RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Today marks 19 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Ali Soufan remembers the days and weeks that followed very clearly. He is a former FBI agent who interrogated many al-Qaida suspects.
ALI SOUFAN: For me, it has the feeling that it just happened yesterday.
MARTIN: This week, Soufan released a new version of his book, "The Black Banners." The book includes details of interrogations that were previously censored by the U.S. government. He shared all this and more with NPR's Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Ali Soufan has long argued that he got far more information out of al-Qaida suspects by building rapport than the CIA got with waterboarding.
SOUFAN: A lot of people in the agency who were part of that failed program were misleading the American public about the effectiveness of torture.
MYRE: The FBI approved Soufan's manuscript for his 2011 book, "The Black Banners," but the CIA then intervened and redacted large parts related to the agency's harsh interrogations. The CIA has now dropped its objections. Soufan is telling a more detailed story in the new uncensored version, like the case of Abu Zubaydah who was badly injured in a shootout and captured in Pakistan six months after the September 11 attacks.
SOUFAN: He was the very first high-value detainee arrested by the United States government after 9/11.
MYRE: Despite his condition, Abu Zubaydah was willing to talk with Soufan, a native Arabic speaker born in Lebanon. As they spoke over several days, Abu Zubaydah even revealed a critical piece of information. He identified Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the man who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.
SOUFAN: It was a shocking moment because we did not even know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a member of al-Qaida. And now there's Abu Zubaydah telling us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is actually the mastermind of 9/11.
MYRE: But when CIA interrogators arrived, they stripped Abu Zubaydah, bombarded him with loud music and deprived him of sleep. Cooperation largely ceased. Abu Zubaydah was ultimately waterboarded 83 times. The CIA declined to comment for this story. The agency has previously acknowledged what it calls mistakes and shortcomings in its interrogation program, but it has never offered a full public accounting. President Obama formally ended the program. That move was further strengthened by a 2015 law sponsored by the late Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a POW in Vietnam.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN MCCAIN: I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence.
MYRE: But nearly two decades after 9/11, Soufan says there's still unfinished business, like the legal fate of the 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, most still awaiting trial.
SOUFAN: Guantanamo is just a manifestation of the failure of the torture program. You have mass murderers down there who admitted to kill more than 3,000 Americans. And we cannot prosecute them. They are just sitting there.
MYRE: Al-Qaida and ISIS have both been weakened, but Soufan says they remain a threat. And there's one additional danger he's monitoring - the al-Qaida threat against Ali Soufan. U.S. officials recently informed Soufan that the terrorist group was plotting to kill him. His company, The Soufan Group, launched its own investigation and found online threats.
SOUFAN: We started to see a major misinformation and intimidation campaign. We're able to connect it to Saudi Arabia.
MYRE: The case, he says, is still under investigation. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.
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