The CIA interrogator snapped his fingers, and suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah meekly lay down on the waterboarding table.
Then the pain began, again.
It was August 2002, at a secret overseas site code-named by the committee Detention Site Green. CIA officials had authorized the use of harsh measures against Zubaydah, who had been captured in March of that year.
The consequences, for both Zubaydah and the interrogators who manhandled him, would prove intense and horrifying. Now, a dozen years later, the consequences are among the most vividly recounted in a long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s interrogation program.
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“Several on the team profoundly affected … some to the point of tears and choking up,” a CIA officer reported in an Aug. 8, 2002, email describing officer’s reactions to the rough interrogation.
Though some aspects of the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program initiated during the George W. Bush administration previously have been made public, the 524-page report issued Tuesday reveals startling and graphic new details.
Taken together, the descriptions of U.S. intelligence officers and contract interrogators brutalizing detainees reveal the chilling reality of what former Vice President Dick Cheney once called a war “on the dark side.”
The accounts also flesh out what at times has been an abstract dispute over whether so-called enhanced interrogation techniques work. The committee concluded they do not, while Senate Republicans and Bush administration veterans insisted they were effective.
There is little doubt about their severity.
At a particularly bleak secret overseas facility called Detention Site Cobalt by the committee, for instance, the report noted that detainees were “kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.” The CIA’s own interrogation chief called the site a “dungeon.”
At certain points, Senate investigators recounted, CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape.
“The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched,” the report states.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, suspected as a key planner of the 9/11 terror attacks, came in for special treatment when he arrived at the same site following his capture in 2003.
“Let’s roll with the new guy,” the CIA’s chief of interrogations wrote CIA headquarters in a March 1, 2003, email included in the new report.
Interrogators immediately subjected the man commonly known as KSM to the full array of techniques. They slapped and grabbed his face and stomach. They forced him into uncomfortable stress positions and doused him with water. They deprived him of sleep and removed his clothes.
Without medical reason, they also performed several times what was called a “rectal rehydration,” a humiliating and painful procedure also performed on several other detainees. One interrogation official is quoted in the report as saying the rectal rehydration helps to “clear a person’s head.”
The CIA later moved KSM to a site called Detention Site Blue, where he was subsequently waterboarded 183 times, more than any other suspected terrorist.
“CIA’s use of (Justice Department)-approved enhanced interrogation techniques, as part of a comprehensive interrogation approach, has enabled CIA to disrupt terrorist plots, capture additional terrorists, and collect a high volume of critical intelligence on al-Qa'ida,” CIA officers declared in a memo, included in the report.
Senate investigators disputed the claim, citing the case of Hassan Ghul.
Ghul first spent several days at Detention Site Cobalt, where under conventional questioning he provided information about al-Qaida activities. The CIA then moved him to Detention Site Black, where Ghul was deprived of sleep and forced to stand with his arms aloft.
“CIA records do not indicate that information provided by Ghul during this period, or after, resulted in the identification or capture of any al Qaida leader,” the Senate report states.
Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value” detainee held at Detention Site Green, faced a particularly grueling ordeal between Aug. 4 and Aug. 23, 2002, after he had already been in complete isolation for 47 days. He was slammed against walls, placed in a coffin-sized box and waterboarded 83 times.
He frequently “cried,” “begged,” “pleaded” and “whimpered,” according to CIA reports, but he also steadfastly denied that he had any information on current threats to the United States. During one waterboarding session, he became unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth.
“Today’s first session … had a profound effect on all staff members present,” a CIA officer reported in an Aug. 8, 2002, email. “It seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further.”
The Senate report concludes that “CIA records indicate that Abu Zubaydah never provided the information for which the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were justified and approved: information on the next terrorist attack and operatives in the United States.”
The committee further contended that conventional interrogation techniques used by the FBI accounted for information Zubaydah provided on an alleged “dirty bomb” plot.
But Republicans say that during that time Abu Zubaydah talked to the FBI about the dirty bomb plot, he had been deprived of sleep for five days. He was also subjected to nudity, sensory deprivation and a liquid diet.
“Thus, all information provided by Abu Zubaydah subsequent to his return from the hospital on April 15, 2002, was obtained during or after the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and cannot be excluded from supporting the CIA’s effectiveness,” the Republicans wrote in their minority report.
Zubaydah, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, is now held at Guantánamo Bay. He has never been charged with a crime.
Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.