Even after interrogators informed CIA headquarters Abu Zubaydah had told them all he knew, according to a newly released Justice Department memo, they were told to carry out harsh questioning anyway because CIA leaders in Washington insisted he knew more -- setting off a quiet crisis inside the government.
"You've got people inside the CIA saying 'We don't want to do this. This is criminal. This is not what America is about,'" Jane Mayer, an investigative reporter for The New Yorker and author of "The Dark Side," a book on the interrogations, told ABC in an interview.
At a secret prison in Thailand, the memo says, interrogators subjected Zubaydah to waterboarding, a technique President Obama has called torture. Investigators say it caused Zubaydah to lead them on more than one wild goose chase.
"He was begging for his life and he was making up things," Mayer said.
Zubaydah's description of his treatment to the Red Cross corroborates the report in the memo:
"About 2-1/2 or 3 months after I arrived ... the real torturing started."
"I woke up naked, strapped to a bed."
He said guards would "smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room."
"After the beating I was then placed in a small box."
CIA officers endure similar treatment in training.
"You were subjected to constant white noise," former CIA official Larry Johnson told ABC News. "Deprived of food, limited food intake. Yes, this was torture."
Mayer said the interrogators themselves were traumatized just watching Zabaydah's ordeal.
"Some of the people I've talked to at the CIA who were involved in this program are absolutely haunted with nightmares still from this," Mayer said.
Obama insists the interrogators should not be prosecuted for acts the Justice Department said at the time were legal.
But this week House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said if they broke the law "they should be criminally prosecuted" -- words that CIA insiders say have sent a chill throughout the agency.