Jason Leopold has published an important article on Abu Zubaydah and the questions swirling around the destruction of the videotapes of his interrogation by the CIA. The Truthout reporter writes that a number of intelligence sources have described a hitherto unreported second taping system that was used on Zubaydah at the black site CIA prison in Thailand where the interrogations took place in 2002-2003.
Reportedly, this second set of tapes appear to have been used to collect "’data’ about Zubaydah, specifically, how much mental and physical pain he could endure after each torture session he was subjected to that took place prior to the issuance of OLC legal memos in August 2002." This data was then used to shape the parameters of the torture program and the types of legal approval John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury gave in those legal memos.
It is unknown if the purported second taping system was used on other CIA prisoners at the Thailand black site, but Leopold’s article also reports, in another important angle on the scandal, "that a similar taping system was also set up at a secret site at Guantanamo about a year later where interrogations of other high-value prisoners were also recorded." Last January, Scott Horton at Harper’s published a major expose concerning the possible killings of three prisoners in 2006 at a hitherto unrevealed secret site at Guantanamo unofficially known as Camp No. The prisoners had previously been labeled "suicides" by camp officials.
The issue of the tapes disposal has been under criminal investigation for many months by Special Prosecutor John Durham. Last August, Attorney General Holder also picked Mr. Durham to lead an inquiry into the abuse of prisoners subjected to the CIA’s interrogation program.
The investigation into the destruction of the tapes has included grand jury testimony by some CIA principals and a grant of immunity to CIA attorney John McPherson, who, according to the Washington Post, "reviewed the tapes years before they were destroyed to determine whether they diverged from written records about the interrogations."
Leopold is now reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee has decided to look into the situation surrounding Abu Zubaydah’s CIA interrogation:
The panel will scrutinize thousands of pages of highly classified documents related to Zubaydah’s detention and torture to determine, among other things, whether the techniques he was subjected to [were] accurately reflected in CIA cable traffic sent back to Langley, whether he ever provided actionable intelligence to his torturers, and how the CIA and other government agencies came to rely on flawed intelligence that led the Bush administration to classify him as the No. 3 person in al-Qaeda and its first high-value detainee, Hill sources said.
As was reported in May 2009, FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who was one of the early interrogators of Mr. Zubaydah, in his prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee investigating prisoner abuse, mentioned the experimental nature of the CIA’s interrogation methods no less than four times. Mr. Zubaydah himself told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he heard or he suspected the CIA was experimenting with torture techniques upon him. I reported at the time:
It seems likely that Abu Zubaydah was a primary subject of JPRA/SERE’s reverse-engineering of torture techniques, using the paradigm of psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman’s theory of "learned helplessness."
According to a report last month by Mr. Leopold, a national security official said that Abu Zubaydah was used as an "experiment. A guinea pig." News of a second taping system, used to gather specific kinds of psychological or psychiatric data on the CIA’s interrogation subject(s), appear at the same time as revelations stemming from a release of CIA documents to the ACLU that describe CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Marcy Wheeler has been following a number of issues associated with the release of these documents at her Emptywheel blog.