CIA torture program architect and defender Jose Rodriguez is certain that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's (SSCI) torture study is full of errors. Rodriguez does not say what those errors are; he claims he cannot rebut them in detail because he has not read the report.
But a few days ago, Senator John McCain confirmed one incident described in the Senate report that Rodriguez must know about. McCain told the National Journal that on one occasion,
officials waterboarding a terror suspect reported to CIA headquarters that they had "gotten everything we can out of the guy." The message came back, 'Waterboard him some more.' That is unconscionable," McCain said.
McCain's description matches a 2009 press report about the role of contract psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. According to the Washington Post, after Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002, "Mitchell and Jessen concluded that the prisoner was broken." The Counterterrorist Center, then headed by Jose Rodriguez, was not convinced. A former official told the Post that "[h]eadquarters was sending daily harangues, cables, e-mails insisting that waterboarding continue for 30 days because another attack was believed to be imminent...Headquarters said it would be on the team's back if an attack happened. They said to the interrogation team, 'You've lost your spine.""
The Post's source said Mitchell and Jessen agreed to waterboard Abu Zubaydah one last time, but insisted that CIA officials come from Langley to the black site to view what happened. Afterwards, "they all agreed to stop."
A May 30, 2005 Office of Legal Counsel memo by Steven Bradbury also corroborates McCain's description. The Bradbury memo describes "one occasion" where "although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information...At the direction of CIA Headquarters therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah."
Based on what we know of the chronology of Abu Zubaydah's interrogation, this last waterboarding at the direction of CTC likely would have occurred in mid to late August of 2002. Around the same time, on August 20, 2002, officials at the CIA black site in Thailand sent the first known cable to headquarters recommending that the agency stop taping interrogations, and dispose of existing videotapes. Rodriguez would eventually order the destruction of those same videotapes in 2005.
It is hard to believe that the timing is completely coincidental. But with so much information still classified, it is impossible to know. Perhaps Rodriguez was not one of the officials at CIA headquarters who insisted that interrogators "waterboard [Zubaydah] some more" in McCain's words--although Rodriguez's position as the head of the Counterterrorist Center suggests some degree of involvement. Perhaps, even if Rodriguez did order Zubaydah's last waterboarding, that decision was unconnected to his determination to ensure the destruction of the videotapes of Abu Zubaydah's interrogation. We cannot be sure as long as the CIA continues to suppress the Senate report.
The CIA has also hidden information about what effect those waterboarding sessions had on Abu Zubaydah. Rodriguez claims in his memoirs, approved by the CIA's office of prepublication review, that afterwards Zubaydah told CIA officers that "you must do this for all the brothers," and that Zubaydah's treatment was "safe, legal, and effective." In contrast, Zubaydah's counsel have alleged that their client suffers from frequent seizures, painful headaches, and severe memory loss as a result of his torture--but the CIA forbids them from disclosing the details. Zubaydah's descriptions of his own treatment are censored in the name of national security, as are his medical records.
The videotapes of Zubaydah's last, CTC-directed waterboarding session in August 2002 have been pulverized to dust on Rodriguez's orders. The CIA cannot do that to the Senate report, but the agency may still try to redact it to the point of unintelligibility. If they succeed, the responsibility will rest squarely with the President of the United States.
President Obama must stop abdicating to CIA on matters of classification, and stop letting them hide the truth. He should order the release of the SSCI report and the CIA's response with minimal redaction and minimal delay. Once the report comes out, if Rodriguez thinks it contains errors, he should certainly have the opportunity to correct them--under oath, at a public Senate hearing.