ABC News has an explosive interview with one of the men who interrogated al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah -- and he admits to waterboarding him. John Kiriakou says that he thinks waterboarding is torture, but that its use saved countless American lives and stopped perhaps dozens of attacks:
A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.
In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.
"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."
"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
Kiriakou now says he believes the technique qualifies as torture, but in the context of the moment, he believes he and his team did the right thing. He could not have lived with himself had Zubaydah not given them the information they needed to prevent the attacks -- and he doesn't think Zubaydah would have broken without the waterboard. The visit from Allah explanation gave Zubaydah post-event absolution for his betrayal -- Allah willed it, so it wasn't Zubaydah's fault -- but it wouldn't have happened at all had it not been for the procedure used by Kiriakou.
The reason it got used so infrequently, Kiriakou says, is because escalation of interrogations occurred very deliberately. Each escalation required approval from the deputy director of operations at the CIA and had to go through the entire chain of command to that level. Most suspects in the months after 9/11 broke through other means. Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, being in leadership positions, had prepared more for interrogations and needed more aggressive techniques.
Kiriakou also believes that the national dialogue on the technique has been good and necessary. The decision to use this technique should come as part of policy, not as a violation of it. Congress had attached language to the omnibus spending bill outlawing it for the CIA (it already is outlawed for the Department of Defense), but the revelation that Nancy Pelosi and other critics failed to object after being briefed on the use of the waterboard has slowed the push to forbid the procedure.
Bottom line: if we outlaw the procedure, it should not be with the understanding that someone can order its use and that Congress will forgive it later, depending on the circumstances. If those who propose that as a solution believe that certain circumstances warrant its use, then they should write laws that allow it -- and keep men like Kiriakou from having to determine whether to follow what amounts to an illegal order. If this Congress outlaws waterboarding, they will have the responsibility for the potential intel loss that it creates, and the damage that loss eventually does.