CIA director Michael Hayden confirmed in an open session of Congress Tuesday his agency's use of an interrogation technique many consider torture -- a technique at the center of a national debate on the treatment of U.S. detainees in the war on terror and in the war in Iraq.
In acknowledging that CIA officers and contractors used waterboarding on three "high-value" detainees, Hayden revealed information nearly identical to that shared by a former CIA officer last December with ABC News, which prompted the CIA to request a criminal prosecution.
Until Hayden's comments before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, no senior U.S. intelligence official had publicly acknowledged the technique.
Hayden, who prohibited the practice of waterboarding by CIA agents in 2006, confirmed that his agency waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim Nashiri, in efforts to compel the men to talk. He told senators the agency believed at the time "that additional catastrophic attacks were imminent." The men told CIA interrogators things that "led to reliable information," Hayden told reporters after the hearing.
The CIA chief asserted to reporters later that Mohammed and Zubaydah had provided roughly 25 percent of the information the CIA had on al Qaeda from human sources.
ABC News first disclosed that the men were waterboarded in November 2005. On Dec. 10, 2007, former CIA officer John Kirakou, who participated in the capture of Abu Zubaydah, appeared on ABC News and discussed his conflicted feelings over the use of the technique. Kiriakou said waterboarding was effective, and a technique he might use again. He noted, however, it was also a technique he was uncomfortable with.
Some intelligence officials who reviewed reports based on those interrogations have challenged the idea they provided useful information.
Hayden told lawmakers the agency had not used waterboarding in almost five years, publicly confirming information that was first reported by ABC News last year. He asked the lawmakers not to create new laws that would limit CIA interrogators. "One should not expect them to play outside the box because we've entered a new period of threat or danger to the nation, OK? So there's no wink and nod here," he said. "If you create the box, we will play inside the box without exception."
At the time a presidential finding was signed in 2002 approving the use of harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding, one of the CIA's most senior officials registered his objections to the technique, which a senior intelligence official failed to acknowledge today when he stated on the condition of anonymity that the current debate over the use of the technique is troubling to intelligence professionals. In fact, a number of intelligence professionals, current and former, object to the use of the technique.