Dig Deeper: Ali Soufan & The Debate Over Interrogations


September 13, 2011

Ali Soufan: Profiles, Testimony and Articles

The Agent 
This July 2006 New Yorker profile by Lawrence Wright first brought Ali Soufan’s story into the public eye.

My Tortured Decision
After seven years of silence, Soufan spoke out publicly for the first time in this April 2009 New York Times op-ed to contest claims that the enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the CIA after 9/11 were effective.  Citing his interrogation of Al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah in 2002, he wrote, “There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.”

Testimony to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing: “Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Administration”
With his identity hidden behind a screen, Soufan testified in May 2009 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the “mistake” of substituting harsh interrogation techniques for the tried successes of the “Informed Interrogation Approach,” which he called “the most effective, reliable and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists.”  He said:

The mistake was so costly precisely because the situation was, and remains, too risky to allow someone to experiment with amateurish, Hollywood style interrogation methods- that in reality- taints sources, risks outcomes, ignores the end game, and diminishes our moral high ground in a battle that is impossible to win without first capturing the hearts and minds around the world. It was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against Al Qaeda.

You can also watch video of his testimony.

What Torture Never Told Us
In September 2009, Soufan penned a second op-ed for The New York Times in which he explains how “false claims” about the alleged successes of EITs were made:

Many officials in Washington reading the reports didn’t know enough about Al Qaeda to know what information was already known and whether the detainees were telling all they knew. The inspector general’s report states that many operatives thought their superiors were inaccurately judging that detainees were withholding information. Such assessments, the operatives said, were “not always supported by an objective evaluation” but were “too heavily based, instead, on presumptions.” I can personally testify to this.

The Black Banners
Through a series of detailed interrogations, Soufan tells the story he began to uncover in Yemen after the USS Cole bombing in 2000.  His book follows a trail of evidence that goes far beyond the Cole bombing into the 9/11 plot itself. Ultimately, it is an indictment of the government’s failure to prevent the attacks and of its reliance on coercive interrogations after 9/11. The CIA demanded that certain classified information be cut from the book, but Soufan says the information the agency says is classified has already been publicly disclosed.


Reports That Address Soufan’s Claims

CIA IG Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities
In 2004, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson conducted a review of the agency’s interrogation program. A redacted version of the report was released by the Justice Department in August 2009 and revealed abuses inside the agency’s prisons overseas. Though it asserts the CIA’s interrogation program has been effective in certain respects, it states that “measuring the effectives of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques], however, is a more subjective process and not without some concern” [page 85]. Following the release of the redacted report, the CIA released two previously-secret agency memos – from 2004 and 2005 – detailing intelligence derived from the interrogation program.

The 9/11 Commission Report
Among the findings of the bipartisan commission’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks released in 2004 was how the failure of the CIA to share vital information with the FBI prevented a possible early detection of the plot. In its chapter “The System Was Blinking Red,” the commission details FBI complaints about the “wall” preventing intelligence information from being shared with criminal prosecutors. In a later chapter, the commission suggests the removal of the wall between intelligence and law enforcement “has opened up new opportunities for cooperative action within the FBI.”


More on Abu Zubaydah

After September 11: Our State of Exception
Mark Danner provides many details on the case of Abu Zubaydah — the Al Qaeda facilitator who was first interrogated by Soufan before being the test case for the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program — in this new article for The New York Review of Books. He writes:

When it came to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the victor in the struggle between the FBI and its traditional “law enforcement methods” and the CIA and its improvised “alternative set of procedures” was preordained. The judgment would seem to be built on evidence, on the thinness of what the detainee was providing, but in fact was based on conviction. … If he gives up only relatively modest information, mustn’t that very fact mean he is concealing things that are important? The conviction of secret knowledge, set beside the paucity of what is revealed, proves the conclusion of deception.

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