Senate Report on CIA Torture

Abu Zubaydah

Zubaydah is a Saudi Arabian al Qaeda facilitator, who was the CIA’s first detainee. He was shot and captured in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities working with the CIA, in a March 2002 raid. The CIA rejected the idea of putting Zubaydah into military custody, citing “lack of security” and the fact that “he would have to be declared to the International Committee of the Red Cross.” He was rendered to Detention Site Green and initially questioned by FBI agents. Zubaydah “informed the FBI officers he wanted to cooperate.” He identified a picture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) as “Muktar,” said KSM had trained the 9/11 hijackers, and provided information on KSM’s age and background. Despite Zubaydah providing this information to FBI agents, who used non-coercive interrogation methods, the CIA later “consistently” described the information as “important” and “vital,” when making representations on the success of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. According to a message from the FBI special agents who had been questioning Zubaydah, the CIA at the time had labeled the information obtained by the FBI as “throw away information.” 

While Zubaydah was still hospitalized, recovering from his injuries sustained in the raid, the CIA proposed changing the methods used for his interrogation from the FBI’s rapport-building techniques to keeping him in an all-white room, lit 24 hours per day, without amenities, disrupting his sleep, constantly playing loud noise, and only permitting a small number of people to interact with him. The FBI objected, noting they built “tremendous” rapport with Zubaydah and “offered several compromise solutions...[which] were immediately declined without further discussion.” FBI agents also “explained their rapport-building approaches to the CIA interrogation officers and ‘tried to explain that we have used this approach before on other Al-Qaeda members with much success.’” 

In April 2002, Zubaydah was transferred to a cell that was “white with no natural lighting or windows, but with four halogen lights pointed into the cell.” Constant noise was played, and Zubaydah was “typically kept naked and sleep deprived.” “Zubaydah’s medical condition prevented ‘total isolation as originally planned’” and on April 17, 2002, FBI agents were again permitted to question him with non-coercive techniques. On April 20, 2002, Zubaydah provided information on the “Dirty Bomb” Plot. The CIA later “represent[ed] that this information was acquired ‘as a result’ of the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” 

Meanwhile, the CIA team submitted three interrogation plans for Zubaydah, and “CIA headquarters chose the most coercive interrogation option” despite FBI opposition. From June 18 to August 4, 2002, Zubaydah “spent 47 days in isolation without being asked any questions.” The CIA reported in June 2002 that he had “stopped all cooperation” when questioned using “established US Government interrogation techniques,” which required resort to enhanced interrogation techniques. Prior to his isolation period, “Abu Zubaydah provided information on al-Qa'ida activities, plans, capabilities, and relationships, in addition to information on its leadership structure, including personalities, decision-making processes, training, and tactics.” The CIA’s basis for asserting that Zubaydah was “uncooperative” was his “inability to provide information on the next attack in the United States and operatives in the United States”– information the CIA later determined he did not have. During Zubaydah’s isolation the CIA finalized his interrogation plan and determined that he should “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” 

From August 4 to August 23, 2002, Zubaydah was subjected to torture and cruel treatment on a “near 24-hour-per-day basis.” He was subjected to “’walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation’—continued in ‘varying combinations, 24 hours a day.’” After his 47 days in isolation,  interrogators, “[w]ithout asking any questions … placed a rolled towel around his neck as a collar … [which] was used to slam Abu Zubaydah against a concrete wall. Interrogators demanded information on terrorist plots in the United States and whenever Zubaydah denied having this information, “the interrogators would perform a facial slap or face grab.” At approximately 6:20 PM on August 4, 2002, Zubaydah was waterboarded for two and a half hours. During this time, he “coughed, vomited, and had ‘involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.’” When he was left alone he was “placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes” – either a large, coffin shaped box or a small box with a “width of 21 inches, a depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet.” According to the report, “CIA interrogators told Abu Zubaydah that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped confinement box.” 

Zubaydah was waterboarded “at least 83” times in total and “2–4 times a day…with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.” Zubaydah eventually became so “compliant” that “when the interrogator ‘raised his eyebrow without instructions,’ [he] ‘slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down.’ When the interrogator ‘snapped his fingers twice,’ Abu Zubaydah would lie flat on the waterboard.” Zubaydah was at times described as “hysterical” and “distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate.” His “[w]aterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas.’” In “at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth’ and required ‘medical intervention.’” He spent 266 hours in the coffin sized box and 29 hours in a small confinement box. Emails (the names of the senders and receivers are redacted), described Zubaydah’s treatment as “visually and physically very uncomfortable" for CIA personnel, something that “profoundly affected…some to the point of tears and choking up,” and it was noted that two or three personnel would elect to be transferred if it continued. 

On August 10, 2002the CIA team told headquarters it was “‘highly unlikely’ that Abu Zubaydah possessed the information they were seeking.” They also said they thought they were “approach[ing] the legal limit” in his interrogation, which prompted Counterterrorism Center Chief Jose Rodriguez to “[s]trongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities…be refrained from in written traffic.” Rodriguez said this language was “not helpful.” CIA headquarters told the team to continue the interrogation.

Zubaydah did not provide any different information as a result of these techniques. In August 2002, “CIA personnel at the detention site concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information.” However, the CIA informed the National Security Council that their interrogation methods “were effective and were ‘producing meaningful results.’” In October 2002, CIA headquarters prepared a Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), which did not refer to the detention site interrogation team’s assessment that Zubaydah was cooperative and had not been withholding information. Instead, the PDB said Zubaydah “was still withholding ‘significant threat information.’”