The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has launched an investigation into Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value” detainee captured in March 2002 that the Bush administration wrongly claimed was one of the planners of 9/11 and a top al-Qaeda operative, according to several Capitol Hill sources.
The investigation of Zubaydah, who was tortured at a secret black site prison in Thailand, will be conducted alongside the committee’s ongoing probe of the Bush administration’s interrogation and detention policies. Zubdaydah has been detained at Guantanamo since 2006.
The panel will scrutinize thousands of pages of highly classified documents related to Zubaydah’s detention and torture to determine, among other things, whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he was subjected to was accurately reflected in CIA cable traffic sent back to Langley, whether he ever provided actionable intelligence to his torturers, and how the CIA and other government agencies came to rely on flawed intelligence that led the Bush administration to classify him as the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and its first high-value detainee, Hill sources said.
As previously reported by Truthout, in his habeas corpus case, the Justice Department does not rely upon any statements Zubaydah made to his torturers after he was captured in Pakistan in March 2002 nor does the agency cite Bush-era claims about Zubaydah to justify why he should continue to be detained.
Zubaydah’s attorney, Brent Mickum, said in an interview that he briefed the Intelligence Committee last year about his client.
“It was a very partisan group,” Mickum said about the briefing. “Republicans had their agenda and they were not very interested in hearing the facts of the case. I told them what my views were on the case. I’m delighted [the committee] has decided to take a hard look at the case now.”
The committee also intends to probe the torture and detention policies of other high-value detainees. The Hill sources said they did not know the identity of those detainees. The committee is expected to finish its investigation later this summer and may issue a declassified report on its findings.
Second Taping System
Meanwhile, highly placed intelligence sources directly knowledgeable about Zubaydah’s torture said some of the interrogation sessions captured on at least 90 videotapes between April and August 2002 showed Zubaydah being subjected to torture methods not approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).
Specifically, these sources said, Zubaydah was subjected to repeated sessions of “water dousing,” a method that at the time interrogators used it on Zubaydah was described as spraying him with extremely cold water from a hose while he was naked and shackled by chains attached to a ceiling in the cell he was kept in at the black site prison.
The sources requested anonymity in order to discuss issues related to Zubaydah’s torture that remain classified.
The OLC did not approve the use of water dousing as an interrogation technique until August 2004. Use of the method is believed to have played a part in the November 2002 death of Gul Rahman, a detainee who was held at an Afghanistan prison known as The Salt Pit and died of hypothermia hours after being doused with water and left in a cold prison cell.
Other videotapes showed Zubaydah being subjected to extended hours of sleep deprivation before the interrogation method was approved by OLC, which one current and three former CIA officials said was part of a larger experiment to determine how long a detainee could endure the technique.
In a blog post Friday, Marcy Wheeler reported that newly released documents related to the destruction of the torture tapes “provides more background on how Abu Zubaydah got subjected to extended sleep deprivation long before it was approved.”
“After consulting with the [National Security Council] and [Department of Justice], [the counterterrorism center] [redacted] originally approved 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation,” according to a passage in the documents Wheeler highlighted. The documents were turned over to the ACLU n response to a Freedom of Information Act request
“In April 2002 [the counterterrorism center] [redacted] learned that due to a misunderstanding, that time frame had been exceeded…However, [the counterterrorism center] [redacted] advised that since the process did not have adverse medical effects or result in hallucinations (thereby disrupting profoundly Abu Zubaydah’s senses or personality) it was within legal parameters.”
As Truthout previously reported, intelligence sources said Zubaydah was sleep deprived for more than two weeks. Contractors hired by the CIA studied how he responded psychologically and physically to being kept awake for that amount of time. By looking at videotapes, they concluded that after the 11th consecutive day of being kept awake Zubaydah started to “severely break down.” So, the August 2002 torture memo concluded that 11 days of sleep deprivation was legal and did not meet the definition of torture.
The videotapes of Zubaydah’s interrogation sessions were destroyed against the advice of Bush administration and senior CIA officials, according to the documents, and are now the subject of a criminal inquiry lead by Special Prosecutor John Durham.
But five intelligence sources said in interviews conducted over the past month that they were aware of a second taping system that was set up at the black site prison in Thaliand—possibly one they said that was installed by an outside contractor—which captured Zubaydah’s torture sessions that were stored on computers and separate hard drives.
These sources noted that a similar taping system was also set up at other black site prison facilities and at a secret site at Guantanamo about a year later where interrogations of other high-value prisoners were also recorded.
A CIA spokesman did not return calls for comment about the veracity of the claims that another taping system existed at the time Zubaydah was tortured.
However, the documents released by the CIA Friday, requested “instructions” from agency officials about the “disposition of hard drives and magnetic media” related to the torture sessions.
It was through this second taping system, the intelligence sources allege, that CIA interrogators collected “data” about Zubaydah, specifically, how much mental and physical pain he could endure after each torture session he was subjected to that took place prior to the issuance of OLC legal memos in August 2002.
The data collected from Zubaydah’s torture and the torture of other high-value detainees, these sources asserted, was used to not only assist OLC attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee write an August 2002 torture memo, but was also used by former OLC head Steven Bradbury to assist him in writing a separate 2005 “combined techniques” torture memo.
A former National Security official previously told Truthout that Zubaydah “was an experiment. A guinea pig.”
On Friday, the former official said it became clear to some of the interrogators in Thailand that by June 2002, Zubaydah was not the high-value detainee the Bush administration held him out to be.
CIA contractors, however, pressed officials at the agency’s headquarters in Langley to allow them to continue subjecting Zubaydah to torture, the former NSC official claimed, because of the valuable information contractors had gained about specific interrogation techniques.