The Horrifying True Story of a CIA Waterboarding Victim

Despite being tortured and in CIA custody for over a decade, Abu Zubaydah has still not been charged with a crime.
May 18, 2017, 4:05pm
Photo courtesy Mark Denbeaux

Zayn Hussein Abu Zubaydah, 46, is a stateless Palestinian refugee who was born in Saudi Arabia, one of ten siblings, to middle class parents. In 1990, he left his home in Riyadh in search of a new life and ended up in Afghanistan, fighting in the post Soviet war. After suffering a shrapnel injury to his head in 1991 he resettled in Pakistan, where he became a logistical expert for the jihad, sending recruits and funds to the training camps of various terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. His name and number was known to practically every fighter who passed through Peshawar, where he lived.


After 9/11, Abu Zubaydah assisted in the relocation of Al Qaeda fighters and their families to Pakistan. In March 2002, he was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in a joint ISI/CIA operation during which he was seriously injured. Desperate for good news in the "war on terror," the US government announced that he was Al Qaeda's Number Three, Osama bin Laden's lieutenant, and one of the planners of 9/11.

Held incommunicado in a secret CIA black site in Thailand, Abu Zubaydah was the first "war on terror" detainee to be waterboarded by CIA contractors Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen. When the CIA's black site program was uncovered in 2006, Abu Zubaydah was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he was placed in a special high security facility called Camp 7, along with the actual 9/11 planners. Although the United States now admits he is innocent of the original allegations made against him and concedes that he was never a member of Al Qaeda, he remains at Guantánamo Bay, held without charges and classified as a "forever prisoner."

Abu Zubaydah is due to appear before a pre-trial hearing at the military commission war court in Guantánamo on May 19, during which he intends to expose the torture he has been subjected to over the years, according to his defense lawyer, Mark Denbeaux.

Zubaydah has been called to testify over the treatment of fellow captive Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five detainees charged with committing the 9/11 attacks. Al-Shibh has long complained that he is subjected to psychological torture at Camp 7, including the beaming of sounds and vibrations into his cell to disturb his sleep.


The following excerpt is from the new book The Exile, out May 23, about Osama bin Laden, his deputies, associates and his family's time on the run in the years following the 9/11 attacks. Pre-order it here and learn more about the authors here.

- Adrian Levy

March 31, 2002, Detention Site Green, Thailand

Hooded and immobile, the prisoner lay handcuffed to a gurney, watched by a doctor and an anesthesiologist from Johns Hopkins Hospital who had been flown over at short notice by the CIA. When the bag was ripped from his head, his eyes flickered, adjusting to the light, the left eye clouded green with an infection. He had cuts and dried blood on his face and no idea that he had been flown by private charter from Pakistan—where he had been captured—around the world via Morocco and Brazil to a disused military camp deep in the Thai jungle.

The precise location of this makeshift interrogation center remains classified, but multiple sources who worked on the program suggest that it was "Camp Ramasun," a crumbling Royal Thai Air Force facility that dated to the Vietnam war. Having lain empty for years, it was derelict and overgrown.

Situated deep inside the country's northeastern Udon Thani Province, close to the border with Laos and 290 miles northeast of Bangkok, it was the perfect place to hide a high-profile suspect.
The handful of the U.S. intelligence and military personnel posted there—including Chief of Base (COB) Gina Haspel, now the deputy director of the CIA—referred to the location by its code-name, "Cat's Eye." And only they knew who the prisoner was thought to be. No one else— including the International Committee for the Red Cross—was informed.


The first US official to interrogate the detainee was Ali Soufan, a Lebanese-American FBI agent. He was horrified by the condition Zubaydah was in, wondering how the CIA could have certified him as being fit to fly after only forty-eight hours in intensive care. Suffering from life-threatening gunshot wounds, Zubaydah was now being treated in a makeshift medical room in a broken-down jungle camp infested with snakes. That first night, while other members of the local CIA team from Bangkok left for their hotel, Soufan pulled an old military cot into an adjacent room.

At three a.m., a doctor woke him. "You should ask your questions right away," he urged. Zubaydah had developed septicemia and an old shrapnel injury to his skull from his days in Afghanistan was causing brain swelling. He would likely be dead by morning.

Soufan contacted the CIA in-country team, and sent word to Langley from where there came a sharply worded cable: " Death is not an option."

The delirious patient woke up and found himself surrounded by female nurses. He began jabbering, thinking they were houris (virgins) and that he was in paradise. When he saw Ali Soufan and realized he was still alive, he tried to get out of bed.

"Don't make a scene," Soufan whispered, oblivious to the fact that Abu Zubaydah was about to be sucked into a black hole.

April 10, 2002, Detention Site Green, Thailand

A cable arrived for Special Agent Soufan. A new team was arriving to "provide realtime recommendations to overcome Abu Zubaydah's resistance to interrogation."


Soufan was pleased. Handling Zubaydah alone was exhausting, and he knew one of the CIA operatives slated to join him as they had worked the USS Cole case together in Yemen in 2000.
However, when the new team arrived, Soufan instinctively disliked the contracted psychologist, Dr. James Mitchell. He was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program, based at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, (Wa.). Well known to U.S. Special Forces operators, who he trained to resist interrogation, Mitchell had retired in July 2001, only to volunteer for service after 9/11, horrified by the "falling man" scenario in which people had jumped off the Twin Towers in preference to succumbing to the inferno. He was contracted by the CIA to reverse engineer his program to make silent Al Qaeda suspects talk.

Mitchell informed Soufan that Al Qaeda fighters were specially trained in resistance techniques using stolen U.S. Special Forces manuals. The CIA had decided that only a program focused on tailor-made countermeasures could get someone of Zubaydah's seniority to tell the truth.
Zubaydah was already talking plenty, Soufan thought.

The prisoner had given up critical insights about a crucial Al Qaeda courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, who served as Osama bin Laden's permanent companion - a man who would ultimately lead the CIA to Abbottabad. And Zubaydah had blown the cover of the 9/11 architect known to the FBI as "Mokhtar" – revealing him to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Photo courtesy the family of Abu Zubaydah

Soufan was irked at being lectured. But Mitchell came with the full authorization of CTC chief of staff Jose Rodriguez and had the backing of Gina Haspel.

Zubaydah was to be discharged from the hospital and returned to the jungle camp, Soufan was informed. After that, the new CIA interrogation team would have exclusive access to him. Coached by Mitchell, the team would work on Zubaydah for as long as it took for them to make him compliant.


At home in Florida, the shelves of Mitchell's personal library were filled with books on psychology, Islamic texts and a collection of Neanderthal skulls.

An old photo revealed a powerful personal motivation for studying the mindset of violent Islamists. It was of two couples together in the mountains: James Mitchell and his wife Kathy hiking together with Donald Hutchings and his wife Jane.

Back in 1995, Don, a close friend from Spokane, a psychiatrist and fellow extreme sports enthusiast, had been kidnapped by armed Islamists while trekking in Kashmir, along with five other Westerners. One of the hostages was beheaded and one escaped. Don and three others were never seen again, with Jane left to trawl the Himalayas fruitlessly searching for her husband, while James and Kathy looked after her mournful dog.

Now that Mitchell was in the driving seat at the secret "Cats Eye" site, Soufan was unconvinced he was the right man for the job. He complained to the higher ups, but it was useless.
"Washington feels that Abu Zubaydah knows much more than he's telling you," a CTC official explained.

"[Mitchell] here has a method that will get that information quickly," said the CTC official.
"What is this method ?" Soufan asked.

Taking away privileges, including clothes, food, and his chair, would enable Zubaydah to see his interrogator as "a god" who controlled his suffering. "Pretty quickly you'll see Abu Zubaydah buckle and become compliant," Mitchell assured.


Soufan was needed now for only one task, he continued, to inform Zubaydah that a new team was taking over that would determine whether the detainee lived or died.

Soufan was upset and angry.

He fired off a cable to FBI headquarters.

An unequivocal message came back: Dr. Mitchell had full authorization from Jose Rodriguez. The psychologist would later say: "I'm just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could."

Soufan was also told that the president had recently signed an executive order that excluded Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees from protection under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibited "mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." The CTC had free rein.

On April 13, 2002, the "new interrogation program" started while Zubaydah was still in the hospital. A CIA interrogator sat by Zubaydah's bed and quietly advised that he should cooperate and inform them of "a most important secret that [they] needed to know."

Zubaydah, who was more focused on his seeping wounds, said nothing.

Two days later, with Zubaydah still not speaking, a "pre-move message" was delivered, informing him that "time is running out."

Zubaydah was sedated, discharged from hospital, and moved back to his old cell in the jungle camp. He woke up four hours later. "I found myself chained to this steel bed in this white room," he wrote in his diary, a record that Mitchell later said he allowed Zubaydah to write in detention so they would know what the detainee was thinking.


Most of the entries were undated and some are hard to understand, but the diary, which was later confiscated and classified, extracts reproduced here for the first time, gives a sharp insight inside the new program.

Though he was desperate for sleep, cold water was repeatedly thrown over him to keep him awake. Shivering, he tried to take in his surroundings. "There was nobody, nothing, except for the three walls that reflected the light as if they were lights . . . At the end of the panel of bars there was a metal door mostly made of metal bars as well . . . So I am in a prison and not in a hospital."

Eventually, he met his new jailers. "I saw a black object," Zubaydah recalled.

"The black object turned out to be a man all dressed in black. Even his face, his nose and his mouth were all covered." His eyes were covered with what looked like diving goggles, also black. Each time Zubaydah closed his eyes to sleep, the man in black threw cold water on him.

Once Zubaydah had been softened up, the interrogators filed into the room and questioned him about his Al Qaeda links. Zubaydah recalled repeating the same words over and over: "I'm not from Al Qaeda, I'm not from Al Qaeda."

One of the interrogators responded: "Don't go there."

These words would be repeated thousands of times and ring in his head.

More interrogators and guards filled up the cell. Unlike Mitchell, who had spent twenty years in the military, they were mostly newly employed contractors. Someone shouted another question about Al Qaeda.


"I am not from Al Qaeda . . . " he stammered.

"Don't go there."

"As to urinating I would do it on the first chair in a special can. However the chains were so tight to the chair to the point that many times I found myself urinating all over myself and on the bandages that were still wrapped around my left wounded thigh." - Abu Zudaydah

Despite President George W Bush announcing in 2002 that the US had captured the Number Three in the outfit, Zubaydah had never joined Al Qaeda and had even canvassed against 9/11.
A black-clad guard produced handcuffs and leg shackles, while another switched on a "noise generator," filling the cell with ear-shattering sounds.

Next, they cut off his clothes and shaved his head, leaving clumps of hair lying on the floor.
"They sat me on a plastic chair totally naked and they chained me very tight," Zubaydah wrote later. "I don't know how long I was chained to the chair. It felt like one and a half months."
The chair became his world.

"As to urinating I would do it on the first chair in a special can. However the chains were so tight to the chair to the point that many times I found myself urinating all over myself and on the bandages that were still wrapped around my left wounded thigh."

Whatever happened, he wasn't to sleep.

"I was deprived . . . for a long period of time; I don't even know for how long: maybe two or three weeks or even more and it felt like an eternity to the point that I found myself falling asleep despite the water being thrown at me by the guard who found himself with no choice but to strongly and constantly shake me in order to keep me awake."


Soufan, who was still there, watched horrified.

A doctor was sent for.

"He gave me the injection and I woke up from the pain," recalled Zubaydah. "He examined me and then he started making signals to them without saying anything as if he was trying to tell them: 'he needs to sleep, otherwise he would go crazy.'"

Briefly, Zubaydah was allowed to nap on the chair.

"My chained hands were hanging," he recalled. "I laid my chest on my thigh and slept. My hanging arms became like a cushion for my head. Sometimes the pain would wake me up, other times I would wake up from the cold but most of the time I would wake up because I was hungry."

"Boum! Boum! Boum! . . . then zen, then zzzz, then wezzzz."

More noise.

Zubaydah felt crushed by sound waves. "I felt my brain was going up and down, left and right . . . The song would last 5 to 10 minutes and was played again and again non stop to the point that on the first day I became afraid to reach the moment when the song would end, for the end sounded like a screaming. I started trying to distract my mind in order to avoid feeling the end of the song coming and I finally found myself screaming along with it."

He was barbered again.

"They kept shaving my head and my face with an electrical razor and they did it in such a quick and violent manner," wrote Zubaydah, whose hands and nails became totally black from the buildup of dirt. He began vomiting and a nurse was sent in. "I couldn't cover my genitals in an appropriate manner."


"Why are you naked?" she asked.

"Ask them," he replied.

She said: "I'll see what I can do."

Perhaps she complained or was part of the pageant, he could not decide, but the guards returned and clothed him.

"Praise God, I am finally able to cover my genitals," he thought. But it did not last long.
"Someone started screaming loudly and shoving me violently and started violently and quickly cutting my clothes. I felt at that moment he was cutting my skin."

He was also shaved again, "like you shave a sheep and not a human being."

And soon Zubaydah was covered in his own hair and vomit, and "unable to control my urination."
Ali Soufan confronted Mitchell. Several, along with Soufan, wrote confidential e-mails to their superiors in the United States, requesting an intervention. After much debate at headquarters level, Soufan was given temporary permission to reengage with the detainee on April 17.

"I poured a cup of tea and walked back into Zubaydah's cell."

Zubaydah spluttered: "Hello, Ali."


At the end of April 2002, despite mounting protests from Soufan, CIA headquarters introduced the most coercive of new interrogation strategies that had the full backing of Jose Rodriguez and were supervised on the ground by COB Haspel and a senior CTC official.

They included sensory deprivation and involved "a single-minded, consistent, totally focused questioning of current threat information."


First, the interrogators removed Zubaydah's hood and produced his jihad address book. "You're a liar and you have ways of getting in touch with these people," someone hissed.

Zubaydah laughed hysterically. Recalling this moment in his diary, he wrote: "If it were not for God's protection, I could have officially declared myself psychotic."

They chained him down and questioned him around the clock: two teams who took turns at resting while he was kept permanently awake. One man in particular terrified Zubaydah. "His face was uncovered. He had no mask or big glasses, like the other guards usually had."
It was Dr. Mitchell.

Following warnings that "countless more Americans may die unless we can persuade AZ to tell us what he knows," Abu Zubaydah was held in isolation for forty-seven days while the interrogation program was upgraded and refined in Washington, D.C.

Mitchell recommended that the CIA enter into a contract with Dr. Bruce Jessen, his co-author of a report written the previous December on potential Al Qaeda resistance and his former colleague at Fairchild Air Force Base. Like Mitchell, Jessen, who had grown up in a Mormon community in Utah, had no practical experience of interrogation, but his reputation at Fairchild was legendary and his CIA contract was approved.

Evidence that the team on the ground in Thailand felt that the new "aggressive methods" under discussion might cross the red line and cause permanent damage to Zubaydah was contained in a cable sent to headquarters on July 15, 2002: "We need to get reasonable assurance that [Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life."

Whatever happened—whatever was learned—Zubaydah was never getting out alive.

If the worst-case scenario happened and Zubaydah died, "we need to be prepared to act accordingly, keeping in mind the liaison equities involving our hosts."

His body should be cremated.


Officers from Langley responded several days later, stating, "The interrogation process takes precedence over preventative medical procedures" and confirming that "all major players are in concurrence that Zubaydah should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life."
Whatever happened—whatever was learned—Zubaydah was never getting out alive.

On July 24, Attorney General John Ashcroft verbally approved the use of ten interrogation techniques, which included walling, cramped confinement, and the use of diapers and insects. When the interrogation team indicated that they intended to wait for the approval of waterboarding, the attorney general verbally approved it on July 26. Soon after, Dr. Mitchell flew back to Thailand, where he was joined by Dr. Jessen, while the FBI's Ali Soufan was ordered to permanently withdraw from the case.

August 4, 2002, Detention Site Green, Thailand

The new process started at eleven fifty a.m. after a decision was taken that it would be continued on a near twenty-four-hour per-day basis.

A medical officer wrote an e-mail updating Langley, subject heading: "So it begins."

A number of guards entered Zubaydah's cell accompanied by two CIA interrogators. One of them pointed to a large wooden box. They flipped it upright and beckoned Zubaydah over. "From now on this is going to be your home."

The vertical casket was just about big enough for him if he sat on the bucket placed inside for human waste, Zubaydah later wrote in his diary. He didn't know how long he was inside when he "heard the click of a lock" and light flooded in. "I felt something was being wrapped around my neck. I suddenly saw another man . . . He was twisting a thick towel, which was wrapped with a plastic tape so it could be given the shape of a noose. He wrapped it around my neck and dragged me. I fell on the floor along with the bucket, with all its content that fell on me."


Without uttering any words, the American interrogator slammed Zubaydah's head against a concrete wall. To Zubaydah, it still felt like his skull was shattering. "He started banging my head against the wall with both his hands. The banging was so strong that I felt at some point that my skull was in pieces, or that the artificial bone in my open head was falling apart. I don't know how to describe that feeling. The feeling was abnormal . . . It lasted forever and that guy . . . was not getting tired from beating me."

The beating intensified as the man yelled at Zubaydah: "You think you have pride? I will show you now what pride is."

Later, Zubaydah glimpsed another wooden box, with barely the dimensions of a child's coffin. "With the help of the guards, he shoved me inside."

Zubaydah felt his back was breaking due to the intensity of the banging. "He started slapping my face again and . . . yelling."

Later, Zubaydah glimpsed another wooden box, with barely the dimensions of a child's coffin. "With the help of the guards, he shoved me inside."

It was twenty-one inches wide, two and a half feet high, and two and a half feet deep. "The stress on my legs . . . meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. It was hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don't know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted."


Cramped and immobile, Zubaydah was in agony. "I felt I was going to explode."

The waterboarding came next. Dragged out of the box, he saw a metal bed "that had many belts in every direction." It looked like a medieval rack. "I was totally restrained to the point that I was unable to make any movement whatsoever. They restrained me in a lying down position. Obviously, even the wounded thigh was strongly restrained under the gauze. I felt the wounds were opening . . . After they restrained my body, they restrained my head as well with the help of strong plastic cushions on the sides, which made it impossible for me to move it, not even for one centimeter to the left or one centimeter to the right, and obviously neither upward nor downward."

A black cloth was pulled over his head. Then water was poured onto his face. "They kept pouring water and concentrating on my nose and my mouth until I really felt I was drowning and my chest was just about to explode from the lack of oxygen. Indeed that was the first time and the first day that I felt I was going to die from drowning . . . All I know or remember is that I started vomiting water but also rice and string beans."

Zubaydah wrote: "They performed the same operation three times on [the first day]. And every time they were deflating the cushion that was holding my head a little bit and so I would feel my head lowered a little bit, which made it ever more difficult for me to bear water flowing inside of me."


They interrupted the operation for a few minutes to allow him to breathe or vomit and then resumed.

"After the third time on that day, they kept the hood, soaked in water, on my head and started asking me questions . . . Then, they removed me from the bed and dragged me to the box; they shoved me inside and locked the door."

The procedure lasted in total two and a half hours, during which, according to the official report, Zubaydah suffered "involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities."

Even when he was recovering in one of the boxes, there was no letup. "I suddenly felt a strong strike that shook the box from outside followed by several other stronger strikes," he recalled.
"They shook the box so heavily, which made me fall from the bucket. The strikes continued. There were probably ten strikes. Then every quarter of an hour they would bang again ten times, maybe to make sure I am unable to sleep. Yet with the time, the fatigue, the headache and the pain it seemed to me I was able to sleep for a very short time. And I started hearing the bangs as in a dream. They would wake me, I would count them and then fall asleep again."

A CIA cameraman recorded every minute, creating a record that would ultimately run to ninety-two tapes.

Photo courtesy the family of Abu Zubaydah

"The little box, the water bed, the long box," it went round and round.

The waterboarding increased "from three to four and sometimes five sessions," as, according to Zubaydah's diary, the CIA team added new twists.


"1) Keeping me on my feet tied up for long hours, wet with water and urine to the point where I felt my legs, especially the wounded one, were just about to explode from pressure, and my back as well. 2) They kept me lying down on the water bed for long hours . . . This time, my head was tied up and restrained in one direction and the wet black cloth was entirely covering my head which added to the pain resulting from the contraction in the neck, the back, the limbs, the joints, the muscles and the nerves . . . 3) They increased the amount of cold water that was being poured over my naked cold body."

The questioning continued, an interrogator demanding to know about future terrorist operations against the United States.

"I tried to speak or yell with my head covered, shouting 'I don't know anything,' but I suddenly felt the water flowing again," recalled Zubaydah.

Every time Zubaydah denied he was in Al Qaeda or knew anything, an interrogator banged his head against the wall. "Before I could finish my sentence the beating started again and my head and back were brutally banged against the wall."

During one especially grueling session, Zubaydah felt his body was being ripped apart. "There were tears in my eyes, my nose was leaking and even my genital organ was involuntarily discharging," he recalled.

According to ProPublica, in a book written by one of the interrogators present, the COB Haspel witnessed many of these grueling sessions. At one point the COB was reported to have spoken to Zubaydah: "Good job! I like the way you are drooling; it adds realism. I'm almost buying it. You wouldn't think a grown man would do that."


In total, Zubaydah spent more than eleven days inside the large coffin-size box and twenty-nine hours inside the smaller one, his interrogators telling him that the only way he would leave the facility was "in a box."

Despite this, Zubaydah offered up "no useful information."

The log from Detention Site Green recorded that the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques continued in "varying combinations, 24 hours a day" for seventeen straight days through to August 20. During the interrogators' downtime, Zubaydah was left strapped with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of the coffins. He tried to place himself somewhere else, reciting the lyrics to "Sailor," his favorite Chris de Burgh song, about being lost at sea and dreaming of going home. But Chris de Burgh did not work.

A cable noted that Zubaydah "cried," "begged," "pleaded," "whimpered," and denied knowledge of any ongoing Al Qaeda plans.

"I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation," Zubaydah recalled. He began losing control of his body. "This is very similar to the shaking I noticed years ago after I was wounded in my head and lost my memory." He would go to sleep shaking and wake up shaking. He also began uncontrollable mumbling.


On August 8, another noted: "Today's first session . . . had a profound effect on all staff members present… It seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further."

CIA staff at Detention Site Green were by now chafing. Even Mitchell and Jessen were worried things were going too far. On August 5, 2002, one official cable the team wrote read: "Want to caution [medical officer] that this is almost certainly not a place he's ever been before in his medical career . . . It is visually and psychologically very uncomfortable."

On August 8, another noted: "Today's first session . . . had a profound effect on all staff members present… It seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further."
A third cable written on the same day reported: "Several on the team profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears and choking up."

The next day another cable stated that two, possibly three, personnel were likely to elect to transfer away from the detention site if a decision was made to continue.

Dr. Mitchell later claimed that he and Jessen considered resigning after they were told to continue waterboarding Zubaydah despite the fact that they had recommended it was no longer necessary to do so. He said the CTC officers overseeing the operation rounded on them, saying: "You've lost your spines." According to Mitchell, the CTC officials warned that if they did not keep waterboarding Abu Zubaydah and another attack happened in the United States it would be "your fault."

According to the Senate report on CIA torture that was partially released in December 2014, the chief of support services at Detention Site Green said that Mitchell and Jessen were "frustrated that they kept beating Zubaydah up on the same question while getting the same physiologic response from him." In an interview with the authors, Mitchell refuted these allegations strongly and claimed that the Senate report sought to place all blame for the discredited program on himself and Jessen in order to exhonerate the CIA.

By August 9, the sixth day of enhanced interrogations, the CIA in-country team informed Langley that they had come to the "collective preliminary assessment" that it was unlikely Abu Zubaydah "had actionable new information about current threats to the United States."

The following day they sent another cable reinforcing the message: it was "highly unlikely" that Zubaydah possessed the information they were seeking. Mitchell claimed that his name was on the document.

Officials at CTC headquarters led by Jose Rodriguez insisted the procedures continue.
In his filthy cell, surrounded by excrement, vomit, urine, and hair, Zubaydah was by now so conditioned by his treatment that all the interrogator had to do was snap his fingers twice to get him to lie down on the waterboard.

"The torture continued using the same methods during the period of drowning that was not limited to water but also urine, in addition to the heavy vomiting that was breaking my head in two and tearing apart my stomach— that was already wounded," Zubaydah later wrote in his prison diary. "The long closed wound that goes through my belly and appears a little under the chest . . . seemed as if it opened internally during every episode of vomiting or after drowning or during long standings or even by just sitting down."

An interrogation tape recorded on August 11 was labeled with a warning to "prepare for something not seen previously."

The interrogation team demanded that someone come from headquarters for a "first-hand on-the-ground look" as the treatment was "approaching the legal limit." After reviewing "quite graphic" videotapes of Zubaydah's recent sessions on a conference call, headquarters agreed to send a team.

Zubaydah recalled the day that the visitors from Langley arrived. "The hood was lifted and I saw two other individuals: a man and a woman in civilian clothes," he wrote later in his diary. "It took minutes before I realized that I was completely naked in front of a woman. For moral and religious reasons I covered my genitals with my hands."

The man threw Zubaydah against the wall. "Don't start getting angry again otherwise we'll start again from zero. Understood?"

At this point, the woman started reading questions from a piece of paper she was holding.
Zubaydah noticed that her hands were trembling.

After the visitors went back to the United States, the interrogations continued. No one stopped it, although one interrogator came who was better than the rest. In his head Zubaydah called him "Mr. Its-gonna-be-fine."

That month, CIA headquarters received a cable describing Zubaydah's interrogation as a success and recommended that the "aggressive phase should be used as a template for future interrogation of high value captives."

The Exile will be released May 23 by Bloomsbury USA. Pre-order it here. Follow the authors, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark on Twitter.