Current CIA director Gina Haspel talked in detail about torturing a terror suspect by means of waterboarding and other controversial methods while she was running a secret black site in Thailand, according to previously classified cables.
Heavily redacted documents, many of which are believed to have been written by Ms Haspel, reveal a previously undisclosed level of detail about the methods being employed by the CIA following the 9/11 attacks and after George Bush launched his so-called war on terror.
The cables dating from 2002 detail actions taken against suspect Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who in one interrogation, according to the documents, had his clothes ripped from him as he “whimpered that he would do anything his interrogators required”. He was told if he did not cooperate, he would suffer “in ways he never thought possible”.
“Interrogation escalated rapidly from subject being aggressively debriefed by interrogators while standing at the walling wall, to multiple applications of the walling technique, and ultimately, multiple applications of the watering technique,” reads one document, referring to the use of waterboarding.
Another document refers to how Ms al-Nashiri crawled into “the small box”, in which he was confined, after the torture session was completed. The questioners told the prisoner they did not believe he was telling the truth and threatened more action if he did not cooperated, though it appears they eventually concluded he was not withholding information.
The role of Ms Haspel in overseeing torture methods such as waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning that was outlawed once Barack Obama became president, was the focus of much of the questioning she faced earlier this year before she was eventually confirmed 54-45 by the Senate as CIA Director.
Given that Donald Trump has often talked of his desire to restart the use of such methods, Ms Haspel, a 30-year-veteran of the agency was asked whether she agreed with the president.
In a letter to Democratic senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, she said: “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation programme is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”
The National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institution located on the campus of George Washington University, said the documents provided details of conditions “the public has only seen in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs from Iraq of detainees hooded and shackled, forced nudity, wall slamming, and box confinement, as well as ‘enhanced techniques’ never photographed such as the simulated drowning of suspects”.
“Release of Gina Haspel’s torture cables shows the power of the Freedom of Information Act to bring accountability even to the highest levels of the CIA,” said archive director Tom Blanton, who obtained the documents following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
It said although the CIA had redacted Ms Haspel’s name and those of the CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who administered the waterboard, other declassified documents, including the 2004 CIA Inspector General report, had confirmed their leadership role over Mr al-Nashiri at the black site between November 15 and December 4 2002.
The archive said one outstanding question was whether Ms Haspel wrote Cable 11359, from December 1 2002, which used remarkably vivid language to describe the torture sessions.
“[The interrogators] strode, catlike, into the well-lit confines of the cell at 0902 hrs [redacted], deftly removed the subject’s black hood with a swipe, paused, and in a deep, measured voice said that subject – having ‘calmed down’ after his (staged) run-in with his hulking, heavily muscled guards the previous day – should reveal what subject had done to vex his guards to the point of rage,” it read.
Mr al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen, is believed by US intelligence officials to be behind the 2000 bombing attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors and injured dozens more. He has denied this.
He was seized in 2002 and held for four years on various secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco, and Romania.
He was transferred to the US military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2006 where he was eventually brought before the Guantanamo Military Commission and charged with plotting the attack on the USS Cole. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
A spokesman for the CIA said: “Thank you for reaching out. We do not have a comment on this matter at this time.”
Mr al-Nashiri’s lawyer, Mr Richard Kammen, said that his client was brutally tortured by the CIA and that he hoped the truth came out before he went on trial. He told The New York Times: “Ultimately, the public will be horrified by the level of brutality employed by the CIA.”
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