The first use of waterboarding and other harsh treatment against suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials over objections from his interrogators, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Citing unnamed former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum, the newspaper said the harsh interrogation techniques had been ordered despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew.
Former president George W. Bush had publicly described Zubaidah, who was captured in 2002, as Al-Qaeda’s chief of operations while other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The especially brutal interrogation tactics against Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at CIA headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, the paper said.
According to The Times, Zubaydah provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs.
Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the paper said.
Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, one of the officials is quoted as saying, "seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect."
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports the CIA’s first step was to limit Zubaidah’s human contact to just two people — a CIA interrogator and a psychologist.
The psychologist who apparently played the more critical role, according to the report.
The newly released Justice Department documents indicate the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Zubaidah physically and mentally, The Post noted.
Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so, the Post report said.