The CIA believed Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national, was an al Qaeda terrorist who possessed critical information on plots against America. So they subjected him to forced nudity, sleep deprivation, loud noises, physical abuse, and “water treatment” (waterboarding), according to newly released CIA cables.
All of this happened at a secret prison in Thailand in 2002. The person in charge of this so-called black site: current CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was the “chief of base” at the site from October 2002 until it closed, in December of that year. The documents that detail these torture techniques would have been written and authorized by Haspel, according to the New York Times.
These newly released details once again call into question Haspel’s confirmation as director of the CIA, an appointment that has been plagued by controversy since her nomination earlier this year.
The heavily redacted cables detail brutal treatment of Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian man and the suspected mastermind of an attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors, including his confinement to a small box and being slammed against a wall. All of this happened even though Nashiri cried and pleaded with agency interrogators, promising them that he would comply with any demands that they had, according to the newly released cables.
During one interrogation, Haspel wrote that Nashiri “whimpered that he would do anything the interrogators wanted.” The interrogators warned Nashiri that if he lied, he would “suffer the consequences” and his life would become “infinitely worse.” Nashiri was repeatedly waterboarded, which involves restraining an individual on their back and pouring water into their mouth and nose to simulate the sensation of drowning.
Interrogators berated Nashiri with derogatory nicknames (“little girl,” “spoiled little rich Saudi,” “sissy”). Nashiri was told that his torturers volunteered for the job after learning he was responsible for the USS Cole bombing because they had “something to avenge.” The interrogators also threatened to turn Nashiri over to “another nation” that would certainly kill him.
“If subject did not start to provide useful information, we would turn subject over to [another nation] because he would be of no use to us, and these other people would certainly kill him,” Haspel wrote. “Interrogator stated that he wanted subject to understand that he increase his chances of living by giving information to interrogator. By not doing so, subject was increasing his chances of being turned over to another nation.” Nashiri is still incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, where he has been for nearly 12 years. He is currently awaiting trial.
During her confirmation hearings to become director of the CIA, Haspel expressed regret over the use of such interrogation tactics at the CIA black site, although she maintained that torture had provided valuable intelligence to the U.S. But her opinion is not necessarily reflective of the larger intelligence community. A 2014 Senate intelligence committee report found that CIA officials regularly questioned the effectiveness of torture and assessed “that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence.”
Nevertheless, President Donald Trump has repeatedly proclaimed that “torture works” and endorsed the use of waterboarding during interrogations.
“If it doesn’t work,” Trump said during his presidential campaign, “they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump stands with the new CIA Director Gina Haspel during her swearing-in ceremony at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, U.S. May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque