Sunday, September 06, 2009

Ali Soufan goes nuclear on Cheney

Four months ago Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who extracted reams of actionable intelligence from Abu Zubaydah using rapport-based techniques before the CIA took over and commenced torturing him, broke a seven-year silence to assert that the CIA's torture regimen interrupted and undercut effective noncoercive interrogation and never yielded any actionable intelligence that could not have been gleaned without coercion.

Today, in a second Times op-ed, Soufan goes further, suggesting that the U.S. failed to capture top al Qaeda leadership because it turned to ineffective torture:

It is surprising, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that none of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is in our custody. One damaging consequence of the harsh interrogation program was that the expert interrogators [e.g., Soufan] whose skills were deemed unnecessary to the new methods were forced out.

Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
There's a fearful symmetry here: Cheney claims that torture prevented further terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Soufan suggests that torture prevented the capture of top Al Qaeda leadership.

This inflammatory claim follows a point-by-point demolition of the various claims made for torture-based interrogation: that it led to foiling a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building on the West Coast; that it led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; that torture induced KSM to give up new information about Al Qaeda's organizational structure. According to Soufan's parsing of the CIA inspector general's report of 2004 and the two CIA memos on intelligence gained from detainees, virtually all actionable intelligence cited by torture's defenders came from "pocket litter" and from captives' assumption that they were giving up information their questioners already had.

Soufan is plainly tormented by the conviction that he personally had what it took to get the highest-value information out of the top-level detainees, and that he and other informed and skilled interrogators were prevented from doing so by the thugs at the top who imposed the torture regime. Of course he can never prove what he might have accomplished -- just as torture's defenders can't prove that any info gained once the"program" commenced could not have been gained by other means. But Soufan does know a) what was gained in the interrogations he did conduct; what is false in most of the explicit claims about knowledge gained under torture; and c) a good deal about the psychology of the top detainees and the knowledge in their possession at the time of capture.

Philip Zelikow, who interviewed Soufan for the 9/11 Commission, says that he "seemed to us to be one of the more impressive intelligence agents -- from any agency -- that we encountered in our work." Soufan is a far more credible witness than Cheney and his henchmen.

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