WASHINGTON – Newly unclassified CIA documents provide fresh details on the brutal treatment of a terrorism suspect in late 2002 at a secret prison in rural Thailand then run by Gina Haspel, who was confirmed in May as CIA director after a contentious Senate hearing.
The 16 redacted cables between CIA headquarters in Virginia and the so-called black site prison in Thailand, which the National Security Archive at George Washington University obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, describe extended sessions of physical violence, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, box confinement and waterboarding of an al-Qaida suspect.
The cables don’t dramatically change the understanding of what the CIA called enhanced interrogation techniques and critics called torture at a now-shuttered network of secret detention sites overseas. But they do provide more details of what happened when Haspel was in charge of the site.
The CIA had refused to release the material during Haspel’s Senate confirmation hearing, but the Archive posted them online Friday.
The cables all focus on the interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen suspected of helping to orchestrate the 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in a Yemeni port, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, he was captured in Dubai in October 2002 and transported to the Thailand prison in mid-November, where he was interrogated for three weeks.
According to one cable, the “aggressive interrogation phase” began at 4:15 a.m. one day. He “was told that if he lied, he would suffer the consequences, and his life would become infinitely worse,” the cable said.
The Sept. 11 attacks were barely a year old, and interrogators demanded information about future terrorist strikes. When al-Nashiri did not immediately respond, “subject’s clothes were ripped off of him by security team members while the interrogator told subject we knew he was lying,” the cable said.
The episode ended when one of the interrogators pointed at a “large box” in the room and told al-Nashiri, “It was now his new home.” He was then hooded and locked in the coffin-sized box for about 12 hours.
The harsh treatment continued for days, sometimes lasting for hours.
After several days, “subject was told that he was going to suffer,” and interrogators began to waterboard him, a painful and terrifying technique that involves forcing water down a prisoner’s throat to simulate drowning. In all, he was waterboarded three times.
When strapped to the table, Nashiri began to cry and he “promised to tell everything he knew, but added that he knew nothing.” Interrogators continued “the water treatment,” the cable said, and left al-Nashiri on the table, “moaning, shaking and asking God to help him repeatedly.”
There’s no indication that al-Nashiri provided useful intelligence about future plots. An extensive report from Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee released in 2014 said the brutal interrogations did not help prevent imminent terrorist attacks, and they sometimes led to false confessions.
Haspel’s name does not appear in the redacted cables. But Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, said Haspel would have authored them or authorized their transmission while serving as chief of base.