The Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah

Senate Select Committe on Intelligence
Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program,
pp. 24[50] - 47[73].
December 2014

FBI Officers Are the First to Question Abu Zubaydah, Who States He Intends to Cooperate; Abu Zubaydah is Taken to a Hospital Where He Provides Information the CIA Later Describes as "Important" and "Vital"

After Abu Zubaydah was rendered to DETENTION SITE GREEN on March [REDACTED] 2002, he was questioned by special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who spoke Arabic and had experience interrogating members of al-Qa'ida. Abu Zubaydah confirmed his identity to the FBI officers, informed the FBI officers he wanted to cooperate, and provided background information on his activities. That evening, Abu Zubaydah's medical condition deteriorated rapidly and he required immediate hospitalization. Although Abu Zubaydah was largely unable to communicate because of a breathing tube, he continued to provide information to FBI and CIA officials at the hospital using an Arabic alphabet chart. According to records, the FBI officers remained at Abu Zubaydah's bedside throughout this ordeal and assisted in his medical care. When Abu Zubaydah's breathing tube was removed on April 8, 2002, Abu Zubaydah provided additional intelligence and reiterated his intention to cooperate. [NOTE 86]

During an April 10, 2002, debriefing session, conducted in the hospital's intensive care unit, Abu Zubaydah revealed to the FBI officers that an individual named "Mukhtar" was the al-Qa'ida "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah identified a picture of Mukhtar provided by the FBI from the FBI's Most Wanted list. The picture was of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad (KSM), who had been indicted in 1996 for his role in Ramzi Yousef's terrorist plotting to detonate explosives on 12 United States-flagged aircraft and destroy them mid-flight over the Pacific Ocean. [NOTE 87] Abu Zubaydah told the interrogators that "Mukhtar" was related to Ramzi Yousef, whom Abu Zubaydah said was in an American jail (Yousef had been convicted for the aforementioned terrorist plotting and was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist attack). [NOTE 88]

Abu Zubaydah told the FBI officers that "Mukhtar" trained the 9/11 hijackers and also provided additional information on KSM's background, to include diat KSM spoke fluent English, was approximately 34 year's old, and was responsible for al-Qa'ida operations outside of Afghanistan. [NOTE 89] Subsequent representations on the success of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program consistently describe Abu Zubaydah's identification of KSM's role in the September 11, 2001, attacks, as well as his identification of KSM's alias ("Mukhtar"), as being "important" and "vital" information. [NOTE 90]. A review of CIA records found that this information was corroborative of information already in CIA databases. [NOTE 91]

While Abu Zubaydah is Hospitalized, CIA Headquarters Discusses the Use of Coercive Interrogation Techniques Against Abu Zubaydah

While Abu Zubaydah was still hospitalized, personnel at CIA Headquarters began discussing how CIAofficers would interrogateAbu Zubaydah upon his return to DETENTION SITE GREEN [NOT ITS REAL NAME]. The initial CIA interrogation proposal recommended that the interrogators engagewith Abu Zubaydah to get himto provide information, and suggested that a "hard approach," involving foreign goverment personnel, be taken only as alast resort." [NOTE 92] At a meeting about this proposal, [REDACTED] CTC Legal, [REDACTED] recommended that a psychologist working on contract in the CIA's Office of Technical Services (OTS), Grayson SWIGERT [NOT HIS REAL NAME], be used by CTC to "provide real-time recommendations to overcome Abu Zubaydah's resistance to interrogation." [NOTE 93] SWIGERT had come to [REDACTED]'s attentio through [REDACTED], who worked in OTS. Shorthly thereafter, CIA Shortly thereafter, CIA Headquarters formally proposed that Abu Zubaydah be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that Abu Zubaydah not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead Abu Zubaydah to develop a sense of "learned helplessness." [NOTE 94] CIA Headquarters then sent an interrogation team to Country [REDACTED], including SWIGERT, whose initial role was to consult on the psychological aspects of the interrogation. [NOTE 95]

DCI Tenet was provided an update on the Abu Zubaydah interrogation plans on April 12, 2002. The update stated that the CIA team was preparing for Abu Zubaydah's transfer back to DETENTION SITE GREEN, and noted the CIA interrogation team intended to "set the stage" and increase control over Abu Zubaydah. [NOTE 96] The update stated:
"Our [CIA] lead interrogator will require Abu Zubaydah to reveal the most sensitive secret he knows we are seeking; if he dissembles or diverts the conversation, the interview will stop and resume at a later time.... In accordance with the strategy, and with concurrence from FBI Headquarters, the two on-site FBI agents wiU no longer directly participate in the interview/debriefing sessions." [NOTE 97]
The FBI special agents questioning Abu Zubaydah at the hospital objected to the CIA's plans. In a message to FBI Headquarters, an FBI special agent wrote that the CIA psychologists had acquired "tremendous influence." [NOTE 98] The message further stated:
"AZ's health has improved over the last two days and Agency [CIA] is ready to move [Abu Zubaydah] out of the hospital and back to [REDACTED] on [REDACTED] in an elaborate plan to change AZ's environment. Agency [CIA] advised this day that they will be immediately changing tactics in all future AZ interviews by having only there [sic] [CIA officer] interact with AZ (there will be no FBI presence in interview room). This change contradicts all conversations had to date.... They believe AZ is offering, 'throw away information' and holding back from providing threat information (It should be note [sic] that we have obtained critical information regarding AZ thus far and have now got him speaking about threat information, albeit from his hospital bed and not [an] appropriate interview environment for full follow-up (due to his health). Suddenly the psychiatric team here wants AZ to only interact with their [CIA officer, and the CIA sees this] as being the best way to get the threat information.... We offered several compromise solutions... all suggestions were immediately declined without further discussion. ...This again is quite odd as all information obtained from AZ has come from FBI lead interviewers and questioning.... I have spent an un-calculable amount of hours at [Abu Zubaydah's] bedside assisting with medical help, holding his hand and comforting him through various medical procedures, even assisting him in going [to] the bathroom.... We have built tremendous report [sic] with AZ and now that we are on the eve of 'regular' interviews to get threat information, we have been 'written out' of future interviews." [NOTE 99]

New CIA Interrogation Plan Focuses on Abu Zubaydah's "Most Important Secret"; FBI Temporarily Barred from the Questioning of Abu Zubaydah; Abu Zubaydah then Placed in Isolation for 47 Days Without Questioning

On April 13, 2002, while Abu Zubaydah was still at the hospital, the CIA implemented the "new interrogation program." [NOTE 100] This initial meeting was held with just one interrogator in the room and lasted 11 minutes. A cable stated that the CIA interrogator was coached by the "psychological team." [NOTE 101] The CIA interrogator advised Abu Zubaydah that he (Abu Zubaydah) "had a most important secret that [the interrogator] needed to know." According to the cable, Abu Zubaydah "amazingly" nodded in agreement about the secret, but "did not divulge any information, as [the interrogation team] expected." [NOTE 102] A cable further explained that Abu Zubaydah indicated that he understood that the key question was about "impending future terrorist plans against the United States," [NOTE 103] and that the CIA officer told Abu Zubaydah to signal for him "when he decides to discuss that 'one key item he knows he is keeping from the [interrogator]." [NOTE 104]  The FBI officers provided a similar account to FBI Headquarters, adding that: "We spent the rest of the day in the adjoining room with [the CIA officer] and one of the psychiatrists [REDACTED] waiting for [Abu Zubaydah] to signal he was ready to talk. [Abu Zubaydah] apparently went to sleep... they did not approach [Abu Zubaydah] the rest of the day." [NOTE 105]  In their communications with FBI Headquarters, the FBI officers wrote that they explained their rapport-building approaches to the CIA interrogation team and "tried to explain that we have used this approach before on other Al-Qaeda members with much success (al-Owhali, [NOTE 106] KKM, Jandal, Badawi etc.). We tried to politely suggest that valuable time was passing where we could attempt to solicit threat information...." [NOTE 107]

On April 15, 2002, per a scripted plan, the same CIA interrogator delivered what a CIA cable described as "the pre-move message" to Abu Zubaydah; that "time is running out," that his situation had changed, and that the interrogator was disappointed that Abu Zubaydah did not signal "to discuss the one thing he was hiding." [NOTE 108] Abu Zubaydah was sedated and moved from the hospital to DETENTION SITE GREEN. When Abu Zubaydah awoke at 11:00 PM, four hours after his arrival, he was described as surprised and disturbed by his new situation. An April 16, 2002, cable states the "objective is to ensure that [Abu Zubaydah] is at his most vulnerable state." [NOTE 109]

A cable described Abu Zubaydah's cell as white with no natural lighting or windows, but with four halogen lights pointed into the cell. [NOTE 110] An air conditioner was also in the room. A white curtain separated the interrogation room from the cell. The interrogation cell had three padlocks. Abu Zubaydah was also provided with one of two chairs that were rotated based on his level of cooperation (one described as more comfortable than the other). Security officers wore all black uniforms, including boots, gloves, balaclavas, and goggles to keep Abu Zubaydah from identifying the officers, as well as to prevent Abu Zubaydah "from seeing the security guards as individuals who he may attempt to establish a relationship or dialogue with." [NOTE 111] The security officers communicated by hand signals when they were with Abu Zubaydah and used hand-cuffs and leg shackles to maintain control. In addition, either loud rock music was played or noise generators were used to enhance Abu Zubaydah's "sense of hopelessness." [NOTE 112] Abu Zubaydah was typically kept naked and sleep deprived. [NOTE 113]

An April 16, 2002, cable explained that the interrogation strategy had shifted since Abu Zubaydah's medical condition prevented "total isolation as originally planned." According to the cable, a 24-hour interrogation strategy was now "deemed to be the best approach" for acquiring information. As a result, the FBI officers were once again allowed to question Abu Zubaydah.'' [NOTE 114] On April 17, 2002, an FBI officer met with Abu Zubaydah for six hours. [NOTE 115] FBI records state that Abu Zubaydah had "not seen the interviewing (FBI) agent" since April 11, 2002, but that Abu Zubaydah greeted the agent by name.'' [NOTE 116] During the questioning Abu Zubaydah denied any knowledge related to specific targets for a pending attack and "advised that many of the brothers on the front lines (nfi) [no further information] talked about all types of attacks against America but that for the most part this was usually just talk and that [the United States] should not be concerned about this type of talk," [NOTE 117] Abu Zubaydah provided information on al-Qa'ida, KSM, his past travel to the United States, as well as general information on extremists in Pakistan. [Note 118]

Abu Zubaydah continued to provide information to interrogators throughout April 2002, but not information on pending attacks against the United States. On the evening of April 20, 2002, Abu Zubaydah told the FBI officers about two men who approached him with a plan to detonate a uranium-based explosive device in the United States. Abu Zubaydah stated he did not believe the plan was viable and did not know the names of the two individuals, but provided physical descriptions of the pair.'' [NOTE 119] This information was acquired after Abu Zubaydah was confronted with emails indicating that he had sent the two individuals to KSM. [NOTE 120] The CIA would later represent that this information was acquired "as a result" of the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, and that the information acquired resulted in the thwarting of the "Dirty Bomb Plot" and the capture of Jose Padilla. [NOTE 121] However, the chief of the Abu Zubaydah Task Force stated that "AZ's info alone would never have allowed us to find them," while another CIA officer stated that the CIA was already "alert" to the threat posed by Jose Padilla, and that the CIA's "suspicion" was only "enhanced during the debriefings of Abu Zubaydah." [NOTE 122] Additional information on the "Dirty Bomb Plot" and the capture of Jose Padilla is provided later in this summary.

During the month of April 2002, which included a period during which Abu Zubaydah was hospitalized, on life support, and unable to speak, the CIA disseminated 39 intelligence reports based on his interrogations. [NOTE 123] At the end of April 2002, the DETENTION SITE GREEN interrogation team provided CIA Headquarters with three interrogation strategies. CIA Headquarters chose the most coercive interrogation option, which was proposed and supported by CIA contractor SWIGERT. [NOTE 124] This coercive interrogation option—which included sensory deprivation—was again opposed by the FBI special agents at the detention site. [NOTE 125] The interrogation proposal was to engage in "only a single-minded, consistent, totally focused questioning of current threat information." [NOTE 126] Once implemented, this approach failed to produce the information CIA Headquarters believed Abu Zubaydah possessed: threats to the United States and information about al-Qa'ida operatives located in the United States. Nonetheless, Abu Zubaydah continued to provide other intelligence. In May 2002, the CIA disseminated 56 intelligence reports based on the interrogations. [NOTE 127]

In early June 2002, the CIA interrogation team recommended that Abu Zubaydah spend several weeks in isolation while the interrogation team members departed the facility "as a means of keeping [Abu Zubaydah] off-balance and to allow the team needed time off for a break and to attend to personal matters [REDACTED] as well as to discuss "the endgame" of Abu Zubaydah [REDACTED] with officers from CIA Headquarters. [NOTE 128] As a result, from June 18, 2002, through August 4, 2002, Abu Zubaydah spent 47 days in isolation without being asked any questions. Despite the fact that Abu Zubaydah was in isolation for nearly half of the month, the CIA disseminated 37 intelligence reports based on the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah in June 2002. [NOTE 129] The CIA would later represent publicly—as well as in classified settings—that during the use of "established US Government interrogation techniques," Abu Zubaydah "stopped all cooperation" in June 2002, requiring the development of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. [NOTE 130] CIA records do not support this assertion.

Prior to Abu Zubaydah's 47-day isolation period, Abu Zubaydah provided information on al-Qa'ida activities, plans, capabilities, and relationships, in addition to information on its leadership structure, including personalities, decision-making processes, training, and tactics. [NOTE 131] As described in more detail in the full Committee Study, Abu Zubaydah's inability to provide information on the next attack in the United States and operatives in the United States served as the basis for CIA representations that Abu Zubaydah was "uncooperative," as well as for the CIA's determination that Abu Zubaydah required the use of what would later be known as the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" to become "compliant" and reveal the information the CIA believed he was withholding. Abu Zubaydah never provided this information, and CIA officers later concluded this was information Abu Zubaydah did not possess. [NOTE 132]

After Abu Zubaydah was placed in isolation, the Abu Zubaydah interrogation team [REDACTED] [departed Country [REDACTED]]. Security and medical personnel remained at the detention site. The FBI special agents did not return to DETENTION SITE GREEN. [NOTE 133]

Proposal by CIA Contract Personnel to Use SERE-Based Interrogation Techniques Leads to the Development of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques; The CIA Determines that "the Interrogation Process Takes Precedence Over Preventative Medical Procedures"

In early July 2002, CIA officers held several meetings at CIA Headquarters to discuss the possible use of "novel interrogation methods" on Abu Zubaydah. [NOTE 134] During the course of those meetings SWIGERT proposed using techniques derived from the U.S. military's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. [NOTE 135] SWIGERT provided a list of 12 SERE techniques for possible use by the CIA: (1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial. [NOTE 136] SWIGERT also recommended that the CIA enter into a contract with Hammond DUNBAR [NOT HIS REAL NAME], his co-author of the CIA report on potential al-Qa'ida interrogation resistance training, to aid in the CIA interrogation process. [NOTE 137] Like SWIGERT, DUNBAR had never participated in a real-world interrogation. His interrogation experience was limited to the paper he authored with SWIGERT and his work with U.S. Air Force personnel at the SERE school. [NOTE 138]

In May 2003, a senior CIA interrogator would tell personnel from the CIA's Office of Inspector General that SWIGERT and DUNBAR's SERE school model was based on resisting North Vietnamese "physical torture" and was designed to extract "confessions for propaganda purposes" from U.S. airmen "who possessed little actionable intelligence." The CIA, he believed, "need[ed] a different working model for interrogating terrorists where confessions are not the ultimate goal." [NOTE 139]

After the July 2002 meetings, the CIA's [REDACTED] CTC Legal, [REDACTED], drafted a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking the Department of Justice for "a formal declination of prosecution, in advance, for any employees of the United States, as well as any other personnel acting on behalf of the United States, who may employ methods in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah that otherwise might subject those individuals to prosecution." [NOTE 140] The letter further indicated that "the interrogation team had concluded" that "the use of more aggressive methods is required to persuade Abu Zubaydah to provide the critical information we need to safeguard the lives of innumerable innocent men, women and children within the United States and abroad." The letter added that these "aggressive methods" would otherwise be prohibited by the torture statute, "apart from potential reliance upon the doctrines of necessity or of self-defense." [NOTE 141] This letter was circulated internally at the CIA, including to SWIGERT; however, there are no records to indicate it was provided to the attorney general. [NOTE 142]

On July 13, 2002, [REDACTED] CTC Legal, [REDACTED] and the CIA's acting general counsel, John Rizzo, met with attorneys from the National Security Council and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), as well as with Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Justice Criminal Division, and Daniel Levin, the chief of staff to the FBI director, to provide an overview of the CIA's proposed interrogation techniques and to ask for a formal, definitive DOJ opinion regarding the lawfulness of employing the specific CIA interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah. [NOTE 143]

The CIA attorneys described the 12 proposed interrogation techniques and told the Department of Justice and National Security Council attorneys that Abu Zubaydah continued to withhold critical intelligence on the identities of al-Qa'ida personnel in the United States and planned al-Qa'ida attacks. The CIA attorneys also told the group that CIA officers were complemented by:
"expert personnel retained on contract who possess extensive experience, gained within the Department of Defense, on the psychological and physical methods of interrogation and the resistance techniques employed as countermeasures to such interrogation." [NOTE 144]
According to the CIA cable describing the meeting, the representatives from the OLC, including Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, advised that the criminal prohibition on torture would not prohibit the methods proposed by the interrogation team becauseof the absence of any specific intent to inflict severe physical or mental pain or sufferingJ" [NOTE 145] On July 13,2002, Yoo sent an unclassified letter to the CIA's acting general counsel describing his interpretation of the statute. [NOTE 146]

Despite the initial view expressed by Yoo that the use of the proposed CIA interrogation techniques would be lawful, on July 17, 2002, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice requested a delay in the approval of the interrogation techniques for Abu Zubaydah's interrogation until the attorney general issued an opinion. [NOTE 147] The following day. Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley requested that the Department of Justice "delay the approval of the memo detailing the next phase of interrogations" until the CIA provided specific details on its proposed interrogation techniques and "an explanation of why the CIA is confident these techniques will not cause lasting and irreparable harm to Abu Zubaydah. [NOTE 148] Rice asked the CIA to provide the OLC with a description of each of the planned interrogation techniques, and to "gather and provide any available empirical data on the reactions and likelihood of prolonged mental harm from the use of the 'water board' and the staged burial." [NOTE 149]

On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA's interrogation techniques applied to Abu Zubaydah would be discontinued. [NOTE 150] The CIA officers at the detention site added:
"If [Abu Zubaydah] develops a serious medical condition which may involve a host of conditions including a heart attack or another catastrophic type of condition, all efforts will be made to ensure that proper medical care will be provided to [him]. In the event [Abu Zubaydah] dies, we need to be prepared to act accordingly, keeping in mind the liaison equities involving our hosts." [NOTE 151
To address these issues, the cable stated that if Abu Zubaydah were to die during the interrogation, he would be cremated. [NOTE 152] The interrogation team closed the cable by stating:
"regardless which [disposition] option we follow however, and especially in light of the planned psychological pressure techniques to be implemented, we need to get reasonable assurances that [Abu Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life." [NOTE 153]
Officers from the CIA's ALEC Station responded to the interrogation team's comments several days later. Their cable noted that the interrogation team was correct in its "understanding that the interrogation process takes precedence over preventative medical procedures." [NOTE 154] ALEC Station further observed:
"There is a fairly unanimous sentiment witiiin HQS that [Abu Zubaydah] will never be placed in a siaiation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released. While it is difficult to discuss specifics at this point, all major players are in concurrence that [Abu Zubaydah] should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life. This may preclude [Abu Zubaydah] from being turned over to another country, but a final decision regarding his future incarceration condition has yet to be made." [NOTE 155]
As a result of the request by National Security Advisor Rice for additional research on the CIA's proposed interrogation techniques, CIA and DOJ personnel contacted individuals at the Department of Defense's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the agency that administers the SERE school, to gather information about the effects of using the techniques in training exercises. [NOTE 156] According to CIA officer [REDACTED] who had [REDACTED] joined the CIA's OTS after [REDACTED] years at JPRA, an individual with SERE school experience commented that "information gleaned via harsh treatment may not be accurate, as the prisoner may say anything to avoid further pain," and that "[c]urrent doctrine for interrogations conducted in the permanent phase of capture may lean towards 'soft' or 'indirect' rounds of
questioning." [NOTE 157]

Pursuant to National Security Advisor Rice's request, CIA Headquarters personnel also requested information from the interrogation team—particularly SWIGERT and DUNBAR—about the psychological effects of the use of the waterboard and
mock burial. The chief of Base at DETENTION SITE GREEN responded by cable noting that:
"We are a nation of laws and we do not wish to parse words. A bottom line in considering the new measures proposed is that [Abu Zubaydah] is being held in solitary confinement, againsthis will, without legal representation, as an enemy of our country, our society and our people. Therefore, while the techniques described in Headquarters meetings and below are administered to student volunteers in the U.S. in a harmless way, with no measurable impact on the psyche of the volunteer, we do not believe we can assure the same here for a man forced through these processes and who will be made to believe this is the future course of the remainder of his life. Station, [DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base] and [DETENTION SITE GREEN] personnel will make every effort possible to insure [sic] that subject is not permanently physically or mental harmed but we should not say at the outset of this process that there is no risk." [NOTE 158]
As former psychologists for the United States Air Force, SWIGERT and DUNBAR had no direct experience with the waterboard, as it was not used in Air Force SERE training. Nonetheless, they indicated that the waterboard—which they described as an "absolutely convincing technique"—was necessary to overwhelm Abu Zubaydah's ability to resist. [NOTE 159] They also responded that they were aware that the Navy—which used the waterboard technique in training—had not reported any significant long-term consequences on individuals from its use. Unlike the CIA's subsequent use of the waterboard, however, the Navy's use of the technique was a single training exercise and did not extend to multiple sessions. SWIGERT and DUNBAR wrote:
"any physical pressure applied to extremes can cause severe mental pain or suffering. Hooding, the use of loud music, sleep deprivation, controlling darkness and light, slapping, walling, or the use of stress positions taken to extreme can have the same outcome. The safety of any technique lies primarily in how it is applied and monitored." [NOTE 160]
On July 24, 2002, the attorney general verbally approved the use of 10 interrogation techniques, which included: the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of diapers, and use of insects. [NOTE 161] The interrogation team, however, indicated that they intended to wait for the approval to use the waterboard before proceeding with their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. On July 26, 2002, the attorney general verbally approved the use of the waterboard. [NOTE 162] The OLC finalized its classified written legal opinion on August 1, 2002. The earlier CIA request to conduct a mock burial was not formally considered by the OLC. The approved interrogation techniques, along with other CIA interrogation techniques that were subsequently identified and used by the CIA, are referred to as the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques," or more commonly by the CIA as "EITs."

In the course of seeking approval to use the techniques, CIA Headquarters advised the Depaitment of Justice and the national security advisor that "countless more Americans may die unless we can persuade AZ to tell us what he knows." CIA Headquarters further represented that the DETENTION SITE GREEN interrogation team believed "Abu Zubaydah continues to withhold critical threat information," and "that in order to persuade him to provide" that information, "the use of more aggressive techniques is required." [NOTE 163] The cable to DETENTION SITE GREEN from CIA Headquarters documenting the information CIA Headquarters had provided to the Department of Justice warned that "[t]he legal conclusions are predicated upon the determinations by the interrogation team that Abu Zubaydah continues to withhold critical threat information." [NOTE 164] According to cables, however, the CIA interrogators at the detention site had not determined that "the use of more aggressive techniques was required" to "persuade" Abu Zubaydah to provide threat information. Rather, the interrogation team believed the objective of the coercive inteRRogation techniques was to confirm Abu Zubaydah did not have additional information on threats to the United States, writing:
"Our assumption is the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [Abu Zubaydah] is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States beyond that which [Abu Zubaydah] has already provided." [NOTE 165]
As is described in this summary, and in more detail in the full Committee Study, the interrogation team later deemed the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques a success, not because it resulted in critical threat information, but because it provided further evidence that Abu Zubaydah had not been withholding the aforementioned information from the interrogators. [NOTE 166]


The CIA Uses the Waterboard and Other Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Against Abu Zubaydah

On August 3, 2002, CIA Headquarters informed the interrogation team at DETENTION SITE GREEN that it had formal approval to apply the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, including the waterboard, against Abu Zubaydah. According to CIA records, only the two CIA contractors, SWIGERT and DUNBAR, were to have contact with Abu Zubaydah. Other CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN - including CIA medical personnel and other CIA "interrogators with whom he is familiar" - were only to observe. [NOTE 181]

From August 4, 2002, through August 23, 2002, the CIA subjected Abu Zubaydah to its enhanced interrogation techniques on a near 24-hour-per-day basis. After Abu Zubaydah had been in complete isolation for 47 days, the most aggressive interrogation phase began at approximately 11:50 AM on August 4, 2002. [NOTE 182] Security personnel entered the cell, shackled and hooded Abu Zubaydah, and removed his towel (Abu Zubaydah was then naked). Without asking any questions, the interrogators placed a rolled towel around his neck as a collar, and backed him up into the cell wall (an interrogator later acknowledged the collar was used to slam Abu Zubaydah against a concrete wall). [NOTE 183] The interrogators then removed the hood, performed an attention grab, and had Abu Zubaydah watch while a large confinement box was brought into the cell and laid on the floor. [NOTE 184] A cable states Abu Zubaydah "was unhooded and the large confinement box was carried into the interrogation room and paced [sic] on the floor so as to appear as a coffin." [NOTE 185] The interrogators then demanded detailed and verifiable information on terrorist operations planned against the United States, including the names, phone numbers, email addresses, weapon caches, and safe houses of anyone involved. CIA records describe Abu Zubaydah as appearing apprehensive. Each time Abu Zubaydah denied having additional information, the interrogators would perform a facial slap or face grab. [NOTE 186] At approximately 6:20 PM, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded for the first time. Over a two-and-a-half-hour period, Abu Zubaydah coughed, vomited, and had "involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities" during waterboarding. [NOTE 187]  Detention site personnel noted that "throughout the process [Abu Zubaydah] was asked and given the opportunity to respond to questions about threats" to the United States, but Abu Zubaydah continued to maintain that he did not have any additional information to provide. [NOTE 188] In an email to OMS leadership entitled, "So it begins," a medical officer wrote:
"The sessions accelerated rapidly progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling, and small box periods. [Abu Zubaydah] seems very resistant to the water board. Longest time with the cloth over his face so far has been 17 seconds. This is sure to increase shortly. NO useful information so far....He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It's been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing. We plan to only feed Ensure for a while now. I'm head[ing] back for another water board session." [NOTE 189]
The use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques—including "walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation"—continued in "varying combinations, 24 hours a day" for 17 straight days, through August 20, 2002. [NOTE 190] When Abu Zubaydah was left alone during this period, he was placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes. According to the cables, Abu Zubaydah was also subjected to the waterboard "2-4 times a day...with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application." [NOTE 191]

The "aggressive phase of interrogation" continued until August 23, 2002. [NOTE 192] Over the course ofthe entire 20 day "aggressive phase of interrogation," Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, a depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet. The CIA interrogators told Abu Zubaydah that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped confinement box. [NOTE 193]

According to the daily cables from DETENTION SITE GREEN, Abu Zubaydah frequently "cried," "begged," "pleaded," and "whimpered," but continued to deny that he had any additional information on current threats to, or operatives in, the United States. [NOTE 194]

By August 9, 2002, the sixth day of the interrogation period, the interrogation team informedCIA Headquarters that they had come to the "collective preliminary assessment" that it was unlikely Abu Zubaydah "had actionable new information about current threats to the United States." [NOTE 195] On August 10, 2002, the interrogation team stated that it was "highly unlikely" that Abu Zubaydah possessed the information they were seeking. [NOTE 196] On the same day, the interrogation team reiterated a request for personnel from CIA Headquarters to travel to the detention site to view the interrogations. A cable stated that the team believed that a "first-hand, on-the-ground look is best," but if CIA Headquarters personnel could not visit, a video teleconference would suffice. [NOTE 197] DETENTION SITE GREEN personnel also informed CIA Headquarters that it was their assessment that the application of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was "approach[ing] the legal limit. [NOTE 198] The chiefof CTC, Jose Rodriguez, responded:
"Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-a-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic). Such language is nothelpful." [NOTE 199]
DETENTION SITE GREEN cables describe Abu Zubaydah as "compliant," informing CIA Headquarters that when the interrogator "raised his eyebrow, without instructions," Abu Zubaydah "slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down." [NOTE 200] When the inten'ogator "snapped his fingers twice," Abu Zubaydah would lie flat on the waterboard. [NOTE 201] Despite the assessment of personnel at the detention site that Abu Zubaydah was compliant, CIA Headquarters stated that they continued to believe that Abu Zubaydah was withholding threat information and instructed the CIA interrogators to continue using the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. [NOTE 202]

At times Abu Zubaydah was described as "hysterical" [NOTE 203] and "distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate." [NOTE 204] Waterboarding sessions "resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms" and "hysterical pleas." [NOTE 205] In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah "became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth." [NOTE 206] According to CIA records, Abu Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and expelled "copious amounts of liquid." This experience with the waterboard was referenced in emails, but was not documented or otherwise noted in CIA cables. [NOTE 207]  When two CIA Headquarters officers later compared the Abu Zubaydah interrogation videotapes to the cable record, neither commented on this session. A review of the catalog of videotapes, however, found that recordings of a 21-hour period, which included two waterboarding sessions, were missing. [NOTE 208]

CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN reported being disturbed by the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah. CIA records include the following reactions and comments by CIA personnel:
• August 5, 2002: "want to caution [medical officer] that this is almost certainly not a place he's ever been before in his medical career...It is visually and psychologically very uncomfortable." [NOTE 209]

• August 8, 2002: "Today's first session...had a profound effect on all staff members seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further...everyone seems strong for now but if the group has to continue...we cannot guarantee how much longer." [NOTE 210]

• August 8, 2002: "Several on the team profoundly affected...some to the point of tears and choking up." [NOTE 211]

• August 9, 2002: "two, perhaps three [personnel] likely to elect transfer" away from the detention site if the decision is made to continue with the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. [NOTE 212]

• August 11, 2002: Viewing the pressures on Abu Zubaydah on video "has produced strong feelings of futility (and legality) of escalating or even maintaining the pressure." Per viewing the tapes, "prepare for something not seen previously." [NOTE 213]
After the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques ended, CIA personnel at the detention site concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information. [NOTE 214]

As noted, CIA records indicate that Abu Zubaydah never provided the information for which the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were justified and approved: information on the next terrorist attack and operatives in the United States. Furthermore, as compared to the period prior to August 2002, the quantity and type of intelligence produced by Abu Zubaydah remained largely unchanged during and after the August 2002 use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. [NOTE 215] Nonetheless, CIA Headquarters informed the National Security Council that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques used against Abu Zubaydah were effective and were "producing meaningful results." [NOTE 216] A cable from DETENTION SITE GREEN, which CIA records indicate was authored by SWIGERT and DUNBAR, also viewed the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah as a success. The cable recommended that "the aggressive phase at [DETENTION SITE GREEN] should be used as a template for future interrogation of high value captives," [NOTE 217] not because the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques produced useful information, but rather because their use confirmed that Abu Zubaydah did not possess the intelligence that CIA Headquarters had assessed Abu Zubaydah to have. The cable from the detention site stated:
"Our goal was to reach the stagewhere we have broken any will or ability of subject to resist or deny providing us information (intelligence) to which he had access. We additionally sought to bring subject to the point that we confidently assess that he does not/not possess undisclosed threat information, or intelligence that could prevent a terrorist event." [NOTE 218]
The cable further recommended that psychologists—a likely reference to contractors SWIGERT and DUNBAR— "familiar with interrogation, exploitation and resistance to interrogation should shape compliance of high value captives prior to debriefing by substantive experts." [NOTE 219]

From Abu Zubaydah's capture on March 28, 2002, to his transfer to Department of Defense custody on September 5, 2006, information provided by Abu Zubaydah resulted in 766 disseminated intelligence reports. [NOTE 220] According to CIA documents, Abu Zubaydah provided information on "al-Qa'ida activities, plans, capabilities, and relationships," in addition to information on "its leadership structure, including personalities, decision-making processes, training, and tactics." [NOTE 221] As noted, this type of information was provided by Abu Zubaydah before, during, and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. At no time during or after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques did Abu Zubaydah provide information about operatives in, or future attacks against, the United States. [NOTE 222]

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  • To read the notes cited above, please consult the full summary of the committee study.
  • DETENTION SITE GREEN is generally thought to refer to a CIA "black site" in Thailand.
  • Hammond DUNBAR and Grayson SWIGGERT have been identified by the media as CIA contractors John "Bruce" Jessen and James Mitchell (respectively)