George W. Bush defended harsh interrogations by pointing to intelligence breakthroughs, but a surprising number of counterterrorist officials say that, apart from being wrong, torture just doesn’t work. Delving into two high-profile cases, the author exposes the tactical costs of prisoner abuse.
by David Rose WEB EXCLUSIVE December 16, 2008
This is from the online article that was published by Vanity Fair. You can read it in it's entirety by clicking the title above. It is very detailed and very well done at debunking the entire story Darth has been spinning this week about all the intell we supposedly got from the torture he ordered.
By the last days of March 2002, more than six months after 9/11, President George W. Bush’s promise “to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act” was starting to sound a little hollow. True, Afghanistan had been invaded and the Taliban toppled from power. But Osama bin Laden had vanished from the caves of Tora Bora, and none of his key al-Qaeda lieutenants were in U.S. captivity. Intelligence about what the terrorists might be planning next was almost nonexistent. “The panic in the executive branch was palpable,” recalls Mike Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official who set up and ran the agency’s Alec Station, the unit devoted to tracking bin Laden.
Early in the morning of March 28, in the moonlit police-barracks yard in Faisalabad, Pakistan, hopes were high that this worrisome intelligence deficit was about to be corrected. Some 300 armed personnel waited in silence: 10 three-man teams of Americans, drawn equally from the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., together with much greater numbers from Pakistan’s police force and Inter-services Intelligence (ISI). In order to maximize their chances of surprise, they planned to hit 10 addresses simultaneously. One of them, they believed, was a safe house containing a man whose name had been familiar to U.S. analysts for years: Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Hussein, a 30-year-old Saudi Arabian better known as Abu Zubaydah. “I’d followed him for a decade,” Scheuer says. “If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.”
The plan called for the police to go in first, followed by the Americans and ISI men, whose job would be to gather laptops, documents, and other physical evidence. A few moments before three a.m., the crackle of gunfire erupted. Abu Zubaydah had been shot and wounded, but was alive and in custody. As those who had planned it had hoped, his capture was to prove an epochal event—but in ways they had not envisaged.
Four months after Abu Zubaydah’s capture, two lawyers from the Department of Justice, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, delivered their notorious memo on torture, which stated that coercive treatment that fell short of causing suffering equivalent to the pain of organ failure or death was not legally torture, an analysis that—as far as the U.S. government was concerned—sanctioned the abusive treatment of detainees at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons and at Guantánamo Bay. But, as Jane Mayer writes in her recent book, The Dark Side (Doubleday), Abu Zubaydah had been subjected to coercive interrogation techniques well before that, becoming the first U.S. prisoner in the Global War on Terror to undergo waterboarding.
Here is where we start the first questions being asked. They had him in custody, long before the memos were ever written. So did the torture start then? Now we know it didn't really, we have it from the FBI interrogator who interviewed him, that all the information that was received was from normal interrogation practices not their so called enhanced interrogation or torture.
David Rose goes on to say:
Really? In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts—with Abu Zubaydah’s case one of the most glaring examples.
far from exposing a deadly plot, all torture did was lead to more torture of his supposed accomplices while also providing some misleading “information” that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.
“a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden.” Instead, Scheuer says, he was “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. However, only a tiny percentage would ever be tapped for recruitment by al-Qaeda.
According to Scheuer, Abu Zubaydah “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and the enemy he focused on was Israel, not the U.S. After Abu Zubaydah’s capture, Dan Coleman, an F.B.I. counterterrorist veteran, had the job of combing through Abu Zubaydah’s journals and other documents seized from his Faisalabad safe house. He confirms Scheuer’s assessment. “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk here,” says Coleman, gesturing toward the desk clerk in the lobby of the Virginia hotel where we have met. “He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” It was also significant that he was not well versed in al-Qaeda’s tight internal-security methods: “That was why his name had been cropping up for years.”
Declassified reports of legal interviews with Abu Zubaydah at his current residence, Guantánamo Bay, suggest that he lacked the capacity to do much more. In the early 1990s, fighting in the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal, he was injured so badly that he could not speak for almost two years. “I tried to become al-Qaeda,” Abu Zubaydah told his lawyer, Brent Mickum, “but they said, ‘No, you are illiterate and can’t even remember how to shoot.’” Coleman found Abu Zubaydah’s diary to be startlingly useless. “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11,” he says. “All it does is reveal someone in torment. Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.”
Really bad character wasn't he...we caught a good one there.. sounds like a really dangerous guy.. with brain damage and all. This next part reiterates exactly what the FBI agent stated in the NY Times and I referenced above about the information gathered from Abu Zubaydah. They say it was "within a few days", I think that may be debatable.
In May 2008, a report by Glenn Fine, the Department of Justice inspector general, stated that, as he recovered in the hospital from the bullet wounds sustained when he was captured, Abu Zubaydah began to cooperate with two F.B.I. agents. It was a promising start, but “within a few days,” wrote Fine, he was handed over to the C.I.A., whose agents soon reported that he was providing only “throw-away information” and that, according to Fine, they “needed to diminish his capacity to resist.” His new interrogators continued to question him by very different means at so-called black-site prisons in Thailand and Eastern Europe. They were determined to prove he was much more important than the innkeeper of a safe house.
Bush discussed Abu Zubaydah’s treatment in his 2006 announcement. “As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures…. The procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.” Soon, Bush went on, Abu Zubaydah “began to provide information on key al-Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September 11.” Among them, Bush said, were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, and his fellow conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh. In fact, Binalshibh was not arrested for another six months and K.S.M. not for another year. In K.S.M.’s case, the lead came from an informant motivated by a $25 million reward.
Now, we know they waterboarded him 83 times to help "soften him up" so to speak. This is a man who they have already stated was brain damaged and now they waterboarded him 83 times. His brain must be nearly mush by now. I am not sure how the man is even alive or breathing. No wonder he says he pees himself.
Then we get into the famous or infamous Khalid Sheik Mahommed or KSM and his story. David Rose really got into this. This story was written and researched so throughly that I had to make it in two parts so it wouldn't be so long. If you want to read the entire article you will have to click the link.
As for K.S.M. himself, who (as Jane Mayer writes) was waterboarded, reportedly hung for hours on end from his wrists, beaten, and subjected to other agonies for weeks, Bush said he provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans.” K.S.M. was certainly knowledgeable. It would be surprising if he gave up nothing of value. But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., “90 percent of it was total f**king bulls**t.” A former Pentagon analyst adds: “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.”
It is, perhaps, a little late, more than six years after detainees began to be interrogated at Guantánamo Bay and at the C.I.A.’s black-site prisons, to be asking whether torture works. Yet according to numerous C.I.A. and F.B.I. officials interviewed for this article, at the time this question really mattered, in the months after 9/11, no one seriously addressed it. Those who advocated a policy that would lead America to deploy methods it had always previously abhorred simply assumed they would be worthwhile. Non-governmental advocates of torture, such as the Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, have emphasized the “ticking bomb” scenario: the hypothetical circumstance when only torture will make the captured terrorist reveal where he—or his colleagues—has planted the timed nuclear device. Inside the C.I.A., says a retired senior officer who was privy to the agency’s internal debate, there was hardly any argument about the value of coercive methods: “Nobody in intelligence believes in the ticking bomb. It’s just a way of framing the debate for public consumption. That is not an intelligence reality.”
There is, alas, no shortage of evidence from earlier times that torture produces bad intelligence. “It is incredible what people say under the compulsion of torture,” wrote the German Jesuit Friedrich von Spee in 1631, “and how many lies they will tell about themselves and about others; in the end, whatever the torturers want to be true, is true.”
Right there states they knew they would be getting bad intelligence from KSM and others with torture, but they went right on, because Bush & Cheney ordered it. However I think again it is worth noting that it has since been discovered that MOST of the regular CIA agents would not go along with this and they had to bring in contractors to do the bidding.
The unreliability of intelligence acquired by torture was taken as a given in the early years of the C.I.A., whose 1963 kubark interrogation manual stated: “Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress. A time-consuming delay results, while investigation is conducted and the admissions are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee can pull himself together. He may even use the time to think up new, more complex ‘admissions’ that take still longer to disprove.”
A 1957 study by Albert Biderman, an Air Force sociologist, described how brainwashing had been achieved by depriving prisoners of sleep, exposing them to cold, and forcing them into agonizing “stress positions” for long periods. In July 2008, The New York Times reported that Biderman’s work formed the basis of a 2002 interrogators’ training class at Guantánamo Bay. That the methods it described had once been used to generate Communist propaganda had apparently been forgotten.
Experience derived from 1990s terrorism cases also casts doubt on torture’s value. For example, in March 1993, F.B.I. agents flew to Cairo to take charge of an Egyptian named Mahmud Abouhalima, who would be convicted for having bombed the World Trade Center a month earlier. Abouhalima had already been tortured by Egyptian intelligence agents for 10 days, and had the wounds to prove it. As U.S. investigators should have swiftly realized, his statements in Egypt were worthless, among them claims that the bombing was sponsored by Iranian businessmen, although, apparently, their sworn enemy, Iraq, had also played a part.
A computer seized in Murad’s apartment held details of the flights he planned to attack, detonator-timer settings, and photos of some of his co-conspirators, together with their aliases, so enabling their subsequent arrest. It was this, Mike Scheuer says, not Murad’s interrogation, that provided more useful intelligence.
Equally significant was what Murad didn’t give up under torture. Bojinka was partly the brainchild of none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, later alleged to be the chief planner of 9/11. He had been living in the Philippines, but apparently Murad said nothing that might have helped his interrogators find him: he was not captured until 2003.
On April 10, 2002, 13 days after Abu Zubaydah’s capture, in Faisalabad, a 23-year-old Ethiopian named Binyam Mohamed was detained at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, attempting to board a flight to London, where he had been living for seven years. Information about the case drawn up by the British security service M.I.5, and obtained by Vanity Fair, suggests that if Mohamed was a terrorist his tradecraft was unimpressive: he was stopped because he was using a passport that obviously belonged to someone else, his friend Fouad Zouaoui—the second time that Mohamed had tried to leave Pakistan on Zouaoui’s papers. He also had a heroin problem.
In any event, there is no dispute that he fled across the border into Pakistan as soon as he could after 9/11.
The first 10 days of Mohamed’s detention, at Landi prison, near Karachi, were not, on his account, comfortable, but he was not tortured or abused. But after he was moved to a Pakistani security jail, around April 20, he began to be abused. A few days later, when he was questioned for the first time by U.S. agents, his treatment worsened dramatically.
“They seemed to think I was some kind of top al-Qaeda person,” Mohamed said. “How? It was less than six months since I converted to Islam, and before that I was using drugs!” After the Americans’ visit, Mohamed said, he was hung by his wrists for hours on end, so that his feet barely touched the ground. Suspended thus, he said, he was beaten regularly by Pakistani guards. He said he was also threatened with a gun.
U.S. interest in Mohamed appears to have been triggered by an unlucky coincidence. It so happened that in the period in early April before Abu Zubaydah’s torture began, when he was starting to cooperate with the F.B.I., he gave up the name of one of those who had passed through his safe house en route to an Afghan camp—that of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member. “He probably remembered Padilla because he was a U.S. citizen, and that was rare,” says the former F.B.I. al-Qaeda specialist Dan Coleman.
Mohamed has maintained that if he had ever met Padilla it would have been a fleeting, chance encounter, perhaps when they both fled Afghanistan, and he has no memory of it. But the first time Mohamed tried to fly to London via Zurich, around April 4, Padilla was booked on the same flight. Their ultimate destinations were different: Padilla planned to spend time in Egypt before returning to Chicago. But the fact they were starting their journeys together, says an F.B.I. agent who attended official briefings about the case, convinced American agencies that they shared some joint purpose. “It was simply that—flight coincidence,” he says. “I never saw any evidence that Padilla and Mohamed met.”
By late April, Abu Zubaydah was being tortured and giving up details of a plot that sounded truly terrifying: a plan for Padilla to build and detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in America. But even at the outset, some who worked in U.S. counterterrorism were skeptical. “If there is a dirty bomb, you’d better take it seriously, because as bad as 9/11 was, a dirty bomb would be a hundred times worse,” says the former F.B.I. agent who attended the case briefings. “It was clear that Padilla had some form of training, that he was a sympathizer. But to claim he really had a plan to do a dirty bomb? That’s tough. You show me he knew how to go and get it. That he knew how to make it. They never had that.”
Convinced that the dirty-bomb plot was real, those interrogating Binyam Mohamed assumed that he must be part of it, and if he could not fill in missing details, he must have been covering up. Agents such as the F.B.I.’s Jack Cloonan, who spent years fighting al-Qaeda before his retirement in 2002, had learned that it had an impressive “quality-control system,” which meant “they looked for people with the right makeup, they did their own due diligence, and they would not pick weak guys”—not, typically, heroin addicts. But no one was listening to these agents.