“Soon, you will know.” That is the ominous statement an uncooperative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, told his CIA interrogators when they initially asked him - after he had been captured - about additional planned al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
In March 2003, KSM became the third and final terrorist ever waterboarded by the CIA. The other two were Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. So few were waterboarded because the CIA applied very strict criteria in deciding when the technique could be used.
As CIA Acting General Counsel John A. Rizzo explained in a 2004 letter to then-Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA would only resort to waterboarding a top al Qaeda leader when the agency had “credible intelligence that a terrorist attack is imminent,” “substantial and credible indicators that the subject has actionable intelligence that can prevent, disrupt or deny this attack” and “*ther interrogation methods have failed to elicit the information within the perceived time limit for preventing the attack.”
Mr. Rizzo’s letter, as quoted here, was cited in a May 30, 2005, memo to Mr. Rizzo from then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, also of the Office of Legal Counsel.
On Tuesday, the CIA confirmed to me that it stands by assertions credited to the agency in this 2005 memo that subjecting KSM to “enhanced techniques” of interrogation - including waterboarding - caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to stop a planned Sept. 11-style attack on Los Angeles. The previously classified memo was released by President Obama last week.
Before they were waterboarded, neither KSM nor Abu Zubaydah thought Americans had the will to stop al Qaeda, the 2005 Justice Department memo says, citing information from the CIA.
“Both KSM and Zubaydah had ‘expressed their belief that the general U.S. population was “weak,” lacked resilience and would be unable to “do what was necessary” to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals,’ ” the memo says. “Indeed, before the CIA used enhanced techniques in its interrogation of KSM, he resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon, you will know.’ ”
After he was waterboarded, KSM provided the CIA with information that enabled the U.S. government to close down a terror cell already “tasked” with flying a jet into a building in Los Angeles.
“You have informed us that the interrogation of KSM - once enhanced techniques were employed - led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles,” the memo says, referring to information the CIA provided to the Justice Department.
“You have informed us that information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemaah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the ‘Second Wave,’ ” the memo says.
“More specifically, we understand that KSM admitted that he had [redaction] large sum of money to an al Qaeda associate [redaction] … . Khan subsequently identified the associate [Zubair], who was then captured,” the memo says. “Zubair, in turn, provided information that led to the arrest of Hambali. The information acquired from these captures allowed CIA interrogators to pose more specific questions to KSM, which led the CIA [to] Hambali’s brother, al-Hadi. Using information obtained from multiple sources, al-Hadi was captured, and he subsequently identified the Garuba cell. With the aid of this additional information, interrogations of Hambali confirmed much of what was learned from KSM.”
A CIA spokesman confirmed to me on Tuesday, as I first reported on CNSNews.com, that the CIA stands by the factual assertions made here.
Though waterboarding was exceedingly rare in CIA interrogations of al Qaeda terrorists, it was used routinely on certain members of our own armed forces who went through Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training. According to another previously classified memo released last week by Mr. Obama, some branches of the U.S. military stopped using waterboarding in training certain troops not because it had harmful long-term effects, but because it was so universally effective in extracting information.
“With respect to the waterboard, you have also orally informed us that the Navy continues to use it in training,” says a 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo to the CIA’s Mr. Rizzo. “You have informed us that other services ceased use of the waterboard because it was so successful as an interrogation technique but not because of any concerns over harm, physical or mental, caused by it. It was also reported to be almost 100 percent effective in producing cooperation among trainees.”
According to the CIA, it produced cooperation in the mastermind of Sept. 11 and thus yielded information used to stop a Sept. 11-type attack on the West Coast.
Mr. Obama says he has prohibited the interrogation techniques described in the Justice Department memos he released. Next time the CIA catches a KSM, it must be kinder and gentler with him.
Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CSNnews.com.