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In a wide-ranging video interview with Truthout, former CIA counterterrorism official John Kiriakou reveals new information about the capture and torture of "high-value" detainee Abu Zubaydah and discloses, for the first time, his role in the events that led to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.
On March 28, 2002, at exactly 2 AM, CIA, FBI and Pakistani intelligence agents raided 14 houses in Faisalabad, Pakistan and captured 52 alleged terrorists, including one who the Bush administration had wrongly claimed was the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks: Abu Zubaydah.
The CIA official who led the team that resulted in Zubaydah's capture was, at the time, a 12-year agency veteran named John Kiriakou, who was sent to Pakistan just two months earlier to take charge of counterterrorism operations there.
Kiriakou made headlines in December 2007, when, during an interview with Brian Ross of ABC News, he became the first CIA official to publicly confirm that agency interrogators had waterboarded Zubaydah and that Zubaydah broke after 30 to 35 seconds, revealing actionable intelligence about a terrorist attack that "probably" saved American lives. Kiriakou said he believes waterboarding is torture.
Kiriakou was interviewed just a few days after The New York Times broke the story that the CIA had destroyed videotapes made between April and August 2002 that showed Zubaydah and another "high-value" detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, being interrogated and tortured.
The details Kiriakou disclosed during his interview with Ross, which he said he obtained from a classified CIA cable he read, was picked up by dozens of other news organizations around the world and reignited the debate over the efficacy of torture, leading many right-wing pundits, Republican lawmakers and Bush administration officials to declare that "enhanced interrogation" methods worked.
But Kiriakou, who at one point was being pursued by federal prosecutors for revealing classified information to ABC News, was wrong.
Government documents declassified in the years since Kiriakou was interviewed by ABC News showed that Zubaydah, in addition to being subjected to other brutal torture techniques, was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month. And, as Truthout first reported, newly declassified Justice Department documents stated that the government does not contend, as the basis for his continued detention, that Zubaydah "had any direct role" in or "advance knowledge" of 9/11 or was aware of any impending terrorist attacks as numerous Bush administration officials had maintained.
Last week, during a wide-ranging interview with Truthout, Kiriakou, who recently published a book, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror," was confronted with these facts and he acknowledged that the intelligence that asserted Zubaydah was Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, that he had played a role in the planning of 9/11 and that he was a major figure in al-Qaeda was "obviously flawed."
The Invasion of Iraq
In addition to new details he disclosed about Zubaydah and torture in general, Kiriakou said after he returned to Langley in late spring 2002 following his capture of Zubaydah and dozens of other alleged terrorists, he was "absolutely convinced" he would receive a promotion. But he was passed over by Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. Rodriguez is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation over the destruction of torture tapes, which he ordered purged.
Kiriakou said he was instead given a "field promotion" and by August 1, 2002 - the month in which the CIA maintains Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times - he was working on top-secret issues related to the administration's Iraq invasion plans. So secret was his new job, Kiriakou wrote in his book, that he had to sign six separate "secrecy agreements."