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March 28-August 1, 2002: CIA Has No Clear Legal Guidelines for Interrogating Al-Qaeda Leader Zubaida and Other Detainees

Abu Zubaida injured, shortly after his arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.)Abu Zubaida injured, shortly after his arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]After al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured on March 28, 2002 (see March 28, 2002), the CIA takes control of his detention and interrogation, but there is no legal clarity over just how aggressive his interrogation can be for several months. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 241] Thereforem the CIA asks the White House “what the legal limits of interrogation are,” according to Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007] CIA Director George Tenet will write in his 2007 book: “Now that we had an undoubted resource in our hands—the highest-ranking al-Qaeda official captured to date—we opened discussions within the National Security Council as to how to handle him, since holding and interrogating large numbers of al-Qaeda operatives had never been part of our plan.… We wondered what we could legitimately do to get that information. Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, in situations like this you don’t call in the tough guys, you call in the lawyers. It took until August to get clear guidance on what Agency officers could legally do.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 241] This is a reference to an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo legally justifying the use of some interrogations generally deemed to be torture (see August 1, 2002). But it appears Zubaida was subjected to the most extreme interrogation methods the US used, such as waterboarding, well before August 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, during this period of uncertainty and into 2003, the CIA gets advice from Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, about which techniques are likely legal and which ones are not (see 2002-2003).

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Abu Zubaida, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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