Top Secret CIA Cables Reveal Daily 'Medical Updates' on Abu Zubaydah, Who Was Waterboarded 83 Times
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Evidence is emerging that medical personnel monitored the medical effects of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaida operative who was, according to government reports, subjected to the near-drowning at least 83 times in August 2002.
The new information comes from descriptions of cables, classified as top secret and relating to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, that were transmitted from a Central Intelligence Agency field station to the agency's Langley, Va., headquarters nearly every day between Aug. 1 and Aug. 18 that year.
The descriptions of the cables ( here and here) reveal that a daily "medical update" and "behavioral comments" along with status and threat updates were sent to CIA headquarters throughout that period. On five occasions between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, an additional cable was sent containing "medical information" along with such information as the strategies for interrogation sessions, raw intelligence, the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information, and the reactions to those techniques. The fact that medical information was included in these cables hints that Abu Zubaydah was medically monitored during or after being subjected to those techniques. Both professional organizations and human rights groups have rejected as unethical any monitoring role for medical personnel.
A summary of the 34 cables and of a handwritten log book were released to the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month on orders of U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the group. The lawsuit was based on a request for records related to detainee treatment that the ACLU and four other advocacy groups made of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice and State and the CIA in 2003. The new summary, known as a Vaughn Index, was released in response to a motion that the ACLU filed in 2007 after then-CIA director Michael Hayden acknowledged that the agency had destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations in 2005.
The cables themselves have not been made public, and the agency is contesting their release. In response to a request for more detail on the medical information included in the cables and the reasons that information was transmitted from the field site to CIA headquarters, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano wrote in an e-mail to ProPublica: "The materials speak for themselves."
The U.S. Department of Justice gave the ACLU other documents this month that suggest the cables are among nearly 550 interrogation-related cables sent from field stations to CIA headquarters between April and December 2002. Among those analyzing the new documents are National Public Radio's Ari Shapiro, the Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman and Firedoglake's Marcy Wheeler.
The documents are the latest installment of an ongoing story about the role of doctors and psychologists in the government's efforts to pry information from suspected terrorists. Professional organizations of doctors, nurses, public health practitioners and psychologists have stated their opposition to health professionals' involvement in torture. "The AMA has taken the clear stand that the participation of physicians in torture and interrogation is a violation of core ethical values," the American Medical Association said in a statement last Friday. Last month, the AMA sent a letter to President Barack Obama reiterating, as it did during the Bush administration, that the association's ethical code prohibits physicians from participating in torture or coercive interrogation.
However, there is evidence that health personnel, at least some of them physicians, have been involved in interrogations. For example Col. Thomas M. Pappas, former chief of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, who was interviewed as part of the Taguba investigation, testified that a psychiatrist and another doctor monitored interrogations at the prison and had the final say in what aspects of the interrogation plan were implemented.