Monday night ABC aired an interview with former CIA case officer John Kiriakou who was personally involved in the interrogation of al Qaeda's Abu Zubaydah. He details the interrogation process, including waterboarding. I'm told by a senior member of the Intelligence Community that this is the best information to date on the current state of Agency interrogation techniques and it is highly accurate.
Particularly fascinating was the discussion of email between the interrogators in the black site and CIA headquarters requesting permission simply to slap the terrorist:
"It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, 'Well, I'm gonna slap him.' Or, 'I'm going to shake him.' Or, 'I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.'
"Each one of these steps, even though they're minor steps, like the intention shake, or the open-handed belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations," Kiriakou told ABC News.
"The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific," he said. "And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard. So it was extremely deliberate."
Kiriakou believed that the closed circuit camera were real-time for others to watch the progress of the interrogation; he didn't realize they were being taped for quality control. While some companies might video tape their employees to make sure they're not dozing off on the job, the Agency was spying on its own to make sure its officers didn't double gut punch terrorists without Headquarter's lawyers signing off.
If you'd like to waterboard, press or say 'one'...
Given that the destruction of the monitoring tapes has caused such embarrassment for the Agency, I'm sure some CIA old-timers are wondering if all the political correctness has done anything other than hamstring the Agency and its officers with red tape.
Although he wasn't trained in waterboarding, Kiriakou was present when it was used and he experienced the technique firsthand in training. He discusses it in detail. What he describes as the way the Agency controls and administers waterboarding, it is virtually impossible to die because you can always give up and pretty much do so after a few seconds. Not to mention that water is not actually going down your throat:
You're on your back with-- your feet at a slight incline. There's some cellophane or material over your mouth. And then they pour water on this cellophane. You can't breathe. And it feels like the water's going down your throat. And then you begin choking it. It-- induces the gag reflex.
But the water's not actually going into your mouth?
Or through your nostrils?
No. It just feels like it is.
It feels like it is 'cause of the pressure onto the-- onto the cellophane.
In the old fashioned way, as taught to the military in SERE school, the process is much more prolonged and subjects the individual to real physical danger. The rest of the world waterboards the old fashioned way--they clamp your nose and pour water down your throat until you give up or die. In contrast, this is almost civilized--almost.
And Kiriakou claims this waterboarding-lite works: Zubaybah cracked in about 30 seconds. The information he subsequently gave was used to disrupt several al Qaeda plots and saved countless lives.
Kiriakou is a very interesting guy. He clearly believed waterboarding was the right thing to do at the time, but now believes it was wrong, BUT thinks it could be okay to use it again. He's not someone who's made the typical break from the Agency and is telling all because he's 100% convinced atrocities occurred. He thinks waterboarding was safe, effective and saved lives. By going on national television he's burning his career in the industry (yes, he's retired, but case officers rarely *really* retire). He's also alienating himself from all old Agency friends and colleagues by violating the code of silence, particularly on such a sensitive topic, damned to the world of talking heads. This is not what someone does when they just kinda think waterboarding was wrong, but might be okay again, just like it was before on Zubaydah when it turned out with hindsight to have been wrong.
Now after watching the interview with Kiriakou, I suspect that many Americans will begin to weigh thirty seconds of a physician-monitored Saran wrap-induced terrorist discomfort against the hours we go through at airports because of terrorists. This might be exactly what the Bush Administration is hoping for by allowing this spy to come in from the cold. Perhaps Kiriakou isn’t really violating the ethics of the shadows. Perhaps he’s sacrificed himself to save the Agency and his president. Kiriakou may well turn out to be the Ollie North of the rendition program--or just the next former case officer chasing a big book deal.