In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the interrogation technique known as waterboarding was used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed — the purported mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States — and suspected terrorists Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
“We used it against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time,” Hayden said. “There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about al-Qaida and its workings. Those two realities have changed.”
At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that, “waterboarding taken to its extreme, could be death, you could drown someone,” and said that it remains a technique in the CIA’s arsenal, although it would require the consent of the president and legal approval of the attorney general.
McConnell also said that al-Qaida “remains the pre-eminent threat against the United States,” more than six years after the Sept.11 attacks.
He said U.S. military actions have increasingly forced al-Qaida out of Iraq and into a “safe haven” in Pakistan’s tribal region to train for attacks in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa and the United States.
Terrorists in Pakistan “maintain a cadre of skilled lieutenants capable of directing the organization’s operations around the world,” McConnell reported.
Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told senators the Pakistani military has been unable to disrupt or damage al-Qaida terrorists operating in the tribal border region, and that the U.S. military is prohibited by Pakistan from pursuing Taliban and al-Qaida fighters that cross the border to Afghanistan.
Despite this, McConnell praised the Pakistani government’s cooperation and said Islamabad has done more to “neutralize” terrorists than any other partner in the war on terror.
On Wednesday, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to testify that “continued congressional support for the legitimate government of Pakistan braces this bulwark in the long war against violent extremism,” according to remarks obtained by The Associated Press.