The Agent In Place: Torture Didn't Work

The Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from former lead FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan. Soufan calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" "ineffective, slow, unreliable" and therefore harmful, "aside from the important considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our case and reputation." Soufan describes the successful non-coercive interrogation of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Jandal, who "identified many terrorists who we later successfully apprehended." Soufan describes an interrogation method he calls the "Informed Interrogation Approach," which seeks to capitalize on the natural fear that a detainee feels as a result of his custody by adopting a posture of openness and respect.  

Soufan presents an interesting challenge to the Ticking Time Bomb Scenario. Noting that it took 83 waterboardings to force Khalid Shake Mohammed to cough up information, he describes that technique as "slow" and therefore unreliable when information needs to be obtained quickly.  Soufan also provides an unclassified chronology of the joint FBI-CIA efforts to question Abu Zubaydah. He says that his early efforts to coax information out of the Al Qaeda operate were successful, and CIA director George Tenet prepared a congratulatory telegram. As soon as Tenet learned that FBI agents -- not his CIA team -- had taken the lead role in the interrogation, he withdrew the congratulations and sent a team from the CIA's counterterrorism center to the interrogation site. That team was assisted by a contractor who "instructed" the new CIA operatives in tougher interrogation techniques. According to Soufan, the new team began to use the EITs. Zubaydah stopped cooperating. Soon, the FBI was brought back in. Zubaydah opened up like a book.  

There's plenty of turf defense here, including a paean to FBI director Robert Mueller, but it's hard to see where Soufan goes off the rails. He's correct in testifying that Zubaydah began to cooperate with authorities as soon as he was questioned, not after he was tortured. He claims that KSM's involvement in 9/11 was discovered by agents well before waterboarding was informally authorized in the summer of 2002. 


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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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