John Kiriakou, Abu Zubaydah And The 83 Waterboardings

John Kiriakou was a CIA counterterrorism official involved in the initial capture of Abu Zubaydah in 2002. He was not involved in Abu Zubaydah’s torture. In 2007, he came forward to disclose that the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah for "probably 30, 35 seconds" and he "broke" afterward. He said from the start that he did not know that firsthand. We now know, though, that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. The New York Times — following on a great post of Laura Rozen‘s — has a story about the contradiction.

The CIA blames lazy reporting and the echo-chamberish amplification for the discrepancy. Possibly. I certainly messed the story up recently. For my part, consider this tiny portion of the Times piece:

 [Kiriakou] was not actually in the secret prison in Thailand where Mr. Zubaydah had been interrogated but in the C.I.A. headquarters in Northern Virginia. He learned about it only by reading accounts from the field.

That makes me wonder about the integrity of "accounts from the field." We know from George Tenet’s "guidelines" from January 28, 2003, that every time an "enhanced technique" is used, there has to be a record of it. But this is 2002. It’s possible that a) accounts of Abu Zubaydah’s waterboarding are contradictory or b) accounts are incomplete or c) accounts are incorrect. We have reason to suspect from Ali Soufan that the CIA is conflicted about torturing Abu Zubaydah and that his pre-torture interrogation worked. It’s at least possible, then, that someone could have written or otherwise informed Kiriakou that Abu Zubaydah "broke" after being subjected to the waterboard once.

The final possibility is gruesome — that both things are true. Abu Zubaydah broke, but they continued to waterboard him 82 times.  What would further declassifications show? How many times was Abu Zubaydah waterboarded before the CIA was convinced they’d gotten "everything" out of him? It’s implausible to believe Abu Zubaydah said nothing after the first waterboard session, or the fifth, or the tenth, or the twentieth, or the thirtieth or the eightieth.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman