after its IG Report declared the program to be cruel and inhumane was to bring in independent medical personnel from their OMS to conduct evaluations. 

We note that this involvement [in 2005] of medical personnel in designing safeguards for, and in monitoring implementation of, the procedures is a significant difference from earlier uses of the techniques catalogued in the Inspector General’s Report. See IG Report at 21 n26 ("OMS was neither consulted nor involved in the analysis of the risk and benefits of [enhanced interrogation techniques], nor provided with the OTS report cited in the OLC opinion [the Interrogation Memorandum]."). Since that time, based on comments from OMS, additional constraints have been imposed on the use of the techniques.

And after the IG Report, the CIA imposed a specific new requirement that an OMS physician be present to observe the torture.

As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used. See OMS Guidelines at 17-20. Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, "use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician." Id. at 9n2.

And this passage discussing the involvement of OMS after the IG Report makes it clear that, prior to that report, these "psychologist/interrogators" were the ones making the decisions on waterboarding.

"OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe."

So it seems that in the early days of the torture program, the "psychologist/interrogators" were the ones making these medical and psychological judgments. Precisely the kind of people contracted to the CIA from Mitchell’s consulting firm. 

Now, it would seem to be a conflict in any case if a "psychologist/interrogator" were the only one to conduct such a profile before you up and waterboarded them 83 times in a month. But at the time the Bybee Memo was written, the CIA was still purportedly in the planning stages of the program–and we know Mitchell was personally involved in that planning stage.

There were a number of assurances CIA had to make to Bybee before he’d call this torture legal. One was that torture was the only way to get the information. Another was that Abu Zubaydah was psychologically strong enough to withstand it. Did the same person certify both to be true? And was that person James Mitchell?

Is it possible that, in addition to (possibly) judging Abu Zubaydah wasn’t going to cooperate, someone standing to make a fat government contract if torture was used is also the person who assured Jay Bybee that Abu Zubaydah was fit to be tortured?

Abu Zubaydah’s FBI Interrogator Removes the Legal Cornerstone of the Torture Regime

Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator described in the DOJ IG report on interrogation as the interrogator (whom they call "Thomas") who called CIA’s tactics on AZ, "borderline torture," has an important op-ed in the NYT. He writes,

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. 

I pointed this out myself, in a post on why the debate over whether these techniques were necessary and effective is so heated.

Check out what the second paragraph of the Bybee Memo says:

Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply. Zubaydah is currently being held by the United States. The interrogation team is certain that he has additional information that he refuses to divulge. Specifically, he is withholding information regarding terrorist networks in the United Stares or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas. Zubaydah has become accustomed to a certain level of treatment and displays no signs of willingness to disclose further information. Moreover, your intelligence indicates that there is currently level of "chatter" equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks. In light of the information you believe Zubaydah has and the high level of threat you believe now exists, you wish to move the interrogations into what you have described as an "increased pressure phase." [my emphasis]

Here’s what Ali Soufan says:

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. 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.

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. [my emphasis]

We already knew this, of course, from the DOJ IG Report and many other sources. But Soufan emphasizes, importantly, that CIA interrogators were in the room when persuasive interrogation techniques worked. If those interrogators subsequently relied on the Bybee Memo, they could not claim they had a good faith reliance on the memo.

Which may be one of the reasons why, as Soufan notes, the CIA interrogators were unhappy at having been ordered to use coercive methods with AZ.

Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.


My C.I.A. colleagues who balked at the techniques, on the other hand, were instructed to continue. (It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.)

Soufan’s on-the-record refutation of the very cornerstone of the Bybee Memo–and with it the entire torture regime–dismantles the legal rationale for that regime. As Bybee wrote,

We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply. 

So who lied to Bybee about what facts the CIA had in its possession?

Spotted: Aspen Trees, Turning on Roots

Nico Pitney put this YouTube up as a preface to Shep Smith losing it in a later segment. (If you want to see Shep say "We are America, we do not fucking torture" click through.)

But I’m at least as fascinated by Judy Miller admitting she had a tough time getting all the way through the torture memos. "You know it when you see it," she said, referring to torture. Waterboarding someone 183 times, she repeated.

But as Shep points out, "if there was torture, that’s a crime. If there was crime, there were criminals. Who ordered the torture?" 

So now, two years after Judy’s dubious testimony got Dick Cheney off scot free after he ordered the outing of CIA spy, she’s demanding information about "Who Why When What, this system came about."

Let’s start with "Who," Judy…

Maybe she hasn’t thought through how this one ends. She claims she doesn’t know who ordered the torture, so that’s possible.

But we’re headed dangerously close to Judy turning on her roots, rather than turning in clusters. Not that I’m complaining, mind you–if Shep Smith and Judy Miller want to make it cool for Republicans to oppose torture, I’m all in favor. 

But it is a bit of a biological oddity, this aspen tree turning on its roots.

Lambert Dogs the Press

I beat the NYT to actual close reading over the weekend and it made a stink.

But Lambert documents his superior canine instincts from five years ago.

Je repete. 2004-05-09, Corrente:

Maybe there is a smoking gun. … Somebody’s got to authorize the dogs, the kennels, the handlers, and the purpose. … Who let the dogs out?

2009-05-20, Senator Carl Levin via Digby:

The interrogation techniques authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld in December 2002 for use at GTMO – including … military working dogs – were used by military intelligence personnel responsible for interrogations. … On September 14, 2003, Lieutenant General Sanchez issued an interrogation policy for CJTF-7 that authorized interrogators to use stress positions, environmental manipulation, sleep management, and military working dogs …

This was a very easy post to write: Evidence, and a soupçon of reasoning. So why was an unpaid, foul-mouthed blogger the one to write it, instead of a reporter in our famously free press? Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?

From one foul mouth blogger to another … good fucking question.

Zelikow’s Destroyed Memos

Last night, as I was beginning my catalog of the interrogation reports used in the 9/11 Report, the former Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission was on Rachel Maddow, elaborating on his Foreign Policy article where he revealed how the Bush Administration destroyed his objections to the May 2005 Bradbury Memos.

Anonymous Liberal had a very good take on Zelikow’s story (which basically matches what bmaz said to me via email). The destruction of Zelikow’s memos is clear evidence of criminality.

That’s an incredibly damning allegation. The only reason to collect and destroy all copies of this memo would be in order to preserve, for as many Bush administration officials as possible, a potential defense against later prosecution. If the extent of these activities ever became public and investigations were commenced, the White House wanted to be able to argue that everyone involved relied in good faith on the advice of counsel. That defense would be severely undermined if it could be shown that these officials were warned, by a lawyer of Zelikow’s caliber and rank within the administration, that the legal arguments they were relying on were poorly reasoned and unlikely to be sustained by a court.

This was pure CYA. And it was being done for reasons beyond the potential for political fallout. It was done in order to preserve the illusion of good faith reliance on OLC advice in the event of future criminal prosecutions. This is yet another reason why a special prosecutor needs to be appointed. While I agree with the decision by Eric Holder not to pursue prosecutions against CIA officials who relied in good faith on OLC advice (and did not exceed the scope of that advice), it is becoming increasingly clear that there were people (likely high ranking intelligence officials and people in the White House) who were explicitly warned (likely repeatedly) of the shoddy and highly dubious nature of the OLC’s advice. These folks should not be entitled to any presumption of good faith reliance. They need to be investigated. The attempt to scrub Zelikow’s memo from the record looks to me like an act of criminal conspiracy intended to preserve plausible deniability about the illegal nature of various government activities.

UPDATE: The expunging of Zelikow’s memo from the record is not the only thing the Bush administration has done to hinder the possibility of prosecution. Remember that all the tapes of these interrogations were destroyed or went missing at around the same time. I doubt that’s a coincidence.

Zelikow doesn’t make AL’s point as explicitly as AL does: he says only that they’ll have to explain why they destroyed those memos and doesn’t think about the maintenance of plausible deniability for the torturers. But it’s a good question.

So who’s going to ask that question?

Abu Zubaydah: Waterboarded 83 Times for 10 Pieces of Intelligence

The torture apologists are out in force, insisting that torture produces useful information. Cheney’s even promising to release information from CIA cataloging all the useful information that came from torture.

But we don’t have to wait for Cheney to make good on his promise. We already have a way to assess how much intelligence we got directly from torturing Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: the 9/11 Report. After all, the 9/11 Report integrates a huge amount of information from interrogation reports, and cites them all meticulously. As early as June 6, 2003, the 9/11 Commission asked for, "“all TDs and other reports of intelligence information obtained from interrogations” of forty named individuals, including Abu Zubaydah and (apparently) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and they used what they got in return to write their report. So if there was useful information in those reports, they presumably got it.

Here was a bipartisan group–including many staffers and members with extensive national security backgrounds–attempting to learn everything it could about al Qaeda, poring through interrogation reports produced as a result of torture, tracking inconsistencies in the intelligence, corroborating that intelligence where possible with documents and other testimony, and ultimately selecting what it felt was useful in telling the story of al Qaeda. While certainly not a perfect assessment of what was useful (I’ll explain why below), it provides one of the best unbiased ways to measure how useful this intelligence was.

And in the case of Abu Zubaydah, such an assessment is horrifying. 

In the entire 9/11 Report, just ten pieces of information are sourced to Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports.


And there are several other damning details that come from this analysis. One of the ten pieces of intelligence that appears in the 9/11 Report–regarding Abu Zubaydah’s role running terrorist training camps–came from July 10, 2002, before the CIA first received oral authorization to use torture. Thus, it either came from persuasive, rather than coercive, techniques. Or it came from treatment that had not been legally approved.

In addition, the 9/11 Report doesn’t cite interrogation reports addressing [the lack of] ties between Iraq and al Qaeda directly; it cites a 2003 memo from Doug Feith that in turn cites 2003 interrogations of AZ and KSM. It’s unclear whether AZ’s and KSM’s earlier denials of links between al Qaeda and Iraq simply don’t show up in the earlier interrogation reports, or whether such information was deemed not credible in earlier reports. But the absence of such references, when we know interrogators were pushed to ask about them, raises questions about the integrity of the interrogation reports.

Of the ten pieces of information that appear in the Report, just one comes from the month when AZ was under most intensive interrogation. As it pertains to Rahim al-Nashiri, who had not yet been captured, it might be said to have an influence on his capture. Though appears to be background on who he was rather than details about how to find him. 

Finally, it was not until the Commission started submitting specific questions to be asked of detainees that AZ is reported to have discussed one key detail: why so many Saudis took part in the attacks.

I’ve got caveats and further discussion on this below. But a review of what the 9/11 Commission found useful from AZ suggests we waterboarded a man 83 times for ten pieces of intelligence.

The Timeline

Here are the ten references to Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports that appear in the 9/11 Report’s notes, along with other key dates from the chronology:

March 28, 2002: Abu Zubaydah captured

July 10, 2002: Abu Zubaydah describes his role running the Khaldan and Derunta training camps and the arrangement he has withal Qaeda (chapter 6, footnote 5)

Khaldan and Derunta were terrorist training camps in Afghanistan controlled by Abu Zubaydah.While the camps were not al Qaeda facilities,Abu Zubaydah had an agreement with Bin Ladin to conduct reciprocal recruiting effort whereby promising trainees at the camps could be invited to join al Qaeda.

July 24, 2002: CIA first receives oral guidance from Jay Bybee on interrogation techniques

August 1, 2002: Bybee memo formally authorizes enhanced interrogation techniques

August 29, 2002: Abu Zubaydah describes Rahim al-Nashiri’s success as a recruiter (chapter 5, footnote 31)

Nashiri also enjoyed a reputation as a productive recruiter for al Qaeda.

August 31, 2002 (approximately): Month-long intensive interrogation (including waterboarding) ends

October 2002: Rahim al-Nashiri captured

October 29, 2002: AZ describes Bin Laden’s popularity (chapter 2, footnote 18, text from body of report; also supported by 2000 CTC report)

By 1998, Bin Ladin had a distinctive appeal, as he focused on attacking America. He argued that other extremists, who aimed at local rulers or Israel, did not go far enough.They had not taken on what he called “the head of the snake.”

November 7, 2002: AZ gives tempered description of KSM’s popularity (chapter 5, footnote 19; the report suggests AZ may have been jealous of KSM)

KSM appears to have been popular among the al Qaeda rank and file. He was reportedly regarded as an effective leader, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Co-workers describe him as an intelligent, efficient, and even-tempered manager who approached his projects with a single-minded dedication that he expected his colleagues to share. Al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah has expressed more qualified admiration for KSM’s innate creativity, emphasizing instead his ability to incorporate the improvements suggested by others.

2003, undated: Doug Feith cites 2003 interrogations of AZ and KSM in a memo summarizing ties between Iraq and al Qaeda (chapter 2, footnote 76) [Note, Phillip Shenon’s The Commission notes that "in the early days of the investigation, [Philip Zelikow] had pushed for the commission’s staff to try to find evidence linking al-Qaeda and Baghdad." So we know the Commission was looking for such details. But the 9/11 Report cites no interrogation report describing Iraq-Al Qaeda ties directly.] 

We have seen other intelligence reports at the CIA about 1999 contacts. They are consistent with the conclusions we provide in the text, and their reliability is uncertain. Although there have been suggestions of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda regarding chemical weapons and explosives training, the most detailed information alleging such ties came from an al Qaeda operative who recanted much of his original information.Intelligence report, interrogation of al Qaeda operative,Feb. 14,2004.Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any such ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. Intelligence reports, interrogations of KSM and Zubaydah, 2003 (cited in CIA letter, response to Douglas Feith memorandum,“Requested Modifications to ‘Summary of Body of Intelligence Reporting on Iraq–al Qaida Contacts (1990–2003),’” Dec. 10, 2003, p. 5).

May 16, 2003: AZ claims Bin Laden expanded the scope of KSM’s original plan (chapter 5, footnote 25) [Note, this footnote appears because it contradicts KSM’s claims–included in the text–that the 9/11 plan was originally much bigger than it ended up being. The Commission appears to find KSM’s claim more truthful here.]

Abu Zubaydah,who worked closely with the al Qaeda leadership, has stated that KSM originally presented Bin Ladin with a scaled-down version of the 9/11 plan, and that Bin Ladin urged KSM to expand the operation with the comment,“Why do you use an axe when you can use a bulldozer?” Intelligence report, interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, May 16, 2003.The only possible corroboration we have found for Abu Zubaydah’s statement is Khallad’s suggestion that Bin Ladin may have expanded KSM’s original idea for an attack using planes. Intelligence report, interrogation of Khallad,Apr. 22, 2004. Neither Abu Zubaydah nor Khallad claims to have been present when KSM says he first pitched his proposal to Bin Ladin in 1996.

June 6, 2003: 9/11 Commission asks for “all TDs and other reports of intelligence information obtained from interrogations” of forty named individuals.

June 24, 2003: AZ provides description of the origins of "the Encyclopedia," a terrorist training manual created during the anti-Soviet campaign (chapter 6, footnote 8)

The Encyclopedia is a multivolume instruction manual containing lessons on weapons handling, tactics, covert operations, bomb making, and other topics.The manual was originally created in the late 1980s by Afghanistan-based extremists, who considered it essential for waging terrorist operations and guerrilla warfare in the jihad against the Soviets.

October 14, 2003:  9/11 Commission gives CIA “Questions for CIA Regarding Detainee Interrogation,” which,

posed dozens of very specific questions about puzzles in the interrogation reports themselves, including questions for anyone involved in the interrogations (e.g., interrogation administrators, interrrogators, or reporting officers) to clarify statements made in Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations (among others) or to clarify statements with further questions to the detainees. 

October 16, 2003:  9/11 Commision gives CIA “Evaluating Primary Information about the 9/11 Plot,” which,

… included questions about the translation process in the interrogations; the knowledge base of the interrogators; the way the interrogators had handled inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories; the context of what particular questions had been asked in order to elicit the reported information; the context of how interrogators had followed up on particular lines of questioning; and more information to assess the credibility and demeanor of the detainees in making the reported statements – and the views or assessments of the interrogators themselves. 

December 13, 2003: AZ provides a description of Bin Laden’s actions after the Cole bombing (chapter 6, footnote 125, text from body of report)

Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin anticipated U.S. military retaliation. He ordered the evacuation of al Qaeda’s Kandahar airport compound and fled— first to the desert area near Kabul, then to Khowst and Jalalabad, and eventually back to Kandahar. In Kandahar, he rotated between five to six residences, spending one night at each residence.

January 26, 2004: After repeated negotiations with the 9/11 Commission, which still felt its information from detainees was insufficient, the Administration offered to take sets of written followup questions, pose them to detainees, relay answers back to the Commission, and take further questions.

February 18, 2004: AZ provides information on Abu Turab, who reportedly conducted the final training for the 9/11 plotters. (chapter 7, footnote 108)

Abu Turab was the son-in-law of Ayman al Zawahiri.

February 19, 2004: AZ provides a comment on whether Saudis were selected for the 9/11 plot specifically (chapter 7, footnote 90, text from body of report)

Several other al Qaeda figures, however, have stated that ethnicity generally was not a factor in the selection of operatives unless it was important for security or operational reasons.

Now, as the Report makes clear, AZ was not the original source for a piece of intelligence the torture apologists credit to his torture–KSM’s nickname, Mukhtar. Here’s what the text of the report says about the nickname.

When additional pieces of the puzzle arrived in the spring and summer of 2001, they were not put together.

The first piece of the puzzle concerned some intriguing information associated with a person known as “Mukhtar” that the CIA had begun analyzing in April 2001.The CIA did not know who Mukhtar was at the time—only that he associated with al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and that, based on the nature of the information, he was evidently involved in planning possible terrorist activities. 110

The second piece of the puzzle was some alarming information regarding KSM.On June 12, 2001, a CIA report said that “Khaled”was actively recruiting people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the United States where colleagues were reportedly already in the country to meet them, to carry out terrorist-related activities for Bin Ladin. CIA headquarters presumed from the details of the reporting that this person was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In July, the same source was shown a series of photographs and identified a photograph of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the Khaled he had previously discussed.111

The final piece of the puzzle arrived at the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit on August 28 in a cable reporting that KSM’s nickname was Mukhtar. No one made the
connection to the reports about Mukhtar that had been circulated in the spring.

As to the one other piece of intelligence credited to AZ’s torture (though FBI sources dispute this, too), Jose Padilla’s name never appears in the Report. The 9/11 Commission, it appears, did not find Padilla a notable player in the threat posed by al Qaeda.

The Caveats

As I said above, this analysis is definitely not a perfect measure of the value of AZ’s intelligence. While the 9/11 Commission includes abundant details of the second half of KSM’s plan (to blow up US-flagged planes in Asia), and that may have been perceived to be a real ongoing threat when KSM was interrogated, the 9/11 Report does not provide information on impending threats. So the 9/11 Report is not a good measure of precisely what the torture apologists want to claim torture is good for–for quick discovery of ticking timebomb threats.

That said, we know from the IG Report fragments cited in the May 30, 2005 torture memo that as of May 2004, there was no conclusive data connecting intelligence gained through torture with preventing any attacks.

As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. See id. at 88.

And even today, in a memo some point to as proof that torture works, Dennis Blair emphasizes the importance of information gained through torture to provide a "deeper understanding" of al Qaeda; he makes no claims that the information prevented any imminent attack.

High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.

Philip Zelikow describes the goal of the Commission as seeking precisely that kind of deeper undersanding of al Qaida.

[The Commission] did seek information not only about the 9/11 plot, but also any intelligence information about the history and evolution of al Qaeda and its connections  to other terrorist entities.

So while the 9/11 Report may not be a fair measure of whether intelligence gained through torture prevented any imminent attacks, it is a fair measure of what information gained through torture "provided a deeper understanding" of al Qaeda.

Another caveat: while the 9/11 Report uses almost nothing from Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports, it relies heavily on KSM’s interrogation reports. I’m just part of the way through collecting all the KSM references from the report, and I’ve tracked over a hundred references attributed to KSM interrogation. One of the interrogation reports–claiming Hambali helped Moussaoui–comes from the month he was tortured. And a few more of the reports from April, shortly after the waterboarding apparently ended, pertain to Hambali as well. Though I wonder whether the intelligence community still stands by the claim that an al Qaeda associate was attempting to create anthrax in Kandahar for a year?

But even with KSM, the most substantive interrogation reports–the ones that "provided a deeper understanding" of al Qaeda, came after the waterboarding stopped. Interrogation sessions on July 12, 2003, August 18, 2003, January 9, 2004, and (presumably using questions that came from the Commission) mid-February, 2004 provided by far the most information appearing in the Report.

We will never know whether the later interrogation reports from AZ or KSM could have been gleaned without having used torture or not. Both AZ and KSM describe threats of ongoing torture after the month of intense torture (with AZ, they left the small confinement box in sight; with KSM they would occasionally place the "walling" collar on the table). But also during this time, AZ and KSM increasingly received solid food and clothing and other apparent rewards for cooperation. Thus, we can’t say whether the later, much more productive interrogation sessions came because interrogators began to build rapport with these men–or at least a system of sticks and carrots, or because the threat of ongoing torture remained credible.

The Low-Quality Reports

One final point on the quality of the torture-based interrogations.

If intelligence is to be useful, then the interrogation reports must be accessible and meaningful to others, outside of the interrogation team, who read the reports. And on that level, at least as measured by the 9/11 Commission, the process that created the interrogation reports of AZ and KSM failed, utterly. As Zelikow explains, the first batch of interrogation reports received in fall 2003 were not very useful. "After reviewing and digesting this material, Commission staff concluded that this information was not as detailed as they had expected." The material raised questions about information edited out between the operational cables [what was sent back to HQ] and the disseminated reports [what the Commission got to read]. It raised questions about the translation process used for the interrogations and the "knowledge base" of the interrogators. Ultimately, though, the Commission was never able to adequately address concerns about the "credibility and meaning" of the reports. So the experience of the 9/11 Commission–in addition to what they tell us about the inefficacy of the torture–also suggests that the entire interrogation system, with compartmented interrogators working in secret locations, who didn’t have the appropriate language skills or a solid understanding of al Qaeda, did not produce usable intelligence. Cheney wants to argue that torture produced intelligence–but the 9/11 Commission makes it clear that it wasn’t usable intelligence. 

As I said, using the 9/11 Report to measure the value of the information we got through torture is imperfect–though it is a means of doing so outside of the inflamed debate we’re currently in (though its publication did postdate the Abu Ghraib scandal that put torture on the front pages). 

However imperfect a way to measure the intelligence we got, it still tells a really horrifying story. Abu Zubdaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a month. And for all that torture, he only revealed 10 (perhaps 9) pieces of intelligence deemed useful by the 9/11 Commission. 

Breaking: Torture Architect John Rizzo Still Working at CIA

The ACLU is reporting something that I’ve suspected.

According to the CIA public affairs office, Rizzo is still Acting General Counsel.

John Rizzo, the man who worked with both Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury to pre-authorize torture, is still being paid by you and me to make sure that the CIA follows the law.

As the SASC report notes, Rizzo is the man who provided the list of torture techniques to Jay Bybee for inclusion in the memo–the key link in turning SERE techniques into torture.

According to Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, the techniques that the OLC analyzed in the Second Bybee memo were provided by his office. In his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Rizzo stated that his office was "the vehicle" for getting the interrogation practices analyzed in the Second Bybee memo to the Department of Justice.

This suggests it’s likely that Rizzo knew that CIA was intending to do one thing with waterboarding but tempering the description of that in the OLC memo. Also, I outlined ways in which it appears the information Rizzo provided to OLC was, at a minimum, under dispute when it was given. In other words, Rizzo may well be the key person who manipulated the OLC process to legalize torture.

I’ve got a half-written post explaining why Rizzo must be included among those whose role we investigate going forward.  That’s all the more crucial given that Rizzo is still in a position of power in our government. 

Update: basic grammar corrected per pm.

Did Cheney Order Up Abu Zubaydah’s 83rd Waterboarding?

McClatchy reports that one of the reasons Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got waterboarded 183 times and Abu Zubaydah got waterboarded 83 times is that Cheney and Rumsfeld refused to believe they had no information on ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. (h/t Hmmm)

The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.


A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

This suggests that when Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded an additional time–perhaps his 83rd–against the judgment of the interrogators working with him directly, the "elements with CIA Headquarters" that ordered up the additional torture were being pushed by Cheney and Rummy (a suggestion JimWhite made here).

This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information. See IG report at 83-85. On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements with CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [Redaction of more than one full line] See id, at 84. At the direction of CIA Headquarters interrogators, therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah. [Redacted] See id, at 84-85. [my emphasis]

I’ll have more to say on the intelligence they got from Abu Zubaydah in a later post. But if Cheney can be tied–presumably through Tenet–to waterboarding sessions that even the torturers considered excessive, it sure explains why Tenet got the White House to endorse its torture program in a statement as one of the last things he did as DCI. And it explains why Cheney has been so quick to enter the fray with his torture apologies.

We’re mighty close to tying Cheney–through just one degree of separation–to "frivolous" torture. And I suspect he’s aware of that.

The SASC Smoking Gun on Waterboarding

The SASC Report on Torture strongly suggests that CIA was following one set of guidelines on waterboarding, but had gotten approval from DOJ for another set of guidelines. 

The SASC reveals that on July 26, 2002, JPRA sent a report on SERE techniques. That report is almost certainly one of the resources Jay Bybee consulted when writing his memo, which was published on August 1, 2002. The SASC report says,

[DOD General Counsel] Haynes also recalled that he may have been "asked that information be given to the Justice Department for something they were working on," which he said related to a program he was not free to discuss with the Committee, even in a classified setting

See Valtin’s story showing that the data came from the same place.

Now, as SASC describes it, the JPRA document didn’t describe waterboarding as it used to be done in Navy training. 

JPRA’s description of the waterboarding technique provided in that first attachment was inconsistent in key respects from the U.S. Navy SERE school’s description of waterboarding. According to the Navy SERE school’s operating instructions, for example, while administering the technique, the Navy limited the amount of water poured on a student’s face to two pints. However, the JPRA attachment said that "up to 1.5 gallons of water" may be poured onto a "subject’s face." While the Navy’s operating instructions dictated that "[n]o effort will be made to direct the stream of water into the student’s nostrils or mouth," the description provided by JPRA contained no such limitation for subjects ofthe technique. While the Navy limited the use ofthe cloth on a student’s face to twenty seconds, the JPRA’s description said only that the cloth should remain in place for a "short period of time." And while the Navy restricted anyone from placing pressure on the chest or stomach during the administration of this technique, JPRA’s description included no such limitation for subjects of the technique. [my emphasis]

In other words, JPRA was advising waterboarding to be used in torture to use six times the amount of water as that used in training, and JPRA eliminated the 20 second limit on waterboarding.

Now, Bybee’s memo is closer to what it appears Navy did in SERE, with limits on timing (though twice as long as SERE allowed), and description of  water being poured from a "canteen cup."

Finally, you would like to use a technique called the "waterboard" in this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers tbe mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. Tbis causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of"suffocalion and incipient panic," i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water imo his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. Afler this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout.

But, as we know, that’s not how waterboarding was done in practice.

The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, see IG Report at 5, 44, 46, 103-04, and also that it was used in a different manner. See id. at 37 ("[T]he waterboard technique  … was different from the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency Interrogator …  applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is "for real–and is more poignant and convincing.") [my emphasis] 

They got approval for SERE techniques. But they had already formally decided to far exceed the guidelines used in SERE. 

SASC Torture Report, Working Thread


The Senate Armed Services Committee just released its report on torture.

Spencer has a post on it here.

Remember, as you’re reading it, that not only did they re-purpose SERE. But we know they went far beyond SERE in its application.

I’ll be reading it as I fall asleep and should have more detailed comments tomorrow morning. Plus, I’m working on a post that should demonstrate, once and for all, just how futile all this torture was. 

One more thing. As you read this, remember that Kirk Lippold who has become one of the talking heads attacking Obama’s efforts to shut Gitmo, worked on crafting Gitmo detainee strategies. 

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/torture/page/96/