May 13, 2009 -- Appearing behind a screen to protect his identity, a former FBI supervisory agent told Congress today that the so-called CIA enhanced interrogation techniques authorized for use against al Qaeda by the Bush administration were in fact "slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful."
The testimony by Ali Soufan came during the first congressional hearings since the release of Bush administration memos authorizing the use of techniques such as the water board, sleep deprivation, wall standing and the facial hold.
Soufan, who was present for the early interrogations of al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, said that the enhanced techniques that the CIA used against some of the highest valued detainees in the war on terror were "amateurish" and that their use "plays into enemy hands", "ignores the endgame" and "diminishes the moral high ground."
Soufan told congressmen that within the first hour of his interrogation of Zubaydah, he had obtained "actionable intelligence," including information regarding Khalid Sheik Mohammad the so-called mastermind of 9/11. But Soufan said that when the CIA took over, they used techniques he considered "border line torture" and that Zubaydah stopped giving useful information. The FBI objected to the harsh techniques and eventually withdrew from the interrogations.
Soufan's testimony -- that his interrogations were providing good intelligence -- is in direct conflict with information provided by the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel, which wrote in a memo in August 2002 that the CIA had said that Zubaydah had "additional information that he refuses to divulge."
The memo concluded that since the CIA was worried about a level of "chatter" equal to that which preceded the Sept. 11 attacks, it was time to move to an "increased pressure phase."
But Soufan said he believes the next phase did not result in better intelligence and that Zubaydah was able to outsmart his interrogators.
"Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times," said Soufan, "an indication that Zubaydah had already called [his interrogator's] bluff."
Soufan said he strongly believed that it was a "mistake" to use the enhanced interrogation techniques and suggested that more traditional methods would yield more useful information.
The Whole Picture
But Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., asked whether Soufan was present for all interrogations and could say that no useful information resulted from their use. Soufan agreed he could only speak from his own experience and he wasn't present for all interrogations.
Graham reiterated a request made by former Vice President Dick Cheney for the Obama administration to declassify memos that purport to show the effect of the enhanced interrogation techniques.
In April, the vice president told Fox News, "I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," Cheney said.
"I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was," Cheney said.
Graham praised Soufan for his service but told him, "Your testimony is not a complete repository" of all that went on.
The Obama administration has yet to say whether it will release the documents that Cheney has requested.
The Senate hearing came on the heels of the Justice Department's decision in April to release pages of legal memos from the Bush administration as a part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The memos argued that although someone subjected to waterboarding may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the actual technique "does not in our view inflict severe pain or suffering."
The memos included an August 2002 legal opinion signed by top Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee that provided the specific authorization for waterboarding that the CIA would use against three detainees -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- in 2002 and 2003.
The memo, written just after the CIA had captured Zubaydah, noted that he had a fear of insects and advised the CIA that they could place the detainee in a box with an insect but that the CIA must "inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain."
Bybee revealed in the memo that the CIA was concerned because there was a "level of 'chatter' equal to that which preceded the Sept. 11 attacks" and that Zubaydah is "withholding information."
Bybee noted that the CIA wished to move to an "increased pressure phase," a phase Soufan said did not result in better intelligence.