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FBI, CIA Debate Significance of Terror Suspect
Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman, who led an examination of documents after Abu Zubaida's capture in early 2002 and worked on the case, said the CIA's harsh tactics cast doubt on the credibility of Abu Zubaida's information.
"I don't have confidence in anything he says, because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted," Coleman said, referring to the harsh measures. "He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn't believe him. The problem is they didn't realize he didn't know all that much."
Abu Zubaida's journey through the U.S. government's secret prison system began on March 28, 2002, when U.S. and Pakistani authorities conducted a series of night raids at 14 suspected terrorist safe houses aimed at capturing him. The CIA designed the operation with Pakistan's intelligence service and special forces police, and the FBI had agents at each location to take custody of any physical evidence, officials said.
Documents, cellphones and computers were seized at multiple sites. After a gunfight in a second-floor apartment in Faisalabad, Abu Zubaida was shot three times while attempting to leap from the roof of one apartment to another. Still unidentified, he was placed in the back of a pickup truck and taken to a local hospital. An FBI agent in the truck was the first to suggest he might be Abu Zubaida.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials had long sought Abu Zubaida, whom Ahmed Ressam -- a key organizer of the failed attempt to bomb the Los Angeles airport in 1999 -- had named as a fellow plotter. The 9/11 Commission described Abu Zubaida as a "longtime ally of bin Laden" who helped run the Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Once Abu Zubaida's identity was confirmed, the CIA station chief ordered him to be watched around the clock while U.S. officials made plans for intensive questioning at a secret site elsewhere, several officials said. He was flown out of Pakistan after three days.
In his book, "At the Center of the Storm: My Years in the CIA," Tenet wrote that a trauma physician from Johns Hopkins Medical Center was flown to Pakistan to help keep Abu Zubaida alive during his transfer to the new interrogation site. "Not that we had any sympathy for Zubaydah; we just didn't want him dying before we could learn what he might have to tell us about plans for future attacks," Tenet said.
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Abu Zubaida's captors first spoke to him in Arabic, but he began responding only when they addressed him in English, Kiriakou recalled. Abu Zubaida explained that he would not talk to infidels in what he said was "God's language," Kiriakou said.
During his first month of captivity, Abu Zubaida described an al-Qaeda associate whose physical description matched that of Padilla, leading to Padilla's arrest at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in May 2002. A former CIA officer said in an interview that Abu Zubaida's "disclosure of Padilla was accidental." The officer added that Abu Zubaida "was talking about minor things and provided a small amount of information and a description of a person, just enough to identify him because he had just visited the U.S. Embassy" in Pakistan.
Other officials, including Bush, have said that during those early weeks -- before the interrogation turned harsh -- Abu Zubaida confirmed that Mohammed's role as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.