Al-Qaeda captive Abu Zubaida, whose interrogation videotapes were destroyed by the CIA, remains the subject of a dispute between FBI and CIA officials over his significance as a terrorism suspect and whether his most important revelations came from traditional interrogations or from torture.
While CIA officials have described him as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives, some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other "enhanced interrogation" measures.
There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla. Footnotes in the 9/11 Commission report attribute information about a variety of al-Qaeda personnel and activities to interrogations of Abu Zubaida beginning in April 2002 and lasting through February 2004.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou -- who participated in Abu Zubaida's capture, was present for the next three days and later saw classified reports of the agency's harsh interrogations -- attracted attention last week when he said that information obtained from Abu Zubaida under measures that Kiriakou now regards as torture "probably saved lives."
Former CIA director George J. Tenet, in his book recounting his tenure at the agency, also said claims that Abu Zubaida's importance was overstated were "baloney." Tenet wrote: "Abu Zubaydah had been at the crossroads of many al-Qaida operations and was in position to -- and did -- share critical information with his interrogators."
But FBI officials, including agents who questioned him after his capture or reviewed documents seized from his home, have concluded that even though he knew some al-Qaeda players, he provided interrogators with increasingly dubious information as the CIA's harsh treatment intensified in late 2002.
In legal papers prepared for a military hearing, Abu Zubaida himself has asserted that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the treatment stop.
So they got all the good information out of him by using legitimate interrogation techniques. But once they started the torture sessions, all they got was whatever he thought they wanted to hear just to make them stop. In other words, crap.