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US task: Get inside head of captured bin Laden aide

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"Are we going to engage in some form of forced interrogation, such as inflicting pain or torture? I don't see it happening at all in an authorized way," says William H. Webster, a former FBI and CIA director. "More subtle things would be the application of sodium pentothal [truth serum]," he said.

"This is intrusive, but less intrusive than inflicting pain, and if it is done it would be done on some higher authority," he says.

Such drugs may be justified to gather information quickly that "would save lives or prevent some catastrophic consequence," he says.

Other attorneys agree. "I think we have to consider and use some kind of drug compulsion," says Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense. "We have to get what this man knows and use it to protect ourselves."

Still, information obtained using truth serum has a legal drawback: It is not likely to be accepted as evidence against Zubaydah or other alleged terrorists in trials, say attorneys including Webster, who advised the Pentagon in drafting the newly unveiled rules for military tribunals.

TERRORISM experts believe the biggest benefits from netting Zubaydah and other senior Al Qaeda members will come from disrupting the network, rather than from "actionable intelligence" gained in interrogations. That would be "icing on the cake,' says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation in Washington. "Abu Zubaydah is a critically important apprehension" that will have "an enormous disruptive effect" on Al Qaeda, he says.

Acting during the 1990s as a "talent spotter" in charge of vetting many of the thousands of militants trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and assigning them to cells around the world, Zubaydah later rose to a position "at the nexus of Al Qaeda operations," says Hoffman.

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