WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The CIA on three occasions shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks used a widely condemned interrogation technique known as waterboarding, CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress on Tuesday.
"Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees," Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly specifying the number of subjects and naming them for the first time, as Congress considers banning the technique.
Those subjected to waterboarding were al Qaeda suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hayden said.
He said waterboarding has not been used in five years, but it was used then because of concerns of imminent catastrophic attacks on the United States and because authorities had limited knowledge of al Qaeda.
"The circumstances are different than they were in late 2001, early 2002," Hayden said.
He said he opposed limiting the CIA to using interrogation techniques permitted in the U.S. Army Field Manual, which bans waterboarding. CIA interrogators are better trained, and it works with a narrower range of suspects in its interrogations, he said.
Hayden told the committee fewer than 100 people had been held in the CIA's terrorism detention and interrogation program, with fewer than one-third of them subjected to any coercive interrogation techniques.
The CIA said in December that it had destroyed videotapes depicting the interrogations of Zubaydah and Nashiri, prompting a Justice Department investigation.