Saturday, April 25, 2009

Needed on the Torture Issue:

Real World Facts and Real World Understanding

Back in December 2007, when I wrote "Torture is Wrong, Illegal and It Doesn't Work", I mentioned that "the FBI agent who reportedly had the best chance of foiling the 9/11 plot, Ali Soufan, the only Arabic-speaking agent in New York and one of only eight in the country, and who has since resigned from the FBI, could and should tell people the truth of how the CIA's tactics were counterproductive."

Well, guess what?! He finally did so yesterday!!!

"My Tortured Decision" is how former FBI Agent Soufan titled his New York Times op-ed, speaking out to specifically refute a number of Dick Cheney's lies about how torture "worked". The truth, according to Soufan, is quite the opposite:
My Tortured Decision
By Ali Soufan
FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn't been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him 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 Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn't, or couldn't have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions -- all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh's capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don't add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

It was the right decision to release these memos, as we need the truth to come out. This should not be a partisan matter, because it is in our national security interest to regain our position as the world's foremost defenders of human rights. Just as important, releasing these memos enables us to begin the tricky process of finally bringing these terrorists to justice.

The debate after the release of these memos has centered on whether C.I.A. officials should be prosecuted for their role in harsh interrogation techniques. That would be a mistake. Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security.

Fortunately for me, after I objected to the enhanced techniques, the message came through from Pat D'Amuro, an F.B.I. assistant director, that "we don't do that," and I was pulled out of the interrogations by the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller (this was documented in the report released last year by the Justice Department's inspector general).

My C.I.A. colleagues who balked at the techniques, on the other hand, were instructed to continue. (It's worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.)

As we move forward, it's important to not allow the torture issue to harm the reputation, and thus the effectiveness, of the C.I.A. The agency is essential to our national security. We must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated. We're making a good start: President Obama has limited interrogation techniques to the guidelines set in the Army Field Manual, and Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director, says he has banned the use of contractors and secret overseas prisons for terrorism suspects (the so-called black sites). Just as important, we need to ensure that no new mistakes are made in the process of moving forward -- a real danger right now.
Former Agent Soufan is to be applauded for speaking out after seven years, something even FBI Director Mueller has not really found the courage to do (although Mueller was forced recently to truthfully admit that no attack on America has been disrupted as a result of intelligence obtained through "enhanced techniques").


  1. Thanks, Agent Rowley, for this incredible - er - credible content!

  2. THANKS SO MUCH!! We are trying to compile a list of all the “Ali Soufans” who have thus far spoken out. Here’s another extremely credible FBI Supervisor Jack Cloonan doing so: "FPTV: How to Break a Terrorist" ( but I need help finding all the others. Our Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is trying to come up with a comprehensive list at this point of all of the actual, real intelligence experts who have thus far refuted the armchair Jack Bauer aficionados like Cheney, Hayden and others who have no idea what they're talking about. The debate that pits ethics and law against efficacy is absolutely FALSE! These are not in tension but actually they converge. Those with real experience in the real world know that actionable intelligence is not gained through torture or watching "24" re-runs. So if anyone can help or has a list of all the "Ali Soufans" who have thus far gone on record with the truth, please forward them to me ASAP.

  3. This is something that might just finally pull us together to demand investigations, indictments and trials for the anyone pushing for torture and finding ways to make it "legal."

  4. I'm reading about the number of people who tried to warn VP Cheney, his underling Donald Feith and other that what they were doing was probably was illegal and probably wouldn't yield results. Nonetheless, Cheney and his other arrogant, compliant, "boys," especially lawyers, just hid these complaints and reports and did what they wanted to do anyway.

    I know that the Obama administration wants to move forward and wants to reassure the CIA that they and their work will not be compromised, but the information needs to be revealed and the people who provided the legal rationalizing this behavior should be prosecuted.

    Thank you, Ms. Rowley; and I hope you run for office again.

  5. It appears, unfortunately, that a lot of Dems had been briefed on these techniques as well. Briefed, with an extreme paucity of protestations. What did Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it?

  6. This is not an issue for the democrats Will. This is an issue of a Republican administration that ran rough shod over the rights of all peoples, including Americans. There is no point in hunting witches, especially since the Republicans provided information much like the inquisitions, so there is a serious credibility problem.

    As to the torture, well I am conflicted but suffer no illusions. The fact remains that if the terrorists attack again, and they will, the families of the victims will immediately dismiss their wide eyed liberalism, as will most of the country and demand answers. I can promise they won't be squeamish about putting this worm on the hook. Torture, if so defined, is as much about revenge as it is about information.

  7. Bush clearly did these things, yes (I'm 100% against torture, btw). But if the Dems had knowledge and didn't speak out at the time, then, yeah, you clearly have to look at their motive/culpability, too.

  8. seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.)Agent Rowley, were these contractors freelance types working on contract or were they from Bush and Cheney's corporate mercenary friends like Blackwater? I hope that is not a stupid question.

  9. Thank you, Coleen Rowley, and your group for what you have revealed. What bothers me most, regardless if the torturers were doing their work on demand, what they did defines each of them as humans.

    I, as an individual, and I would hope that my nation as well, would rather die by evil hands than include ourselves among their numbers.

    I feel great pity for those of you who did take part and now regret what you did. But there is no way you can expunge it from your record or your memory.

  10. Condoleeza Rice was just asked the question if she thought waterboarding was torture.

    In essence, she said that if the president approved it, it's not tortureCould someone tell her to shut up, that when in a hole, to stop digging!

  11. Meant to direct you to the original post here:
    marjorie cohn