By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Senior intelligence officials yesterday acknowledged that two al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had been questioned about alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq when the two men underwent CIA interrogation in 2002 and 2003. But the officials denied that the questioning on Iraq had included waterboarding.
"The two top priorities driving so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were information on the locations of al-Qaeda leadership and plots against the United States," one intelligence official said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly. "Questions were asked about Iraq, but the notion that waterboarding was used to extract from either an admission that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a relationship is false, period," he added.
Recent media accounts have reported allegations that the waterboardings of Mohammed and Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, were ordered by Bush administration officials seeking to find evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, which the officials sought as a justification for military action against Iraq.
The notion of such a link had emerged in a report from Czech intelligence, repeated publicly by then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney, that prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the leader of the plot had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. CIA officials later decided the Czech report was not supported by evidence.
The Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo Web sites yesterday focused new attention on portions of a 2004 Senate report that said Abu Zubaida and Mohammed had been questioned about Iraq.
The CIA told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2004 that Abu Zubaida said he was "not aware of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," but that he had heard some network members had good contacts with Iraqis. He named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who became leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as having relationships with Iraqi intelligence. But Abu Zubaida added that he believed it was "extremely unlikely" that Osama bin Laden would ally himself with Iraq.
The Senate committee's report said the CIA had noted that "questions regarding al-Qaeda's ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented" to Mohammed, and that Mohammed, the planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he was "unaware of any collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Hussein's government.