In April 2002, as the terrorism suspect known as Abu Zubaida lay in a Bangkok hospital bed, top U.S. counterterrorism officials gathered at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for a series of meetings on an urgent problem: how to get him to talk.
Put him in a cell filled with cadavers, was one suggestion, according to a former U.S. official with knowledge of the brainstorming sessions. Surround him with naked women, was another. Jolt him with electric shocks to the teeth, was a third.
One man's certitude lanced through the debate, according to a participant in one of the meetings. James E. Mitchell, a retired clinical psychologist for the Air Force, had studied al-Qaeda resistance techniques.
"The thing that will make him talk," the participant recalled Mitchell saying, "is fear."
Now, as the Senate intelligence committee examines the CIA's interrogation program, investigators are focusing in part on Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen, former CIA contractors who helped design and oversee Abu Zubaida's interrogation. These men have been portrayed as eager proponents of coercion, but the former U.S. official, whose account was corroborated in part by Justice Department documents, said they also rejected orders from Langley to prolong the most severe pressure on the detainee. The former official's account, alongside the recollections of those familiar with events at the CIA's secret prison in Thailand, yields a more nuanced understanding of their role than has previously been available.
Interviews with nearly two dozen current and former U.S. officials also provide new evidence that the imposition of harsh techniques provoked dissension among the officials charged with questioning Abu Zubaida, from the time of his capture through the period when the most grueling torments were applied.
In August 2002, as the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks approached, officials at CIA headquarters became increasingly concerned that they were not learning enough from their detainee in Thailand. When the interrogators concluded that Abu Zubaida had no more to tell, Langley scolded them: "You've lost your spine." If Mitchell and his team eased up and then al-Qaeda attacked the United States again, agency managers warned, "it would be on the team's back," recalled the former U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.
A Breakthrough in Bangkok
In early April 2002, some officials at the CIA's Counterterrorist Center were not convinced that the man in U.S. custody was indeed Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, Abu Zubaida's given name. The Saudi-born Palestinian, then 29, had been sought by the FBI on suspicion that he played a role in a foiled 1999 plan to attack Los Angeles International Airport and tourist destinations in Jordan.
The detainee had been captured in Pakistan in late March 2002 after a firefight that left him wounded in the thigh, groin and stomach. After being treated in Pakistan, he was flown to Thailand for interrogation.
The CIA dispatched FBI agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin for an initial look. The two men arrived a few hours before the wounded man was transferred to a hastily assembled CIA interrogation facility near one of Bangkok's airports.
Details of their experience and that of the CIA officials who followed them to Thailand with Mitchell were gleaned from public testimony, official documents and interviews with current and former intelligence and law-enforcement officials with access to confidential files. Through the FBI, Gaudin declined to comment for this article, and Soufan referred reporters to his congressional testimony and other public statements.
On the agents' first night in Thailand, Abu Zubaida went into septic shock because of his wounds and was rushed to a local hospital. Gaudin and Soufan dabbed his lips with ice, told him to ask God for strength and cleaned him up after he soiled himself, according to official documents and interviews.
At his bedside, Gaudin asked Soufan to show Abu Zubaida a photograph of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, an Egyptian suspect in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. The two agents had photos of terrorism suspects on a handheld computer, and Gaudin accidentally displayed the wrong photo.
Abu Zubaida said: "This is Mukhtar. This is the mastermind of 9/11."
The agents did not know that Mukhtar, a name that had surfaced in some raw intelligence and an Osama bin Laden video, was a nickname for Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Nor did they know that Mohammed was an al-Qaeda member.
Abu Zubaida had given the agents the first positive link to the man who would later be charged as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks.
---With the FBI's breakthrough, the CIA recognized that the captured man was indeed Abu Zubaida and began assembling a team to send to Thailand. Agency officials had no firm notion of what a post-Sept. 11 interrogation of a terrorism suspect should look like.
Mitchell boarded a CIA plane for Bangkok with R. Scott Shumate, a CIA psychologist; two agency officers who worked undercover; and a small team of analysts and support staff, including security personnel to control Abu Zubaida.
Among those on the plane was an agency expert on interrogation and debriefing, an officer who was part of a training program intended to help the agency detect double agents and assess recruits for foreign espionage. The trainers taught strategies for extracting sensitive information but prohibited coercive tactics.
When Mitchell and the CIA team arrived in Thailand, Abu Zubaida was still in the hospital. The two FBI agents, Soufan and Gaudin, met the CIA officers at a nearby hotel for a debriefing.
Although senior CIA officials in Bangkok were nominally in charge, they deferred to Mitchell, according to several sources familiar with events at the prison
In the initial stages, Abu Zubaida was stripped of his clothes while CIA officers took turns at low-intensity questioning. Later, Mitchell added sleep deprivation and a constant bombardment of loud music, including tracks by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After each escalation, he would dispatch an interrogator into Abu Zubaida's cell to issue a single demand: "Tell me what I want to know."
Mitchell sometimes spoke directly to the prisoner, but unlike the CIA officers, he wore a mask, according to two sources familiar with the events in Thailand.
In Bangkok, word circulated among those at the secret site that the tactics had been approved "downtown" -- agency jargon for the White House.
Soufan testified to Congress in May that Abu Zubaida went silent once Mitchell took charge. Within days of the CIA team's arrival, the cables between Bangkok and Langley became devoid of new revelations. 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.
The CIA team lowered the temperature in Abu Zubaida's cell until the detainee turned blue. The FBI turned it back up, setting off a clash over tactics.---
At the secret prison, dissent over Mitchell's methods peaked. First Shumate left, followed by Soufan. At the site, Shumate had expressed concerns about sleep deprivation, and back in Langley he complained again about Mitchell's tactics, according to the former U.S. official and another source familiar with events in Thailand.
Then one of the CIA debriefers left. In early June, Gaudin flew to Washington for a meeting on what was happening in Thailand, and the FBI did not allow him to return.
Jessen, newly retired from the military, arrived in Thailand that month. Mitchell and his partner continued to ratchet up the pressure on Abu Zubaida, although Bush administration lawyers had not yet authorized the CIA's harshest interrogation measures. That came verbally in late July and then in writing on Aug. 1, paving the way to new torments.
Interrogators wrapped a towel around Abu Zubaida's neck and slammed him into a plywood wall mounted in his cell. He was slapped in the face. He was placed in a coffin-like wooden box in which he was forced to crouch, with no light and a restricted air supply, he later told delegates from the Red Cross.
Finally, he was waterboarded.
Abu Zubaida told the Red Cross that a black cloth was placed over his face and that interrogators used a plastic bottle to pour water on the fabric, creating the sensation that he was drowning.
The former U.S. official said that waterboarding forced Abu Zubaida to reveal information that led to the Sept. 11, 2002, capture of Ramzi Binalshibh, the key liaison between the Hamburg cell led by Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and al-Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan.
But others contend that Binalshibh's arrest was the result of several pieces of intelligence, including the successful interrogation by the FBI of a suspect held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan who had been in contact via satellite phone with Binalshibh, as well as information gleaned from an interview Binalshibh gave to the television network al-Jazeera.
Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times over four or five days, and Mitchell and Jessen concluded that the prisoner was broken, the former U.S. official said. "They became convinced that he was cooperating. There was unanimity within the team."
The two men threatened to quit if the waterboarding continued and insisted that officials from Langley come to Thailand to watch the procedure, the former official said.
After a CIA delegation arrived, Abu Zubaida was strapped down one more time. As water poured over his cloth-covered mouth, he gasped for breath. "They all watched, and then they all agreed to stop," the former official said.
A 2005 Justice Department memo released this year confirmed the visit. "These officials," the memo said, "reported that enhanced techniques were no longer needed."
So, basically, General Anupong lied to the Thai public about the secret prison and got away with it. I knew he was lying, but the Thai media let him get away with his lie.
I have done a lot of research on this topic. I've just been neglectful and lazy about putting it all together.
General Surayud was the Army Commander back then. Do you think the Thai media is going to ask him any questions about this? Or the Thai intelligence agencies?
By the way, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Other Al Qaeda terrorists were captured in Thailand and/or detained and probably tortured.
Hambali being the most famous one. Kavi broke the story for The Nation. If you go back to The Nation's coverage of the events after Hambali was captured, Kavi knew Hambali was being detained and tortured, because he was reporting on the interrogations.
Khalid Sheik Mohamed was brought to Thailand and tortured.
Here is a Time magazine article from 2003 that explains their exploits.
These were not good guys.
Regardless, that is no reason for the Thai military and for Kavi to cover the story up.
General Anupong quote in the Bangkok Post:
Army chief Anupong Paojinda insists the United States has no secret jail in Thailand for captured terror suspects.
"I insist there's no such place in the army. I guarantee a million per cent with my position as guarantee," Gen Anupong said.
The army chief said there were no such secret places in Udon Thani.
" You can go everywhere, every district, every tambon in the province [to check]," he said.
Asked why the information the US has a secret jail in Thailand had been confirmed in the US, Gen Anupong declined to comment.
Do you think anybody in the Thai media will demand General Anupong's resignation for lying?
2Bangkok has a really good link list of all the Thailand related secret prison articles.