Paging Michael Mukasey. The leader of the CIA interrogation team that handled Abu Zubaydah, head of al-Qaeda's military committee, says he had Abu Zubaydah waterboarded -- which was torture, and, he says, necessary to prevent "maybe dozens of attacks." ABC has the bombshell interview
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 is now the first official to acknowledge the use of waterboarding
on any detainee in CIA custody. But his account of Abu Zubaydah's intelligence value contradicts Ron Suskind's 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine
, which reported that Abu Zubaydah was borderline retarded and didn't have more than minor, tactical information about al-Qaeda. Needless to say, Kiriakou is also the first official to say unequivocally that Abu Zubaydah or any other detainee was tortured.
That's not all. First, Kiriakou's televised confession undermines CIA Director Michael Hayden's stated rationale for the destruction of interrogation videos. Hayden has said the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of interrogators from al-Qaeda reprisal. Clearly Kiriakou doesn't feel that his life is in danger.
Second, Kiriakou also doesn't think that the torture was right, even if he says it had some intelligence value. It can't possibly be an easy thing for him to admit, and he has conflicting feelings about what he did.
Now retired, Kiriakou says he has come to believe that waterboarding is torture.
"We're Americans, and we're better than this. And we shouldn't be doing this kinda thing," he said.
But he says the urgency in the wake of 9/ll led to a desire to do everything possible to get actionable intelligence.
"What happens if we don't waterboard a person, and we don't get that nugget of information, and there's an attack," Kiriakou said. "I would have trouble forgiving myself."
For decades, psychiatrists have acknowledged the toll that torturing also takes on the torturer.