A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.
In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.
(Editor's Note for Video to the Left: Material from this video transcript may not be used without crediting ABC News in each instance of use. In all cases, use must be limited to one minute or less without the explicit permission of ABC News.)
This story has been updated (see endnote).
"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."
"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
Kiriakou said the feeling in the months after the 9/11 attacks was that interrogators did not have the time to delve into the agency's bag of other interrogation tricks.
"Those tricks of the trade require a great deal of time -- much of the time -- and we didn't have that luxury. We were afraid that there was another major attack coming," he said.
Kiriakou says he did not know that the interrogation of Zubaydah was being secretly recorded by the CIA and had no idea the tapes had been destroyed.
Now retired, Kiriakou, who declined to use the enhanced interrogation techniques, says he has come to believe that water boarding is torture but that perhaps the circumstances warranted it.
"Like a lot of Americans, I'm involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique," Kiriakou told ABC News. "And I struggle with it."
But he says the urgency in the wake of 9/ll led to a desire to do everything possible to get actionable intelligence.
That began with Abu Zubaydah's capture following a series of raids in which Kiriakou co-led a team of CIA officers, FBI agents, a Port Authority police officer named Tom McHale and Pakistani police, including a SWAT team.
And, in the case of Abu Zubayda, it ended with waterboarding.
"What happens if we don't waterboard a person, and we don't get that nugget of information, and there's an attack," Kiriakou said. "I would have trouble forgiving myself."
The former intelligence officer says the interrogators' activities were carefully directed from Langley, Va., each step of the way.
(Editor's Note on Interview Transcripts: Material from this transcript may not be used without crediting ABC News in each instance of use. In all cases, use must be limited to 250 words or less without the explicit permission of ABC News.)
"It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, 'Well, I'm gonna slap him.' Or, 'I'm going to shake him.' Or, 'I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.'