CIA waterboarding 'broke suspect after 35 seconds'

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The Independent US

A former CIA officer involved in the capture and interrogation of the Al Qai'da suspect Abu Zubaida, has revealed on television that he was tortured by 'waterboarding' thereby incriminating his fellow agents in a felony.

John Kiriakou, who was based in Pakistan for the CIA and is now retired form the agency admitted that Ms Zubaida was subjected to a process of controlled drowning during which his lungs were filled with water and he was made to believe he was dying.

"It was like flipping a switch," Mr Kiriakou the first person directly involved in the questioning of any high level al-Qai'da detainees to speak out.

He told ABC News that Abu Zubaida was being defiant and uncooperative mid summer 2002 when he was tied down on a board, his nose and mouth wrapped cellophane to stop him breathing while water was forced down his throat. As the terrified detainee struggled for air water poured into his lungs and he broke down in about 35 seconds.

Mr Kiriakou said he was carefully briefed on what had happened. The next day, Mr Zubaida told his torturers that he would tell them whatever they wanted to know.

"He said that Allah had come to him in his cell and told him to cooperate, because it would make things easier for his brothers," Mr Kiriakou said. The information allegedly thwarted several attacks by Al Qai'da and "probably saved lives," but Mr Kirakou now says that he regards waterboarding as torture and un-American.

Mr Kiriakou revealed that he first spoke to Abu Zubaida in a Pakistani military hospital. where he was recovering from gunshot wounds suffered when he was captured. When he emerged from a coma he held hours of conversations with Mr Kiriakou from his hospital bed. They talked about religion and Abu Zubaida's private regret tha he had never had a family of his own.

Abu Zubaida became resistant when asked to reveal details about al-Qai'da's plans and leaders. He was then flown to a 'black site' or secret CIA prison, where he was interrogated more harshly.

"You have one more opportunity to cooperate. My guys are telling me that you're being a jerk," Mr Kiriakou told Abu Zubaida before the waterboarding began.

"They're being jerks, too," Mr Kiriakou says he replied. The former undercover CIA officer now apparently regrets ordering the waterboarding although he maintains that it provided a vital break that probably helped the CIA deter attacks. Crucially, he now says waterboarding is torture, and "Americans are better than that."

His evidence may be crucial as investigations begin into the use of torture and other illegal methods in the Bush Administration's 'war on terror.'

Mr Kiriakou's revelations came as senior top CIA officials were brought before a closed congressional inquiry into their decision to deliberately destroy video recordings of the waterboarding torture of Abu Zubaida and another 'high value' Al Qai'da captive, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The torture of Abu Zubaida's interrogation has led to a fierce argument among US intelligence agencies and in the armed services. The FBI which is responsible for counter-intelligence in the US adamantly opposes the use of torture as counterproductive and unreliable while top CIA officers continue to defend it as an important tool in their armory against terrorists who do not respect the rules of war.The Armed services reject all forms of torture on the basis that they are unreliable.

Abu Zubaida who is being held in Guantanamo Bay has stated in legal documents that he told those torturing him whatever they wanted to hear in order to make the torture stop.

When the recordings were destroyed the CIA was under orders from several federal court to preserve interrogation and detention records of terrorism suspects after the 11 September attacks. Abu Zubaida's interrogation led to the capture of several of those now in Guantanamo Bay and their lawyers maintain that all recordings of his interrogation should have been saved.

"The revelation that the CIA destroyed these videotapes raises grave concerns about the government's compliance with the preservation order entered by this Court," wrote Marc Falkoff the lawyer for a Yemeni Mohmoad Abdah. In court papers he says thet CIA illegally flouted a June 2005 court order to the the government to "preserve and maintain all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."