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Context of 'May 2005: Author Claims CIA Hid Explosive Zubaida Interrogation Transcripts from 9/11 Commission and FBI'

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The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 pdf file]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Ahmed bin Salman.Prince Ahmed bin Salman. [Source: Thoroughbred Corp.]Author Gerald Posner, controversial for his books dismissing JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories, will claim that a remarkable interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaida begins at this time. Zubaida, arrested three days earlier (see March 28, 2002), is flown to a US Special Forces compound outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, he is tricked into thinking the US has handed him to the Saudis for a more brutal interrogation, but in fact “the Saudis” are still American agents. Zubaida expresses great relief at this and, under the influence of the “truth serum” sodium pentothal, tells his interrogators to call Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king. He provides telephone numbers from memory and says, “He will tell you what to do.” He proceeds to give more information and phone numbers, claiming ties with higher-ups in both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. He also names:
bullet Pakistani Air Force chief Mushaf Ali Mir, who is said to be closely tied to the fundamentalists in the ISI.
bullet Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
bullet Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the Saudi King.
bullet Prince Fahd bin Turki, another member of the Saudi royalty.
9/11 'Rosetta Stone?' - According to Posner, Zubaida claims that all of these people were intermediaries he dealt with in the frequent transfer of money to al-Qaeda. The phone numbers and other details he provides are consistent with information already known by US intelligence. Zubaida then lays out many secrets about the 9/11 attacks. One unnamed investigator will later call them “the Rosetta Stone” of 9/11. According to Zubaida, he was present in a meeting in 1996 where the Pakistanis and the Saudis struck a deal with Osama bin Laden (see 1996), promising him protection, arms, and supplies in exchange for not being the targets of future terror attacks. He claims both governments were told the US would be attacked on 9/11, but not given the details of how the attack would work. Within months, all of the people named by Zubaida will die mysteriously except for Prince Turki, who is made an ambassador, giving him diplomatic immunity. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186-94]
Zubaida Sent to Thailand - Shortly after his stint in Afghanistan, Zubaida is sent to a secret detention facility in Thailand, where he is subjected to extensive torture and abuse (see April - June 2002).
Questionable Sourcing - Posner will say he learned of this story from two unnamed US government sources who gave similar, independent accounts. One is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official “inside the executive branch.” [Salon, 10/18/2003] With the notable exception of a prominent Time magazine article [Time, 8/31/2003] , few news outlets will cover the story [MSNBC, 9/5/2003; Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003] , and some that cover it only do so in the form of book reviews. [Washington Post, 9/10/2003; New York Times, 10/12/2003; New York Times, 10/29/2003] Some experts will put forth the theory that the story could have been made up by neoconservatives interested in starting a war with Saudi Arabia. It is also possible Zubaida mixed facts with lies, as he will be found to have lied to interrogators on many other occasions. [Salon, 10/18/2003] There will also be speculation that the gist of the story may be true, but that Zubaida’s Saudi and Pakistani contacts may have been pinned on dead men to protect the actual guilty parties. [Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003]
Later Confirmation from US Government Officials - New York Times reporter James Risen will essentially repeat and confirm Posner’s account in his 2006 book State of War. He will add, “In addition to the incidents described by Posner, a senior former American government official said that the United States has obtained other evidence that suggests connections between al-Qaeda operatives and telephone numbers associated with Saudi officials.” Risen further points out, “There is no evidence that a thorough examination of [Zubaida’s] claims of ties to powerful Saudis was ever conducted.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 187] Also, in 2005, the New York Times will report that Michael Chertoff, who is currently a Justice Department official, advised the CIA about which interrogation techniques they could use on Abu Zubaida and others, and allowed the use of trickery to make the detainee believe “he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country” (see 2002-2003).

Entity Tags: Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, Al-Qaeda, Mushaf Ali Mir, Turki al-Faisal, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed bin Salman, Sultan bin Faisal

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

Author Gerald Posner has claimed that shortly after al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), he was tricked into thinking he had been handed over to the Saudis and then confessed high-level cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Saudi and Pakistani governments. Posner’s account has since been corroborated by New York Times journalist James Risen (see Early April 2002). In a 2005 book, Posner further alleges: “From conversations with investigators familiar with the [9/11 Commission’s] probe, the portions of Zubaida’s interrogation in which he named [Saudi and Pakistani connections] were not provided to the Commission. The CIA has even withheld [them] from the FBI, which is supposed to have access to all terror suspects’ questioning.” [Posner, 2005, pp. 14] There is some circumstantial evidence to support this. Aside from the alleged Saudi trickery, Zubaida reportedly confessed vital intelligence in late March and into April 2002, including the previously unknown fact that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But footnotes from various 9/11 Commission reports indicate that the earliest Zubaida interrogation used by the Commission is from May 23, 2002, after a new CIA team had taken over his interrogation (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 65 pdf file] Hundreds of hours of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions have been videotaped by the CIA, but these videotapes will be destroyed by the CIA in 2005 under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).

Entity Tags: Gerald Posner, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. [Newsweek, 6/28/2008; Associated Press, 7/26/2010] The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/10/2007] Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” [CBS News, 12/7/2007] CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., CIA Bangkok Station, John Rizzo, Porter J. Goss, Michael K. Winograd, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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