Recent declassified documents throw water on the CIA’s position that enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which have been condemned worldwide as an act of torture, encouraged cooperation from detainees and led to actionable information.
Medical personnel who aided the CIA’s first simulated drowning reported that detainee Abu Zubaydah likely would have cooperated more with officials prior to undergoing torture.
For years, the intelligence community has maintained that waterboarding was a necessity during the first days of the War on Terror in order to obtain intelligence necessary to prevent another 9/11-style attack. But a heavily redacted document from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) details that Abu Zubayadah’s willingness to cooperate with interrogators in 2002 "did not correlate that well with his waterboard sessions."
This initial use of waterboarding was conducted during a trial run for the CIA’s infamous 'enhanced interrogation' program, which involved subjecting detainees to hypothermia, beatings, and long hours in ‘stress positions’ until they were willing to divulge information against their will.
In just one month, CIA interrogators subjected Abu Zubaydah to 83 sessions of waterboarding, which the body processes as drowning-induced suffocation. The documents show that his torture was unnecessary, stating that he "probably reached the point of cooperation even prior to the August  institution of ‘enhanced’ measures – a development missed because of the narrow focus of questioning."
The OMS report confirms the account of former FBI official, Ali Soufan, who interrogated Abu Zubaydah at a Thai black site earlier that year. In a book titled "The Black Banners," Soufan wrote that the CIA interfered with and botched a promising, non-coercive interrogation of the suspected terrorist – one that a 2014 Senate inquiry found yielded intelligence on al-Qaida.
A CIA "psychologist/interrogator" countered OMS officials, arguing that "waterboard use had established that AZ [Abu Zubaydah] had no further information on imminent threats." The OMS report blasted this argument as a “creative but circular justification” for the war crime committed against the detainee.
On Thursday, Radio Sputnik spoke with former CIA counterterrorism operations officer John Kiriakou about the damning revelations that question the necessity of the CIA’s torture regime.
"This is just another nail in the coffin of the CIA on this torture issue," said Kiriakou. "We know from the Senate report that these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques simply did not work, we knew that they constituted torture, we knew that the CIA continued to carry them out even though they claimed to deny publicly that any such program had taken place."
Why did the torture program continue over objections by personnel about its legality?
"I think that the CIA leadership really did fear another 9/11 type attack," Kiriakou said. "Whether that would have happened, we’ll never know, although Osama bin Laden had promised that another major attack would take place and 9/11 had already been the greatest intelligence failure in the history of the United States, and they just didn’t want a repeat."
"There was also a sense that some intelligence officers at the higher levels really were seeking vengeance, and whether there was information to gather through these techniques was really not the issue. They really just wanted revenge on al-Qaeda leaders for the attack that had occurred," said the former CIA analyst, accounting for a less noble possibility.
Did the CIA program ever result in any useful information?
"We know from the Senate report that no actionable information was obtained and no American lives were saved," said Kiriakou. "When you torture somebody they are going to tell you anything that they think that you want to hear and the problem with that besides being a war crime is that you then need an army of analysts to pour through the information to sort through what is actionable and what is nonsense and by then the attack has already occurred."
"We also know from the Senate torture report that there were indeed CIA officers at the working level who not only opposed the enhanced interrogation program, but also curtailed their assignments overseas to headquarters, which really is a career ending move," said the former CIA officer. "My only concern is that they didn’t go public with their concerns and that the CIA was able to perpetuate this lie for all these years, more than a decade now, that this program worked."
Kiriakou concluded that CIA officers are not fictional characters from TV shows and movies like 24’s Jack Bauer, who can obtain information from a suspected terrorist in a matter of minutes before rushing off to save the world within a one-hour episode. Collecting intelligence demands that agents develop a rapport with detainees, understand what motivates them, and isolate what they may know.