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Harsh Tactics Readied Before Their Approval
By January 2002, James Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at the agency, drafted a paper on "al-Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance." Both later consulted for the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, and conducted training courses on how to interrogate high-level captives, the report said.
A memo by Jessen proposed an interrogation program that closely resembled the ones adopted by the CIA and the Defense Department. It recommended the creation of an "exploitation facility" that would be off limits to outside observers, including journalists and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Inside, a team would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence and waterboarding to apply physical and psychological pressure on detainees.
Agency officials also suggested other controversial tactics that were later reported to have been used in interrogation programs, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs to induce fear, the report said.
The school instructors conducted a training seminar for intelligence officials in early July 2002. At the seminar, two "agency legal personnel" told the group that harsh measures were already deemed acceptable, even though Justice Department approval was still a month away.
"They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the 'water board,' " the lawyers were quoted as saying at the seminar. Waterboarding might also be permitted, but the interrogators "would need prior approval," the report said.
The Senate report confirms participation by SERE officials in the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, an al-Qaeda associate who was the first high-level CIA detainee and the first to be subjected to waterboarding.
"At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high level al Qaeda operative," according to the Senate report. A June 20, 2002, memo described the assistance as "training" and noted that the JPRA psychologist suggested "exploitation strategies to [redacted] officer."
Jessen, who was interviewed by Senate committee staff members in November 2007, confirmed that such a meeting took place. Mitchell, the former Air Force psychologist, was present at Abu Zubaida's interrogation and was said to have played a key role in what the CIA called an "increased pressure phase," according to former intelligence and law enforcement officials.
The report also repeats, but does not confirm, long-held suspicions that the interrogation of Abu Zubaida became coercive before the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo on Aug. 1, 2002, sanctioning the use of 10 escalating techniques, culminating in waterboarding.
Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Saudi-born Palestinian Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand. To justify the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on him, the Aug. 1 memo invoked a ticking-bomb scenario.
The CIA told the Justice Department that there was a "level of chatter" equal to the period before Sept. 11, 2001, and said that Abu Zubaida was withholding information regarding "terrorist networks in the United States" and "plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas," according to the memo.
John A. Rizzo, a CIA lawyer, asked the Justice Department whether the use of additional interrogation techniques would violate the prohibition against torture.
Yet, the Senate report notes, weeks before the Justice Department approved harsh interrogation for Abu Zubaida, an FBI agent described the CIA's handling of the terrorism suspect as "borderline torture."
A second FBI agent present at Abu Zubaida's interrogation said he had no "moral objection" to the techniques and noted that he had "undergone comparable harsh interrogation as part of [SERE] training." Both agents had left the CIA site by early June 2002. No substantive plots were disrupted as a result of information provided during Abu Zubaida's interrogation, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.
Brent Mickum, one of Abu Zubaida's attorneys in a habeas corpus proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington, said he believes the Justice Department's Aug. 1, 2002, memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used.
"If torture occurred before the memo was written, it's not worth the paper it's written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal," Mickum said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.