(Update 9/15) Truth on Torture (2) : Ali Soufan's FBI Interrogator 9/13 PBS Frontline Interview and More

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Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

I can not emphasize enough the importance of the Ali Soufan interviews on 60 minutes (Update 9/15: now available online at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7380678n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox) and PBS’s Frontline show for understanding the very disturbing revelations on so many levels from this reporting.

First, Soufan reveals the manner by which Enhanced Interrogation Techniques began to be used starting with Abu Zubaydah.  He fundamentally contradicts what in September 2006 President Bush said to the American people were the reasons for the use of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.  Abu Zubaydah was talking and was being cooperative.  According to President Bush’s presentation, Abu Zubaydah’s lack of cooperation was supposedly the predicate to the application of the techniques.  That is demonstrated to have been a false statement to the American people.

Second, not only were the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques not needed, but the person doing them was had never previously interviewed an Al  Qaeda person.  Ali Soufan carefully does not mention the name of the CIA contractor who was brought in to do the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques but the interviewer states his name as Mitchell.  In an e-mail yesterday I said we needed to ask what was his name.  His full name is James Mitchell per http://tortureaccountability.org/james_mitchell which corroborates much of what Ali Soufan says.  By contrast, Soufan had interrogated numerous Al Qaeda persons in the years before interviewing Abu Zubaydah.  Mitchell was a CIA contract psychologist with no experience interrogating Al Qaeda types.  Mitchell was the subject of a disciplinary action betore the Texas Board of Psychologists for his role in the interrogation program.  That disciplinary action was dismissed recently by that state board.

Third, the approach of Mitchell did not work in providing good intelligence.  Ali Soufan is categoric with knowledge of what he can talk about and of other information that is still classified.  So not only was an inexperienced person designing the program and doing it in the person of Mitchell, but what he was doing was not working in providing useful intelligence quickly.  It was time consuming and, my view, the range of techniques ended up being torture.  Ali Soufan describes how he had gotten Abu Zubaydah to identify Mokhtar (KSM) and the information leading to Jose Padilla’s arrest.  He talks about how he interviewed Al-Qahtani at Gitrmo and got him to admit he was the 20th hijacker in two days before they took him away and subjected Al-Qahtani there to the Mitchell regime.  Ali Soufan goes on and on explaining how the non-enhanced techniques he used worked over and over and over and the Mitchell Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were completely unadapted to these people and did not work.

Ali Soufan also tells the story of Al-Libi rendered by the CIA to Egypt and subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques “on steroids” under which he stated there was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam for procuring WMD.  The interview describes how that raw information migrated up from Al-Libi to be part of Secretary of State Powell’s presentation to the United Nations in the late fall 2002 seeking UN Security Council support for use of armed force against Iraq to no avail.  Al-Libi is of course the person who died in a Libyan prison (supposedly hanging himself in his cell).  He explains how and why Al-Libi came to recant his testimony – he gave that testimony to get the torture to stop and to appear to be complying with the request of the torturer.

John Rizzo, former Acting General Counsel of the CIA, is interviewed and he looks exceedingly uncomfortable in defending the “party line” that has been carefully laid down as to the useful intelligence that came from using the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.  Recent footage of Rumsfeld and Cheney saying how much the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided useful information is presented.  What happens, and you see this in the wording of what John Rizzo says, is that the “party line” is that persons subjected to these Enhanced Interrogation Techniques gave up valuable information.  The CIA Inspector General’s report and Ali Soufan are categoric in saying that the techniques did not work to procure the useful intelligence.  Rizzo is carefully not stating that the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques worked but rather that the persons subjected to them gave up valuable information.  Rizzo also speaks about the persons who were subjected to them in very disparaging terms that reflect the deep disgust about these people that must have animated those seeking to get information from them.  It is that deep disgust one senses that animates the use of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques – the will to hurt we might say.   The decision here appears animated by that deep disgust, not lucid analysis of the most effective strategy to get information to protect the United States and the American people.  This to me is a very powerful impression one gets from the John Rizzo defense.  I have met Rizzo here at University of Toledo College of Law and now I see and understand him better.    John Durham should contact him about all the revelations coming from Ali Soufan.

Fourth, Ali Soufan reveals the efforts some seven months before 9/11 to get information from the CIA about an Al-Qaeda operative who had flown to Bangkok and been in a meeting in Malaysia with two of the persons who ended up being the hijackers on Flight 93 on 9/11.  He reports on the fact that verbal discussions and three paper requests did not lead to any response from the CIA about these persons.  It was only on September 12 when he was interviewing a guy named Al Quso in Yemen that, as he was returning home, a package was given to him from the CIA which contained the photo of a guy who the CIA was asking Ali Soufan to ask Al Quso about.  Al Quso was not sure about the guy but thought he could have been the Bangkok operative.  The CIA then gave him another photo and Ali Soufan asked whether this was going to go on like this or were they going to give him everything.  The CIA then gave Ali Soufan a third photo which Al Quso identified as the Al Qaeda operative in Bangkok to which Al Quso took $36 000.  The Al-Qaeda operative used that money to purchase tickets for two of the 9/11 hijackers who flew into the United States at Los Angeles in the months before 9/11.

Fifth, Ali Soufan is sickened at the consequences of the use of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to create the lies that got us into the War in Iraq and, just as significantly, the CIA non-response to the three requests for information in the  7 months period prior to 9/11 on the Al Qaeda operative in Bangkok who was financing two of the hijackers.  A watch list message could have been put on them as soon as they entered the United States, and there would have been a good chance that 9/11 COUL D HAVE BEEN AVERTED.  He is terribly troubled about these missed opportunities.  He talks about the “wall” between FBI and the CIA on sharing information in that early period being particularly difficult for reasons that he does not know why.  John Rizzo comes in again and is categoric in saying there was no legal obstacle to the sharing of the information.  However, Rizzo tries to give an impression that something slipped between the cracks here without saying candidly what happened.  Rizzo strikes me as trying to send the watcher of the interview on a false trail.  What he does say is in essence that something other than the “wall” was the cause of the non-response of the CIA to the three written and many verbal requests for information  by Ali Soufian on the Al-Qaeda operative in Bangkok and on a phone number in Malaysia  used at another point in the pre-9/11 period.

In these two short interviews, the whole shebang’s cover is blown for someone who has been following this.  John Rizzo is further confirmed (as he was in the OPR report)  as a lynchpin in this matter.

American citizens are being kept in the dark about machinations used to convince us to go to War in Iraq and that prevented a good team to avoid 9/11.  That is unacceptable and we need to keep digging and insisting on accountability for all these people up to George Bush who is shown to have simply told falsehoods in September 2006 about the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

Is there anyone left in the American government with the intestinal fortitude to see this through or are all the people just feckless in trying to allow this stuff to just disappear even though the consequences of these revelations are so significant.  Think of the parents whose children died in Iraq when that did not need to happen.  Think of all those poor people dead and injured in 9/11 and whose loss could have been averted.  After listening to Ali Soufan, all the scenes this past week or so with Buch, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Myers, Keane, and Rizzo just leave you sick when you think of what a monstrosity was inflicted on the American people and the world by our leaders and how they “sexed” up the intelligence.

As a sidelight, the Surveillance state (“Top Security America”) is examined in a second program of PBS Frontline and it really gives an impresssion of all kinds of people feeding at the government trough in the get rich quick world of technology being used for surveillance  – without any of that information leading to stopping the Christmas bomber, the Times Square bomber,  or the other so called “successes” we have been told were thanks to our expensive systems in place.  At the same time, the relentless gathering of information on people in America continues and people are being labeled with the possible terrorist or terrorist label on dubious bases.  So it goes.


Folks,  this is very heavy stuff that kept me up and so I wrote it down to share with you.  Not that I expect you to do anything but sure would hope that you would do something to get John Durham to take this on and do a bigger job then just going after two low-level CIA types.  Not good enough.