(Updated 9/15) Truth on Torture: Watch FBI Interrogator Ali Soufan's 9/11 60 minute interview

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

On Sunday, many people may have missed the 60 minutes interview with Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who was a central interrogator of Al-Qaeda suspects in the early days after 9/11. Everyone should watch that interview (here is a link to a Washington Post story on it http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/fbis-secret-weapon-speaks-out-on-al-qaeda/2011/09/12/gIQALLOwMK_video.html?wpisrc=emailtoafriend) (Update 9/15: the episode is now online at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7380678n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox).  Here is a BBC story from today that captures some of it http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14891439 .  Unfortunately the full 60 minutes interview is not up yet.

The key points for me are the presentation of the two cases of Abu Jhandal who he interviewed days after 9/11 and the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah – the detainee number one for the introduction of enhanced interrogation techniques.

On Abu Jhandal, as is also detailed in the movie the Oath, Jhandal had been in prison in Yemen for 7 months when 9/11 happened and Soufan interrogated him in prison within a week of that horrible day. Soufan read Jhandal Miranda rights and proceeded to deconstruct Jhandal and get him to reveal the Al Qaeda link and 100 pages of information about Al-Qaeda.

As detailed by Soufan, he was the first interrogator in 2002 of Abu Zubaydah for 10 days and was able to get significant cooperation from him. However, at that point a CIA contract interrogator was brought in and the argument was made that Zubaydah was holding back information. Soufan was replaced by the CIA contractor in conducting Zubaydah’s interrogation. Soufan reveals the whole structure of  the “enhanced interrogation techniques” program that were then applied by the CIA contractor (sleep deprivation, cold, loud music) accompanied by the CIA contractor coming in and asking one question “tell us what you know”. These techniques were made tougher up to Zubaydah’s waterboarding but the interrogator’s approach for questioning remained the same “tell us what you know”.  As compared with what Soufan had presented he had been doing, the CIA contractor who admitted to not having any understanding of the cultures of these detainees, the CIA contractor’s approach was pitiful in its inefficacy as it is described.

Soufan is categorical in saying that Abu Zubaydah was cooperating before the enhanced interrogation techniques were applied. This is significant because, in the same interview, the file footage of President George Bush in September 2006 explaining the rationale for the enhanced interrogation techniques is directly contradicted (that footage is shown in the interview). Bush said that when Zubaydah was not cooperating the enhanced interrogation techniques were then applied. Soufan says the opposite, that Zubaydah was cooperating and when the enhanced interrogation techniques were applied he stopped cooperating.

So not only were techniques that are torture used which is a crime, not only were those techniques completely ineffective which make their use stupid, not only was Soufan able to elicit actionable intelligence without them which is a shame that he was blocked, but President Bush in September 2006 in so called “coming clean” with the justification for the use of the torture at a minimum was grossly mislead by his underlings and at the most was grossly misleading the American people.

That is very significant news of which every American should be aware. Soufan is going to be interviewed tonight on PBS at 9h00 pm and hopefully the 60 minute interview from this Sunday will be shown again.

What is important is for each of us to ask for the name of that CIA contractor who did the interrogation of Zubaydah as well as the CIA person who like Soufan left the interrogation space as soon as techniques like putting Zubaydah in a coffin started to be used.  What is important is that those people go speak to John Durham, the prosecutor at the Department of Justice examining the torture.  What is important is that John Durham begin to have the courage to insist on the expansion of the review to find just how Soufan can have one clear experience and the then President George Bush can tell the American people the exact opposite which is patently false when he was supposedly “coming clean” on the enhanced interrogation techniques.

We have had all these former Bush Administration types on television this past week bloviating on the lessons of 9/11.  I want the truth on torture to be known so we can see just how far we were misled and can insist for the utmost accountability including criminal prosecution of the high-level civilians.