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Context of 'Mid-April-May 2002: FBI Is Appalled by CIA Interrogation of Zubaida; Withdraws Its Personnel'

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In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “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. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “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. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).

Entity Tags: Mark Danner, John Kiriakou, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, George Brent Mickum, Geneva Conventions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Around mid-April 2002, the CIA begins using aggressive interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. A new CIA team led by psychologist James Elmer Mitchell arrives and takes control of Zubaida’s interrogation from the FBI (see Mid-April 2002). This team soon begins using techniques commonly described as torture, such as waterboarding (see April - June 2002, May 2002-2003 and Mid-May 2002 and After). Journalist James Risen will write in a 2006 book: “The assertions that the CIA’s tactics stopped short of torture were undercut by the fact that the FBI decided that the tactics were so severe that the bureau wanted no part of them, and FBI agents were ordered to stay away from the CIA-run interrogations. FBI agents did briefly see Abu Zubaida in custody, and at least one agent came away convinced that Zubaida was being tortured, according to an FBI source.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 32] Newsweek will similarly report in 2007 that Zubaida’s interrogation “sparked an internal battle within the US intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaida was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.” [Newsweek, 12/12/2007] The FBI completely withdraws its personnel, wanting to avoid legal entanglements with the dubious methods. The CIA then is able to use even more aggressive methods on Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The CIA torture of Zubaida produces a raft of almost useless information (see Mid-April 2002 and June 2002). Zubaida, already mentally unstable (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), says yes to every question asked of him: if al-Qaeda is planning on bombing shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, and water systems. After each “confession,” the CIA cables Washington with the “intelligence,” and much of it is given to President Bush. White House officials will use Zubaida’s dubious admissions to issue many groundless terror warnings and alerts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington.The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington. [Source: Brian Plonka / Spokesman-Review]The FBI has been interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida at a secret CIA prison in Thailand and learning valuable intelligence information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). However, the prison is controlled by the CIA and the FBI is only in control until a team of CIA interrogators arrives, which apparently happens around mid-April 2002. The FBI has been using humane rapport-building techniques, but the new CIA team immediately abandons this approach. The team is lead by psychologist James Mitchell, who runs a consulting business in Washington State with psychologist Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After). Both worked in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a classified US military training program which trains soldiers to endure being tortured by the enemy. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the techniques inflicted in the SERE training so they could be used on Zubaida and other detainees. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] SERE trainees are subjected to “waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation.” One European official knowledgeable about the SERE program will say of Mitchell and Jessen: “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture.… They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses.” The use of these psychologists also helps to put a veneer of scientific respectability over the torture techniques favored by top officials. One former US intelligence community adviser will later say: “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have PhD’s who have these theories.’” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] But Mitchell and Jessen have no experience in conducting interrogations and have no proof that their techniques are effective. In fact, the SERE techniques are based on Communist interrogation techniques from the Korean War, designed not to get valuable intelligence but to generate propaganda by getting US prisoners to make statements denouncing the US (see December 2001). Air Force Reserve colonel Steve Kleinman, an expert in human intelligence operations, will later say he finds it astonishing the CIA “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation… to do something that had never been proven in the real world.” FBI official Michael Rolince calls their techniques “voodoo science.” In 2006, a report by the best-known interrogation experts in the US will conclude that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered SERE tactics are effective in obtaining useful intelligence. But nonetheless, from this time forward Zubaida’s interrogations will be based on these techniques. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman, Michael Rolince, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

R. Scott Shumate.R. Scott Shumate. [Source: American Psychological Association]Held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is interrogated by a new team of CIA interrogators led by James Elmer Mitchell and Dr. R. Scott Shumate. Mitchell is a psychologist contracted to the CIA, while Shumate is the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Mitchell wants to use torture techniques based on reverse-engineering SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a class he has taught that trains US soldiers to resist torture by the enemy. But the techniques have never been tried before and studies will later determine they are not effective in obtaining good intelligence (see Mid-April 2002). Zubaida is resistant to Mitchell’s new aggressive techniques and refuses to talk. Mitchell concludes Zubaida will only talk when he has been rendered completely helpless and dependent, so the CIA begins building a coffin to bury Zubaida alive in but not actually kill him. This creates an intense controversy over the legality of such a technique, and ultimately it appears the burying alive is never carried out. Both domestic and international law clearly prohibits death threats and simulated killings. However, a number of aggressive techniques have just been approved at the highest political level (see Mid-March 2002), so opponents to these techniques are mostly powerless. Shumate is so strongly opposed to these techniques that he leaves in disgust. He will later tell his associates that it was a mistake for the CIA to hire Mitchell. But with Shumate gone, Mitchell is now free to use more extreme methods, and the torture of Zubaida begins in earnest around the middle of May. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Around this time, the FBI also washes its hands of the controversial techniques and withdraws its personnel from the secret prison (see Mid-April-May 2002).

Entity Tags: R. Scott Shumate, Counterterrorist Center, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

This picture of US soldiers supervising the waterboarding of North Vietnamese prisoners was published in a US newspaper in 1968, resulting in an investigation and convictions.This picture of US soldiers supervising the waterboarding of North Vietnamese prisoners was published in a US newspaper in 1968, resulting in an investigation and convictions. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In 2007, it will be reported that the CIA used the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding on at least three detainees. The Associated Press will claim the detainees are:
bullet Abu Zubaida, who is captured in March 2002 and tortured around May 2002 (see March 28, 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After).
bullet Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is captured in November 2002 (see Early October 2002 and (November 2002)).
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is allegedly captured in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]
bullet NBC News will report a list of three that includes Hambali, who is captured in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003 and Shortly After August 12, 2003). NBC’s list also mentions KSM and Zubaida, but does not mention al-Nashiri. [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will hint that slightly more than three may have been waterboarded, writing, “The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied to only a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks…” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 242] ABC News will claim in September 2007, “It is believed that waterboarding was used on fewer than five ‘high-value’ terrorist subjects…” [ABC News, 9/14/2007] Prior to 2002, waterboarding was classified by the US government as a form of torture, and treated as a serious criminal offense. US soldiers were court-martialled for waterboarding captives as recently as the Vietnam War. The technique is said to simulate death by drowning. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] In the 1600s, King James I of England wrote about the torture his government was using and stated that waterboarding was the most extreme form of torture used, worse than the rack and thumbscrews. [Harper's, 12/15/2007] In 2007, it will be revealed that at least some of the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were videotaped, and it is suspected by some that their waterboarding may have been taped (see Spring-Late 2002). These tapes will later be destroyed under controversial circumstances (see November 2005). A government official will later claim that waterboarding is no longer used after 2003. The CIA and US military will prohibit the use of waterboarding in 2006. [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Zubaida.Abu Zubaida. [Source: New York Times]The CIA begins interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), using some aggressive techniques that are commonly considered to be torture. Zubaida was initially interrogated by the FBI using traditional rapport-building techniques, and many believe the FBI was obtaining valuable information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But he is being held at a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see March 2002), and soon a new CIA team comes in and takes over (see Mid-April 2002). This team, led by controversial psychologist James Elmer Mitchell, uses such extreme methods that the FBI completely withdraws its personnel (see Mid-April-May 2002), and even some CIA personnel leave in disgust (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002). By mid-May, Mitchell’s detractors are gone and the gunshot wounds Zubaida sustained during his capture have stabilized, so Mitchell begins applying even more aggressive interrogation techniques. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186, 191; Suskind, 2006, pp. 110-115] According to one psychologist involved in Zubaida’s interrogation, Mitchell argues that Zubaida needs to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” Reserve Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, an experienced interrogator very familiar with Mitchell, will later say that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.… It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the KGB model. But the KGB used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The KGB wasn’t after intelligence.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist Ron Suskind will later claim: “According to CIA sources, [Zubaida] was waterboarded, a technique in which a captive’s face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115] The New York Times will later claim: “At times, Mr. Zubaida, still weak from his wounds, was stripped and placed in a cell without a bunk or blankets. He stood or lay on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaida seemed to turn blue. At other times, the interrogators piped in deafening blasts of music by groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” [New York Times, 9/10/2006] Zubaida will reportedly later tell the Red Cross that he was also kept for a prolonged period in a cage, known as a “dog box,” so small that he unable to stand. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] The CIA will claim that these aggressive methods are very effective, and soon it will begin using them on many other detainees. But others will later suggest that Zubaida gave up far less valuable information under torture than he did with the FBI’s rapport-building techniques (see June 2002). The legal authority to conduct these types of interrogations is unclear. The CIA is being advised by Michael Chertoff at the Justice Department, but there will be no formal legal opinion permitting the techniques until August 2002. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In May 2002, the CIA began using new torture techniques on captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After), and by June senior CIA officials prepare a preliminary report to determine whether Zubaida’s confessions are accurate or not. According to author Gerald Posner, they “found nothing that could definitively prove Zubaida a liar. And they had uncovered some minor corroborating evidence about the times and places of the meetings he had mentioned, which meant he could be telling the truth.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 192] Vanity Fair will later comment that the “CIA would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaida, and celebrate [James] Mitchell”—the psychologist who devised the torture techniques used on Zubaida by the CIA (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, and Mid-April 2002)—“as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and [his business partner Bruce] Jessen had been awarded a medal by the CIA for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was ‘absolutely in the ether,’ says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Much Intelligence Comes from His Possessions and FBI Interrogations - However, the reliability of Zubaida’s confessions remains controversial years later, and several factors complicate accessing their impact. For one, it appears that some of his most important confessions took place a month earlier when the FBI was interrogating him using rapport building instead of torture (see Late March through Early June, 2002). What the New York Times calls his two most notable confessions—that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind and giving up the name of Jose Padilla, a militant living in the US—appear to come from this earlier period, although some accounts conflict. [New York Times, 6/27/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117; New York Times, 9/10/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Furthermore, it is often not clear what was obtained from Zubaida’s confessions and what was obtained from his possessions. Journalist Ron Suskind will later write: “The phone numbers, computers, CDs, and e-mail address seized at Zubaida’s apartment now—a month after his capture—began to show a yield.… These higher-quality inputs were entered into big Cray supercomputers at NSA; many then formed the roots of a surveillance tree—truck to branches to limbs and buds.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117] So while it is said that information from Zubaida helped lead to the capture of al-Qaeda figures such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Omar al-Faruq, and Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, it is unclear where this information came from exactly. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Additionally, it is not even clear if he provided such leads. For instance, it has been reported that the main break that led to bin al-Shibh’s capture had nothing to do with Zubaida (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). [Salon, 9/7/2006]
Zubaida Describes Vague and Unverifiable Plots - By most accounts, Zubaida’s confessions under torture around this time are frustratingly vague. He describes many planned attacks, such as al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Red alerts are sounded and thousands of law enforcement personnel are activated each time, but the warnings are too vague to lead to any arrests. Suskind will later comment that Zubaida’s information was “maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115-116, 121] But Suskind will later say more definitively: “[Zubaida] said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.” [Salon, 9/7/2006] Posner claims that Zubaida provided “false information intended to misdirect his captors.” For instance, “He caused the New York police to deploy massive manpower to guard the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of May [2002], after he told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a plan to destroy ‘the bridge in the Godzilla movie.’” [Posner, 2003, pp. 191]
Link between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Perhaps the most important claims Zubaida makes, at least from the viewpoint of Bush administration officials, are his allegations of an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Some of Zubaida’s claims will later be leaked by administration officials, particularly his assertion that Osama bin Laden’s ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq (see December 2001-Mid-2002, October 2, 2002, and January 28, 2003). A former Pentagon analyst will later say: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaida’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaida was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.” Another Pentagon analyst will recall: “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Zubaida Appears to Be Feeding Interrogators' Expectations - Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert at the time who was able to analyze all the evidence from Zubaida, will later claim that the CIA “got nothing useful from the guy.” [Congressional Quarterly, 12/14/2007] Coleman will say: “The CIA wants everything in five minutes. It’s not possible, and it’s not productive. What you get in that circumstance are captives and captors playing to each other’s expectations, playing roles, essentially, that gives you a lot of garbage information and nothing you can use.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 114] Given his low position in the jihadist hierachy, Coleman will add, Zubaida “would not have known that if it was true. But you can lead people down a course and make them say anything.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Counterterrorism “tsar” General Wayne Downing is apparently intimately involved in Zubaida’s interrogation and will later recall: “[Zubaida] and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] In legal papers to prepare for a military tribunal hearing in 2007, Zubaida himself will assert that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Bruce Jessen, Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dan Coleman, Jose Padilla, Wayne Downing, Omar al-Faruq, James Elmer Mitchell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Military lawyers for a detainee believed to be Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) lodge numerous complaints with unidentified White House officials over the torture of their client. Zubaida has been subjected to waterboarding and other abuses by CIA interrogators (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004, March 28-August 1, 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Mid-May 2002 and After). The complaints trigger a hastily arranged meeting between Vice President Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and a number of officials from the Defense and State Departments. The discussion centers on the production of a legal memo specifically for the CIA that would provide retroactive legal immunity for the use of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation methods. According to a subsequent investigation by the Justice Department (see February 22, 2009), the participants in the discussion believe that the methods used against Zubaida are legal because on February 7, 2002, President Bush signed an executive order stating that terrorists were not entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). Nevertheless, the participants agree that methods such as waterboarding probably violate international and domestic laws against torture, and therefore the CIA and the Bush administration would both benefit from a legal opinion stating what techniques are legal, and why they do not fit the legal definition of torture. The meeting results in the production of the so-called “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002). [Public Record, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Condoleezza Rice, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

2003: CIA Prison in Thailand Closed

A CIA prison in Thailand closes at some time this year. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] The prison’s location is not known with certainty, although a Vietnam War-era base at Udron was used by the agency for counterterrorist purposes around this time. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297] The prison was built in March 2002 (see March 2002) and the best-known high-value detainee previously held there was militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002 and Mid-April-May 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA videotapes destruction scandal reopens a debate about the usefulness of torturing al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. The FBI briefly used rapport-building techniques on Zubaida before the CIA took over and tortured him. On December 10, 2007, several days after the public disclosure that the videotapes of the CIA’s interrogation of Zubaida were destroyed, former CIA officer John Kiriakou admitted that Zubaida was tortured by the use of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007). Kiriakou claimed that waterboarding was so effective that Zubaida completely broke after just one session of waterboarding lasting 35 seconds. [ABC News, 12/10/2007] This claim became a frequently used media talking point. However, on December 18, the Washington Post presents a contrary account, stating, “There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla” (see Late March through Early June, 2002). The Post notes that Kiriakou helped capture Zubaida but was not present at any of his interrogations. Furthermore, “other former and current officials” disagree with Kiriakou’s claim “that Abu Zubaida’s cooperation came quickly under harsh interrogation or that it was the result of a single waterboarding session. Instead, these officials said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The most in-depth previous media accounts suggesed that the FBI interrogation of Zubaida was getting good intelligence while the CIA torture of him resulted in very dubious intelligence (see Mid-April-May 2002 and June 2002).

Entity Tags: John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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