Interrogation Dissident Testifies On Methods A Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday with a witness who warned the Bush administration against harsh interrogation techniques. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan interrogated Abu Zubaydah. He called the harsh methods ineffective.
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Interrogation Dissident Testifies On Methods

Interrogation Dissident Testifies On Methods

Ari Shapiro Reports On 'All Things Considered'

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A Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday with a witness who warned the Bush administration against harsh interrogation techniques. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan interrogated Abu Zubaydah. He called the harsh methods ineffective.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Ineffective, slow, unreliable - that's a characterization of harsh interrogations by someone who took part in them. Today, a Senate committee heard from an FBI agent who interrogated the first high-value detainee caught after 9/11. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the agent said the push for abusive techniques came from private contractors, not from government employees.

ARI SHAPIRO: The way the hearing room was set up, it was clear this would not be a normal proceeding. One corner was curtained off. The hearing had five witnesses, but only four sat at the front table. When it came time for the fifth to testify, Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse said…

Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): I will take a moment now to recess very briefly so that the necessary security measures for Mr. Soufan can be put into place.

SHAPIRO: Ali Soufan was a terrorism expert and top interrogator at the FBI. He infiltrated al-Qaida and testified against terrorists in court. There are people who would like to kill him, so the curtains hid his face from news cameras.

Mr. ALI SOUFAN (FBI Agent): I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as enhanced interrogation techniques - a position shared by professional operatives including CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.

SHAPIRO: Abu Zubaydah was the first high-value detainee taken into U.S. custody after 9/11. Ali Soufan helped question him. Now, many people have described the debate over harsh interrogations as a split between the FBI and the CIA. Today, Soufan said that was not true, in his experience. He said the push for abusive techniques came from private contractors.

Mr. SOUFAN: The interrogation team was a combination between FBI and CIA. And all of us had the same opinion that contradicted with the contractor.

SHAPIRO: In fact, said Soufan…

Mr. SOUFAN: Actually, the chief psychologist of the CIA, forensic psychologist, objected to these techniques. And he even left the location before I did.

SHAPIRO: Soufan eventually left the prison, calling the contractors' methods borderline torture. In written testimony, Soufan described the contractors as having no experience in intelligence operations, investigations, terrorism or al-Qaida. And, he said, the contractors had no experience in the art of interview and interrogation.

A report from the Senate Armed Services Committee suggests the contractors were people who trained American service members to resist talking under torture. Soufan said Zubaydah gave important intelligence under traditional interrogation methods. Senator Whitehouse walks Soufan through the timeline.

Sen. WHITEHOUSE: You say, on the instructions of a contractor, harsh techniques were introduced, which did not produce results as Abu Zubaydah shut down and stopped talking. Correct?

Mr. SOUFAN: Correct, sir.

SHAPIRO: That contradicts a speech President Bush made in 2006.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures.

SHAPIRO: Senator Whitehouse asked Soufan…

Sen. WHITEHOUSE: Does that statement by the president accurately reflect the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah?

SHAPIRO: Soufan replied…

Mr. SOUFAN: The president - my own personal opinion here, based on my recollection, he was told, probably, half-truth.

Sen. WHITEHOUSE: And repeated a half-truth, obviously. His statement as presented does not conform with what you know to be the case from your experience on-hand.

Mr. SOUFAN: Yes, sir.

SHAPIRO: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham pointed out that since Soufan wasn't around for the harshest interrogations, he can't say whether they produced valuable information.

Mr. SOUFAN: The vice president suggesting that there was good information obtained. And I would like the committee to get that information. Let's have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently, they work.

SHAPIRO: Soufan replied, these techniques have survived because it's easier to hit somebody than outsmart them.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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Ex-FBI Interrogator Calls Harsh Tactics 'Ineffective'

Ari Shapiro Reports On 'All Things Considered'

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A former senior FBI agent involved in the interrogation of captured al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah told a Senate panel Wednesday that the use of harsh techniques to extract information was "slow, ineffective and unreliable."

Ali Soufan, speaking from behind a screen to protect his identity, testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee at the first hearing to look into four Bush-era memos released last month by the White House that detail the authorization of so-called enhanced interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Soufan told lawmakers that he and fellow agents went "by the book" and gained actionable intelligence from Zubaydah by standard "informed interrogation" methods. Later, when the CIA's privately contracted interrogators took over the questioning, using techniques such as waterboarding, or controlled drowning, Zubaydah "shut down" and stopped giving good information, Soufan said.

The controversy over the use of what some describe as torture has been fueled in recent weeks by the release of the four memos and a high-profile media blitz launched by former Vice President Cheney to defend the Bush administration's actions. It also came on the same day an Obama administration official said the White House is backing away from an earlier promise to release previously unseen photos showing abuse of terrorism suspects, fearing they could endanger U.S. troops.

Soufan said his experience led him to the conclusion "that these [harsh] techniques should not be used," describing them as "slow, ineffective and unreliable and as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida."

"Al-Qaida operatives are trained to resist torture," he testified. "That's why ... waterboarding itself had to be used 83 times [on Zubaydah]," he said, referring to information made known in a memo dated May 30, 2005. The memo also stated that Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in a single month.

The panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, challenged Soufan's testimony, saying the ex-FBI agent was not privy to all the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah.

Soufan responded that some Bush administration claims of success using harsh methods against Zubaydah were "half-truths."

Graham also suggested Wednesday's proceedings were a "political stunt" and cited Cheney's remarks that "good information" had been obtained from the extreme methods. "I would like the committee to get that information. Let's get both sides of the story here," Graham said.

Of the five witnesses who testified before the panel Wednesday, only one, Jeffrey Addicott of St. Mary's University School of Law's Center for Terrorism Law, defended the methods approved by the Bush White House.

"In my legal opinion, the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques did not constitute torture," Addicott said.

Former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow, who worked closely with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also spoke at the hearing. He reiterated his earlier charge that copies of a legal opinion he wrote in 2005 arguing against the methods were ordered "collected and destroyed" by the White House.

To those who defend such techniques, Zelikow told lawmakers: "If they are right, the laws must change and the country must be changed."

"I think they are wrong," he added.

Cheney said in an interview earlier this week on CBS' Face The Nation that President Obama's decision to discontinue enhanced interrogation "means in the future, we're not going to have the same safeguards we've had for the last eight years."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed Cheney's comments, saying Tuesday there has been "agreement across party lines that Guantanamo Bay has not made us a safer country."

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was a key figure in the internal debate in the Bush administration over the use of the techniques, declined to comment about the release of the memos or Cheney's comments.

"I stand by what I did in government service," he told NPR on Wednesday.

Gonzales stepped down as attorney general in September 2007 over his handling of FBI terrorism investigations and the alleged politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys.