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Top CIA Officials Were Given Daily Torture Updates of Zubaydah

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Tuesday, 05 May 2009 00:00

CIA interrogators provided top agency officials in Langley with daily "torture" updates of Abu Zubaydah, the alleged "high-level" terrorist detainee who was held at a secret "black site" prison and waterboarded 83 times in August 2002, according to newly released court documents obtained by The Public Record.

The extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and agency officials in Langley likely included updates provided to senior Bush administration officials.

The government documents filed May 1, with U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein include two sets of indexes totaling 52 pages and contain general descriptions of cables sent back to CIA headquarters describing the August 2002 videotaped interrogation sessions of Zubaydah. Those cable transmissions included a description of the techniques interrogators had used and the intelligence, if any, culled from those sessions.

An Aug. 1, 2002 Justice Department legal opinion released last month signed by Jay Bybee, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, described a "ticking time-bomb" scenario and "chatter" about a looming terrorist attack in justifying a list of 10 different brutal interrogation techniques the CIA requested to use against Zubaydah. Those interrogation methods included waterboarding, slamming his head repeatedly against a wall and forcing him to remain awake for as long as 11 consecutive days.

On the same day Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge, signed the memorandum CIA field operatives at the "black site" prison where Zubaydah was detained sent a two-page cable to agency headquarters that included detailed information "concerning the use of interrogation techniques; atmospherics and behavioral comments; a threat update; a medical update; and administrative and security notes."

"The cable [marked top secret] also includes CIA organizational information, CIA filing information, locations of CIA facilities, and the names and/or identifying information of personnel engaged in counterterrorism operations,"- according to a description of the cable.

Another document, describing a four-page cable sent back to CIA headquarters on Aug. 4, 2002, "includes information concerning the strategies for interrogation sessions... reactions to the interrogation techniques, raw intelligence, and a status of threat information."

On the same day, according to the same set of indexes, CIA field operatives prepared a 59-page notebook that contained notes of the interrogations, which contained "handwritten notes concerning treatment and conduct of interrogations; reactions to the interrogation techniques; specific intelligence topics concerning terrorist threats to the U.S.; raw intelligence; and medical information."

There are several instances in which multiple cables were sent to CIA headquarters on a single day, which suggests Zubaydah was subjected to a combination of brutal interrogation methods at various points throughout the day.

For example, on Aug. 5, 2002, a four-page cable was sent to CIA headquarters describing the use of and reaction to interrogation techniques and another two-page cable was sent the same day that contained similar descriptions as well as a "medical update." All of the other descriptions of the cables sent to CIA headquarters, some of which are as long as seven pages, during the month August 2002 contain similar descriptions.

The first set of indexes contains information about cables sent on Aug. 1, 2002 and ends on Aug. 7, 2002. The second set of indexes begins on Aug. 8, 2002 and ends on Aug. 18, 2002 but does not contain an entry for correspondence sent back to the CIA on Aug. 13, 2002 describing the status of interrogations.

The indexes were turned over as part of a contempt lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the Department of Defense related to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency in 2005 as public attention began focusing on allegations that the Bush administration had subjected "war on terror" detainees to brutal interrogations that crossed the line into torture.

The CIA and the Justice Department declined to turn over a more detailed description of the cables it's field agents sent back to headquarters citing several exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act.

"This document contains information relating to intelligence activities (including special activities), intelligence sources, intelligence methods, and foreign relations to foreign activities of the United States including confidential sources that is properly classified," the CIA states in a document description of the Aug. 1, 2002 cable.

Additionally, the agency said it withheld a detailed description of the cables in this and every other August 2002 cable because it "contains information relating to intelligence sources and intelligence methods that is specifically exempted from disclosure"- in accordance with the National Security Act. The documents also contain "information relating to the organization, functions, and names of person employed by the CIA that is specifically exempted from disclosure."

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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