CIA waterboarded key Al-Qaeda suspects 266 times: memo

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 20 2009 11:20 PM | Updated as of Apr 21 2009 07:20 AM

WASHINGTON - CIA interrogators waterboarded Al-Qaeda's September 11 attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and another top suspect, Abu Zubaydah, at least a combined 266 times, a Justice Department memo said.

The use of the near-drowning technique on the two suspected Al-Qaeda terror kingpins was contained in the small print of a Bush-era memo released by US President Barack Obama last week and highlighted by the New York Times Monday.

The memo, dated May 30, 2005, revealed that "waterboarding" was used 183 times on Mohammed during March 2003 and at least 83 times on Zubaydah in August 2002.

Its contents became clear hours before Obama, who last week granted immunity to CIA officers involved in the harsh interrogation techniques, was due to visit the agency headquarters outside Washington.

Those totals amount to far greater use of waterboarding than has originally been reported and may give further ammunition to those who see the technique as torture and an ineffective way of eliciting information.

The New York Times recalled that in 2007 former CIA officer John Kiriakou told media organizations that Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.

Mohammed, the self-described planner of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was captured in Pakistan in March 2003. Zubaydah was caught in 2002.

Last year, Mohammed was charged with war crimes and murder by a US military commission and faces the death penalty if convicted.

Obama granted immunity to CIA officers involved in tough terror interrogations as he released graphic memos detailing harsh methods approved by ex-president George W. Bush last week.

In the documents, Bush-era legal officials argued that such tactics since disowned by Obama such as simulated drowning, facial slapping, the use of insects to scare prisoners and sleep deprivation did not amount to torture.

"This is a time for reflection, not retribution," Obama said Thursday after releasing the documents.