A retired CIA agent confirmed in a US interview that interrogators used a simulated drowning technique on an al-Qaeda suspect and admitted that the disputed method is a form of torture.
In an ABC News interview aired Monday, retired agent John Kiriakou, who led a CIA team that captured and interrogated al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, said using the "waterboarding" technique was necessary and yielded crucial information.
Kiriakou said the method broke Zubaydah - one of the first top al-Qaeda suspects captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks - in less than 35 seconds, according to ABC.
"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," Kiriakou told ABC News.
"From that day on, he answered every question," he added. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
The technique involves pouring water on the covered face of a restrained prisoner.
Although Kiriakou admitted that waterboarding was used, he did not entirely approve of it: "We're Americans, and we're better than this. And we shouldn't be doing this kind of thing."
But he also said that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there was a sense of urgency in getting information on terrorist groups.
"What happens if we don't waterboard a person, and we don't get that nugget of information, and there's an attack," Kiriakou said. "I would have trouble forgiving myself."
Kiriakou's comments come amid a growing scandal over the CIA's destruction in 2005 of videotapes made in 2002 of interrogations of Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another top al-Qaeda operative, as first reported by The New York Times.
The videotapes reportedly showed harsh interrogation techniques used on the suspects.
Kiriakou said he was unaware that the Zubaydah interrogation was being secretly recorded by the CIA and that the tapes were subsequently destroyed.
CIA director Michael Hayden, who was not leading the agency when the tapes were destroyed, has said that getting rid of the tapes was necessary to protect the identity of CIA agents.
The White House has stopped short of denying any involvement in the affair. The Justice Department and the CIA's internal watchdog said they had opened a preliminary inquiry.
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