by Mark Silva and updated
Water-boarding worked wonders in the case of one al-Qaeda leader, according to a former CIA agent who has made the rounds of some television news interviews as CIA director Mike Hayden prepares to testify before a congressional committee today about his agency’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations.
The controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning also was approved at the highest levels of the government, former agent John Kiriakou, a leader of the team that captured al Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah, has told network news interviewers. And that water-boarding, Kiriakou has said, produced instant results: Abu Zubaydah started talking in less than 35 seconds.
“The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told in to cooperate,’’ Kiriakou told ABC News World News in interview aired last night. “From that day on, he answered every question. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.’’
While he hasn’t explained how he knows the technique – which many call torture – was approved at the highest levels, he told NBC News' Today Show this morning: “This isn't something done willy nilly. This isn't something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he's going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner. This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department."
Any time water-boarding or another harsh tactic was employed, he said, agents had to present a “well-laid out, well-thought out reason" to top government officials, Kiriakou said.
The White House, continuing to refuse to discuss the details of any interrogation tactics and declining to comment on the agent's report about water-boarding, insisted that the government is following the law in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.
“All interrogations have been done within the legal framework that was set out after Sept. 11,’’ Dana Perino, White House press secretary, said today. “They have been measures that are tough and limited, and they have been very effective…I do not comment on any specific technique... I can say that any interrogations have been legal, and they have been fully briefed to the United States Congress.’’
“Like a lot of Americans,’’ the now-retired Kiriakou told ABC News, “I'm involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that water-boarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the water-boarding technique…. What happens if we don't water-board a person and we don't get that nugget of information and there's an attack. I would have trouble forgiving myself. ... At the time, I felt that water-boarding was something that we needed to do."
The Bush administration insists that the United States “does not torture’’ terrorism suspects.
Hayden faces two days of questioning by Senate and House intelligence committees about the agency’s destruction of the videotapes – which occurred before he became director. Hayden has told CIA employees that the CIA taped the interrogations of two alleged terrorists in 2002.
He said the harsh questioning was carried out only after being "reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice and by other elements of the Executive Branch." Hayden said Congress was notified in 2003 both of the tapes' existence and the agency's intent to destroy them.
The White House has refused to comment on the destruction of the tapes while a Justice Department inquiry is underway.
The CIA destroyed the tapes in November of 2005, though exactly when Congress was notified and in what detail is in dispute. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.), has said the CIA claims it told the committee of the tapes' destruction at a hearing in November 2006 – but the hearing transcript reveals no mention of that subject. The House committee first learned the tapes had been destroyed in March 2007, according to Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, (D-Texas.)
In his message to CIA employees, Hayden said "the leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the agency's intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.