On Friday, the Justice Department released reams of newly declassified documents on the CIA interrogation program. Among the documents is a revised, October 2009 version of the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s involvement in detainee interrogations.
This report proves, once and for all, that FBI interrogator Ali Soufan lied about his role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.
Soufan has become the hero of the left for his public assault on the CIA interrogation program. Critics cite him as proof that we could have gotten the same information from al-Qaeda terrorists without resorting to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
Exhibit A in their case is the claim that Soufan and a fellow FBI interrogator (known by the alias “Agent Gibson”) used traditional FBI “rapport building” techniques to get information that led to the arrest of al Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla, as he arrived in the United States on a mission from Khalid Shiehk Mohammed to blow up apartment buildings using natural gas.
As Soufan put it in a New York Times op-ed in April 2009:
Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned [Zubaydah] from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence. We discovered, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla…” (emphasis added).
As I noted in a post in July, Soufan’s story began falling apart earlier this year, when a Washington Post story showed that the information on Padilla was obtained only after enhanced interrogation techniques had begun. The Post reported that there had been a struggle over Zubaydah’s interrogation:
Agency officials decided to let the FBI back into the interrogations, but on the condition that forced nudity and sleep deprivation be allowed to continue. . . . Under FBI questioning, Abu Zubaydah indentified an operative he knew as Abdullah al-Mujahir, the alias, he said, of an American citizen with a Latino name. An investigation involving multiple agencies identified the suspect as Jose Padilla.
It turns out this is wrong. The information on Padilla was not obtained “under FBI questioning.” According to the Justice Department IG’s report, it was the CIA – not Soufan – that got the information on Padilla from Abu Zubaydah.
And the IG’s source is Soufan’s own partner, Agent Gibson.
Gibson continued to participate in Zubaydah’s questioning once the CIA took over, and according to the IG “CIA personnel assured him that the procedures being used on Zubaydah had been approved ‘at the highest levels’ and that Gibson would not get in any trouble.”
The IG report then declares that “Gibson stated that during the CIA interrogations Zubaydah ‘gave up’ Jose Padilla and indentified several targets for future al-Qaeda attacks, including the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty” (emphasis added).
In other words, Soufan’s claims that a) he got the information on Jose Padilla, and b) he did so before enhanced interrogation techniques were applied, are both lies.
As for the techniques the CIA used to get the information, Soufan’s partner, Agent Gibson, told the IG that he “did not have a ‘moral objection’ to being present for the CIA techniques because the CIA was acting professionally and Gibson himself had undergone comparable harsh interrogation techniques as part of U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training.”
While working on my forthcoming book on the CIA interrogation program, I made repeated requests to Soufan for an interview to explain these discrepancies. He refused. Now we know why.
As they say at the Justice Department: Case closed.
– Marc Thiessen is at work on a book on the CIA interrogation program, which will be published by Regnery in January 2010.