Abu Jandal had been in a Yemeni prison for nearly a year when Ali Soufan of the FBI and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived to interrogate him in the week after 9/11. Although there was already evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, American authorities needed conclusive proof, not least to satisfy skeptics like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose support was essential for any action against the terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence agencies also needed a better understanding of al-Qaeda's structure and leadership. Abu Jandal was the perfect source: the Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia had been bin Laden's chief bodyguard, trusted not only to protect him but also to put a bullet in his head rather than let him be captured.
Abu Jandal's guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda's involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel's Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldn't eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal's angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."
It took more questioning, and some interrogators' sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda — including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers — but the cookies were the turning point. "After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans," Soufan says. "Now he was thinking of us as human beings."
Yup, sugar-free cookies. Humane treatment and cookies can break even the toughest terrorist. Not waterboarding, or any of the other 'Jack Bauer' crap. Because even terrorists like cookies.
(Added on Sunday: Now in - time magazine. Maybe I can get a pro gig someday.)