WASHINGTON — In late November 2002, C.I.A. interrogators at a secret prison in Thailand warned a Qaeda suspect that he had to “suffer the consequences of his deception.”
As interrogators splashed water on the chest of the man, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, he pleaded that he was trying to recall more information, according to a newly released C.I.A. cable. As he cried, the cable reports, the “water treatment was applied.”
The “water treatment” was bureaucratic jargon for waterboarding, and 11 newly released top-secret cables from the time that Gina Haspel, now the C.I.A. director, oversaw the base provide at times graphic detail on the techniques the agency used to brutally interrogate Qaeda captives. Agency leaders and officers were racing to uncover what they feared were large-scale plots against the United States in the chaotic months and years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As the chief of the base, Ms. Haspel would have written or authorized the cables, according to Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University. The cables, obtained by the archive in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, were redacted to eliminate the names of interrogators and C.I.A. officers involved.
ProPublica previously reported on cables from the Thailand black site, which also offered details of the C.I.A.’s methods. Like those documents, the new cables describe the waterboarding of Mr. Nashiri as well as the use of other torture techniques.
The C.I.A. declined to comment.
Mr. Nashiri, a Saudi accused of masterminding the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen, admitted his involvement during the harsh interrogation sessions, according to the cables. While he revealed knowledge of aborted plots against ships in the Strait of Hormuz, it does not appear, at least in the readable portions, that he had knowledge of continuing plots.
The cables describe interrogators shaving Mr. Nashiri, locking him in a box and slamming him against the wall.
Though heavily redacted, the documents suggest that, as a 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded, the waterboarding and other brutal treatment of Mr. Nashiri produced little or no new intelligence about existing plots or imminent attacks.
The excesses and missteps that surrounded the C.I.A. enhanced interrogation program occurred in large measure because the agency had no experience or expertise in interrogation. To create the program, the C.I.A. hired two former military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, to develop the techniques. The two men drew on survival training for military personnel that teaches them how to try to survive torture if captured by the enemy.
As she was trying to win confirmation as C.I.A. director this spring, Ms. Haspel claimed the techniques yielded valuable intelligence but disavowed them and said their use “should not have been undertaken.” During his campaign, President Trump flirted with the idea of reviving waterboarding — insisting that “torture works” — and has never denounced the harsh techniques used by the C.I.A.
Mr. Nashiri’s former lawyer, Richard Kammen, said that his client was brutally tortured by the C.I.A. and that he hopes the truth comes out before Mr. Nashiri goes on trial. “Ultimately, the public will be horrified by the level of brutality employed by the C.I.A.,” Mr. Kammen said.
The military commission hearing Mr. Nashiri’s case collapsed after his defense lawyers quit amid accusations that the government was monitoring their conversations with their client. The government is appealing to try to force them to take up the case once more. Mr. Nashiri is being held at the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Nashiri was facing the death penalty over charges he helped plot the Cole attack, which killed 17 sailors, as well as an attack on a French-flagged oil tanker in 2002 that killed a Bulgarian man.
In one early interrogation, outlined in the new documents, Mr. Nashiri had his clothes ripped off him and “whimpered that he would do anything interrogators wanted.” The interrogators told him that “if he refused to cooperate, he would suffer in ways he never thought possible.” They then shaved Mr. Nashiri’s head while he wailed and moaned.
During the interrogation, the officers returned to versions of the threat that Mr. Nashiri’s life would “get much worse.”
Eventually, the interrogators moved from shoving him against the wall and confining him to various-size boxes to waterboarding.
“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,” another document said.
At times, the interrogators called Mr. Nashiri names — “a little girl,” “a spoiled little rich Saudi,” a “sissy” — and threatened to turn him over to “other people” who, they said, “would certainly kill him,” one cable said. Pointing to the black-clad team that carried out the torture, they told Mr. Nashiri that its members had volunteered for the job after hearing he was responsible for the bombing of the Cole and “had something to avenge.”
In the late November session, after Mr. Nashiri was waterboarded several times, the interrogators said they were willing to deliver the same treatment for months until he cooperated. When they were finished, Mr. Nashiri crawled into “the small box” in which he was confined.
The interrogators continually told Mr. Nashiri they did not believe he was telling everything he knew, threatening him with worse treatment if he did not tell them more. The prisoner, already subjected to the whole array of C.I.A. torture techniques — loud noise, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, wall-slamming and waterboarding — insisted he was trying to remember and tell them everything.
But the interrogators appear to have ultimately concluded that Mr. Nashiri was not lying. Some of the cables back to headquarters, apparently written by Ms. Haspel, described him as “compliant and cooperative,” according to the 2014 report on the interrogation program by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Officials at C.I.A. headquarters were displeased by such comments, directing the field officers to stop making such “sweeping statements” about Mr. Nashiri’s compliance. The superiors in Langley, Va., insisted that he knew more than he was saying.
Ms. Haspel arrived to oversee the Thailand black site in late October 2002. The site was shut weeks later, on Dec. 4, 2002.
With the last of the newly released cables, dated Dec. 1, 2002, the writing style shifts dramatically, aspiring to a literary flair. The cable says the interrogator and linguist “strode, catlike, into the well-lit confines of the cell” and one of them “deftly removed the subject’s black hood with a swipe,” addressing him in “a deep, measured voice.” The change in style suggests, though it does not prove, that the final cable may not have been written by Ms. Haspel, Mr. Blanton said.
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