Newly declassified documents released Friday graphically describe how an accused al-Qaida operative was stripped naked, repeatedly slammed against walls, waterboarded and confined in boxes for hours at a covert detention site that CIA Director Gina Haspel briefly oversaw after 9/11.
The harsh treatment of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri at the secret lockup in Thailand has been revealed before, and came under the spotlight during Haspel’s contentious Senate confirmation this spring. About a dozen new documents, obtained by the nonprofit National Security Archive, provide more detail.
According to one cable, an interrogator “snarled” at Nashiri and told him: “You are our prisoner. We are your keepers and it doesn’t get much lower than that.”
Some of the other cables, essentially field reports sent from the base in Thailand to CIA headquarters, describe forced nudity replaced by a “towel to wear” and the shaving of Nashiri’s head and beard while he “cried and grimaced theatrically.”
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Haspel’s name and those of other CIA employees who worked at the detention site are redacted from the documents, which were first disclosed by the Washington Post. But public statements and other declassified papers, including the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report, confirm that she was overseeing the site while Nashiri was there during the last few months of 2002.
The CIA has disclosed little about Haspel’s 30-plus years with the agency, nearly all of it undercover. During her confirmation, she said she does not support the use of the harsh interrogation techniques that were used at the detention site in Thailand — and others around the world — “for any purpose.”
CIA psychologists initiated one interrogation session at 4:15 a.m. by placing Nashiri against the “walling board” and telling him “they wanted to know who, what, when, where and how ongoing operations would take place and would stop at nothing to get it.”
When Nashiri repeated information he had already provided instead of new information about threats, the psychologists threw him to the floor and a “security team” ripped off his clothes and shaved his head while he “moaned and wailed.” They then locked him in a box.
Nashiri, who is currently detained at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is accused of orchestrating the al-Qaida plot to bomb the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole in 2000. The attack off the coast of Yemen killed 17 American sailors. His trial is currently on hold.
He was captured in the United Arab Emirates in mid-October 2002, was sent to the detention site in Thailand in November 2002. It was closed the following month. Nashiri was waterboarded, a technique that simulates drowning, at least three times, beginning Nov. 26, 2002.
“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,” said a cable that recounted the interrogation session back to CIA headquarters.
At one point, Nashiri was “left strapped to the waterboard” for 20 minutes so he could “contemplate his fate,” the cable said. After he was waterboarded, the interrogators covered Nashiri’s head with a hood and “left him on the waterboard, moaning, shaking and asking God to help him repeatedly.”
As he was being waterboarded again, the psychologists told Nashiri that if he was not honest with them and did not tell them about U.S. operations against the United States, they “were willing to continue to give subject the same treatment, day in and day out, for months if need be, until subject decided to cooperate.”
The cables recount another instance where the interrogators carried out a “theatrically flawless” scenario designed to render Nashiri, who was hooded at the time, to a further helpless state.
“Security team members burst into the subject’s cell, shouting and howling” while one of the interrogators “walled him five times” and then pretended to interrupt the mock killing and rescue him. Afterwards, Nashiri cried and then “sat quietly in the corner of his cell on some tissue paper, which he had carefully folded into a pad.”
The National Security Archive, founded in 1985 and based at George Washington University in Washington, uses the Freedom of Information Act to solicit the government to declassify information to provide a more complete understanding of events, particularly related to national security and foreign policy.
The archive filed its FOIA request for the Haspel cables in April after President Donald Trump nominated her to be director of the CIA. The documents, however, were not released until after the Senate confirmed her as director in mid-May. During his campaign for the presidency, Trump said he backed waterboarding, but has not taken steps to revive its use.
During her confirmation hearings, Haspel said that “with the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”