As President Bush's top lawyer, Alberto Gonzales pressed counterterror officials to use brutal interrogation techniques on terror suspect Abu Zubaydah in 2002, even when those techniques hindered Zubaydah's cooperation, a former FBI agent who was present is expected to testify Wednesday before Congress.
In the first public testimony of anyone directly involved, former bureau agent Ali Soufan is expected to directly contradict assertions by CIA officials and former Vice President Cheney that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were successful in prying information out of al Qaeda detainees.
Cheney has said that the CIA interrogation program that began in Thailand in 2002 "saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives."
Soufan, a star FBI agent fluent in Arabic and English, met Abu Zubaydah in Thailand, just days after the al Qaeda suspect was captured after a gun battle in Pakistan. Zubaydah was then the most important operative captured after the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. government selected Soufan and another FBI agent, Steve Gaudin, because they were considered experts at getting al Qaeda suspects to crack.
Soufan will testify that within an hour of Abu Zubaydah's arrival at the secret prison, he was revealing parts of the 9/11 plot and had identified the mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Soufan has contended publicly that the FBI approach to interrogation had been so successful, George Tenet ordered that the gravely ill Zubaydah be kept alive.
According to a former intelligence operative at the scene, Zubaydah's confessions and intelligence collected by Soufan and Gaudin resulted in the CIA determining that "death was not an option" for the prisoner. Tenet wanted Zubaydah kept alive, and to continue talking. A top Johns Hopkins surgeon was flown in to treat Zubaydah, and the two FBI agents helped nurse the terrorist into good health. The former operative tells ABC News that the intelligence continued to flow, as Soufan interviewed Zubaydah in the hospital while tending to his recovery. But that all ended when the CIA's team of specialists and a contractor arrived to take over interrogations.
When Mitchell arrived in Thailand, a source tells ABC News, the CIA ordered Soufan to follow the psychologist's plan for interrogation. It was, Soufan will tell the Senate, a big mistake.
Soufan intends to testify that most of the useful intelligence from Abu Zubaydah came well before the CIA interrogation team even arrived in Thailand.
Soufan is said to be angry and mystified, eight years later, that Washington overruled him and his team during interrogations of Zubaydah, and handed the reins over to Mitchell.