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Context of 'September 17, 2001: President Bush Authorizes CIA ‘Black Sites,’ Assassination of Terrorists'

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The chief of operations at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center proposes that the CIA establish “hit teams” to assassinate high-value targets in al-Qaeda’s structure. The CIA compiled a list of such targets before 9/11, and updated it afterwards. The suggestion is made as part of a debate about what to do with the targets. The hit teams would be made up of CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa, and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one. However, some CIA officers object to this, saying that it would be better to keep the targets alive and interrogate them about their network and other plots. Other officers worry that the CIA might not be good at assassinating people, and the plan is never implemented, although the agency does establish a network of black sites for interrogating detainees. The identity of the chief of operations that makes this proposal is not known definitively, but Richard Blee is said to hold the position around this time (see Between Mid-January and July 2000). [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush signs a directive giving the CIA the authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda members and to set up a global network of secret detention facilities—“black sites”—for imprisoning and interrogating them. [Truthout (.org), 8/27/2004]
Secret Prison System - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will later call the sites a “hidden global internment network” designed for secret detentions, interrogations, and ultimately, torture. At least 100 prisoners will be remanded to this secret system of “extraordinary rendition.” The network will have its own fleet of aircraft (see October 4, 2001) and relatively standardized transfer procedures. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, will become the foundation for the CIA’s secret prison system. The directive does not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Secret Assassination List - Bush also approves a secret “high-value target list” containing about two dozen names, giving the CIA executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those on the list (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). The president is not required to approve each name added to the list and the CIA does not need presidential approval for specific attacks. Further, a presidential finding gives the CIA broad authority to capture or kill terrorists not on the list; the list is merely the CIA’s primary focus. The CIA will use these authorities to hunt for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere. [New York Times, 12/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, International Committee of the Red Cross, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. [Reuters, 5/12/2011] The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, US Military, Ayman al-Zawahiri, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

On September 19, 2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks to Gary Berntsen, a CIA officer who is about to lead the first unit of CIA operatives into Afghanistan. Black tells Berntsen that President Bush has signed a new intelligence order. As Black will put it in 2002, the gloves are off (see September 26, 2002). Black orders Berntsen: “You have one mission. Go find the al-Qaeda and kill them. We’re going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.… I want to take it down and show the president.” Berntsen replies, “Well, that couldn’t be any clearer.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Indeed, two days before Bush, signed new orders giving the CIA broad new powers (see September 17, 2001 and September 17, 2001). Bernsten and his team arrive in Afghanistan on September 26 (see September 26, 2001).

Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Veteran CIA officer Gary Schroen and his team of CIA operatives known as “Jawbreaker” is helicoptered into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan. This area, about 70 miles north of Kabul, is controlled by the Northern Alliance. The team of about 10 operatives carries communications equipment so they can directly communicate with CIA headquarters back in the US. Schroen also carries a suitcase containing $3 million in non-sequential $100 bills. That same evening, Schroen meets with Muhammed Arif Sawari, known as Engineer Aref, head of the Northern Alliance’s intelligence service. He gives Aref $500,000 and promises much more money and support soon. The Jawbreaker team will remain the only US forces on the ground in Afghanistan until about the middle of October. [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Before the Jawbreaker team deploys, J. Cofer Black, the CIA’s Washington coordinator for Jawbreaker, gave the men instructions that author Jeremy Scahill will later call “direct and macabre.” Black told the men: “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.… They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that” (see September 19, 2001). Schroen will later say it was the first time in his career he had been ordered to assassinate an enemy rather than attempt a capture. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Northern Alliance, Muhammed Arif Sawari, Gary C. Schroen, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeremy Scahill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

One of the executive jets used by the CIA to fly prisoners to Guantanamo. This one, a Gulfstream with tail number N44982 when used by the CIA, is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland in 2005 with a new tail number.One of the executive jets used by the CIA to fly prisoners to Guantanamo. This one, a Gulfstream with tail number N44982 when used by the CIA, is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland in 2005 with a new tail number. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]A secret arrangement is made in Brussels, Belgium, by all members of NATO. Lord George Robertson, British defense secretary and later NATO’s secretary general, will later explain NATO members agree to provide “blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other allies’ aircraft for military flights related to operations against terrorism.” [London Times, 11/25/2007] Over 700 prisoners will fly over NATO countries on their way to the US-controlled Guantanamo prison in Cuba beginning in 2002 (see January 14, 2002-2005).
Conditions of Transfer - According to a 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see March 15, 2009), detainees flown on CIA rendition flights would be:
bullet Photographed both clothed and naked;
bullet Subjected to body cavity (rectal) searches, with some detainees later alleging that they were administered suppositories of some sort;
bullet Dressed in a diaper and a tracksuit, with earphones placed over the ears (through which shatteringly loud music would sometimes be played), a blindfold, black goggles, and sometimes cotton wool placed over the eyes;
bullet Shackled by hands and feet, and thus carried onto an airplane, where they would remain, without toilet privileges, from one to 30 hours.
The prisoners would usually be allowed to sit upright, but the ICRC will later find that on “some occasions detainees were transported lying flat on the floor of the plane… with their hands cuffed behind their backs,” causing them “severe pain and discomfort,” as they were moved from one location to another. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: George Robertson, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

A Washington Post article hints at the US government’s use rendition and torture. It refers to four suspects out of the hundreds arrested in the US—Zacarias Moussaoui, Nabil al-Marabh, Ayub Ali Khan, and Mohammed Azmath—who may actually have links to al-Qaeda (see October 20, 2001). The article quotes an “experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation,” who says: “We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck.… Usually there is some incentive, some angle to play, what you can do for them. But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure… where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” The article goes on to mention: “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2001] Although it is little known in the US at the time, the CIA has already been renditioning suspects to countries known for practicing torture (see September 23, 2001), and has made arrangements with NATO countries to increase the number of such renditions (see October 4, 2001). Azmath and Khan will later be cleared of al-Qaeda ties and released (see October 20, 2001). Al-Marabh will be deported to Syria under mysterious circumstances and rearrested by the Syrian government (see Spring 2004). Moussaoui will be sentenced to life in prison in the US (see May 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Azmath, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

On September 17, 2001, President Bush gave the CIA broad powers to interrogate prisoners (see September 17, 2001), but the CIA does not have many officers trained in interrogation. As a result, in late 2001 and early 2002, while the CIA waits for high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders to be captured, senior CIA officials begin investigating which interrogation procedures to use. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The CIA “construct[s] its program in a few harried months by consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods long used in training American servicemen to withstand capture.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007] Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are notorious for their brutal and widespread use of torture. The Soviet interrogation techniques mentioned were designed not to get valuable intelligence, but to generate propaganda by getting captured US soldiers to make statements denouncing the US. The CIA hires two psychologists willing to use the techniques, James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, even though the two have no never conducted any real world interrogations and there is no evidence at the time (or later) that the Soviet torture techniques are effective in obtaining valuable intelligence and not just false confessions (see Mid-April 2002). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; New York Times, 10/4/2007] In mid-March 2002, the CIA will draw up a list of ten permissible aggressive interrogation techniques based on the advice from these governments and psychologists (see Mid-March 2002).

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney tells the CIA not to brief Congress about an agency program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Two reasons will be given for withholding the information. One is that the program never becomes operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] The other is that the agency already has legal authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders (see September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 8/20/2009] According to the New York Times, Cheney’s instruction to keep the program secret suggests “that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.” [New York Times, 7/12/2009] The fact that the program is never briefed to Congress until it is cancelled in 2009 (see June 24, 2009) will cause controversy after it becomes public knowledge, and the House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether it was a breach of the law (see Before August 20, 2009). The law is apparently unclear on whether this program should be briefed, as it requires the president to make sure the House and Senate intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” However, such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.” House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) will later say that Congress would have approved of the program only in what the New York Times calls “the angry and panicky days after 9/11, on 9/12,” but not later, after fears and tempers had begun to cool. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Prisoners being flown to Guantanamo.Prisoners being flown to Guantanamo. [Source: Public domain]Beginning in January 2002, when the US-controlled Guantanamo prison opens in Cuba, until at least 2005, over 700 suspects are secretly flown by the CIA to Guantanamo over the territories of European countries. Most prisoners come from Afghanistan or other places in the Middle East and change planes at the Incirlik US military airbase in Turkey. Then they fly over Greek, Italian, and Portuguese airspace. About 170 other prisoners fly over or land in Spain. The first flight apparently takes place on January 14, and carries three British citizens known as the “Tipton Three” as well as others (see January 13, 2002). In 2007, the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading watchdog on human rights, will claim that European countries had breached the international Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) by giving the US secret permission to use its airspace. Moazzam Begg, a British prisoner at Guantanamo until 2005, will later recall his flight to Guantanamo. “Inside the plane there was a chain around our waist, and it connected to cuffs around my wrists, which were tied in the back, and to my ankles. We were seated but it was so painful not being able to speak, to hear, to breathe properly, to look, to turn left or right, to move your hands, stretch your legs, or anything.” [London Times, 11/25/2007] All the member countries of NATO signed a secret agreement in late 2001 allowing blanket overflight clearances for any flight relating to terrorism (see October 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Moazzam Begg

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002; Reuters, 5/12/2011] But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Central Command, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA comes up with a list of 10 “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” that it will allow to be used on captured high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees. In 2005, ABC News will reveal six of the techniques on the list and describe them as follows:
bullet The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
bullet The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
bullet The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
bullet Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
bullet The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
bullet Waterboarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised, and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will later reveal that there are actually four more techniques on the list, but will not detail what they are. [New York Times, 11/9/2005]
Waterboarding Most Controversial Technique - Waterboarding will be the most controversial technique used. In centuries past, it was considered by some to be the most extreme form of torture, more so than thumbscrews or use of the rack. [Harper's, 12/15/2007] “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. CIA officials who allowed themselves to be waterboarded lasted, on average, 14 seconds before caving in. In addition, such confessions are dubious at best. “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” says one of the CIA sources. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
List Compiled with Help from Egypt, Saudi Arabia - The list is secretly drawn up by a team including senior CIA officials, and officials from the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The CIA got help in making the list from governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are notorious for their widespread use of torture (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2005] Apparently, “only a handful” of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use these techniques. Later this month, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida will be captured and the CIA will begin using all of these techniques on him (see March 28, 2002). However, the White House will not give the CIA clear legal authority to do so until months after the CIA starts using these techniques on Zubaida (see March 28-August 1, 2002).
Techniques 'Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading' under Treaty - In 2004, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson will determine in a classified report that these techniques appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty signed by the US (see October 21, 1994 and May 7, 2004). Former CIA officer Robert Baer calls the use of such techniques “bad interrogation,” and notes, “[Y]ou can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]

Entity Tags: John Sifton, John Helgerson, Abu Zubaida, ABC News, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 pdf file]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).

Entity Tags: Mark Danner, John Kiriakou, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, George Brent Mickum, Geneva Conventions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

At a luncheon for Republicans in Connecticut, President Bush boasts of the recent capture of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Bush says: “The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaida. He’s one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore. He’s where he belongs.” [White House, 4/9/2002] Bush is presumably aware that Zubaida is being tortured in Thailand (see Late March 2002 and April - June 2002).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Around mid-April 2002, the CIA begins using aggressive interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. A new CIA team led by psychologist James Elmer Mitchell arrives and takes control of Zubaida’s interrogation from the FBI (see Mid-April 2002). This team soon begins using techniques commonly described as torture, such as waterboarding (see April - June 2002, May 2002-2003 and Mid-May 2002 and After). Journalist James Risen will write in a 2006 book: “The assertions that the CIA’s tactics stopped short of torture were undercut by the fact that the FBI decided that the tactics were so severe that the bureau wanted no part of them, and FBI agents were ordered to stay away from the CIA-run interrogations. FBI agents did briefly see Abu Zubaida in custody, and at least one agent came away convinced that Zubaida was being tortured, according to an FBI source.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 32] Newsweek will similarly report in 2007 that Zubaida’s interrogation “sparked an internal battle within the US intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaida was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.” [Newsweek, 12/12/2007] The FBI completely withdraws its personnel, wanting to avoid legal entanglements with the dubious methods. The CIA then is able to use even more aggressive methods on Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The CIA torture of Zubaida produces a raft of almost useless information (see Mid-April 2002 and June 2002). Zubaida, already mentally unstable (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), says yes to every question asked of him: if al-Qaeda is planning on bombing shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, and water systems. After each “confession,” the CIA cables Washington with the “intelligence,” and much of it is given to President Bush. White House officials will use Zubaida’s dubious admissions to issue many groundless terror warnings and alerts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington.The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington. [Source: Brian Plonka / Spokesman-Review]The FBI has been interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida at a secret CIA prison in Thailand and learning valuable intelligence information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). However, the prison is controlled by the CIA and the FBI is only in control until a team of CIA interrogators arrives, which apparently happens around mid-April 2002. The FBI has been using humane rapport-building techniques, but the new CIA team immediately abandons this approach. The team is lead by psychologist James Mitchell, who runs a consulting business in Washington State with psychologist Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After). Both worked in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a classified US military training program which trains soldiers to endure being tortured by the enemy. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the techniques inflicted in the SERE training so they could be used on Zubaida and other detainees. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] SERE trainees are subjected to “waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation.” One European official knowledgeable about the SERE program will say of Mitchell and Jessen: “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture.… They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses.” The use of these psychologists also helps to put a veneer of scientific respectability over the torture techniques favored by top officials. One former US intelligence community adviser will later say: “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have PhD’s who have these theories.’” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] But Mitchell and Jessen have no experience in conducting interrogations and have no proof that their techniques are effective. In fact, the SERE techniques are based on Communist interrogation techniques from the Korean War, designed not to get valuable intelligence but to generate propaganda by getting US prisoners to make statements denouncing the US (see December 2001). Air Force Reserve colonel Steve Kleinman, an expert in human intelligence operations, will later say he finds it astonishing the CIA “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation… to do something that had never been proven in the real world.” FBI official Michael Rolince calls their techniques “voodoo science.” In 2006, a report by the best-known interrogation experts in the US will conclude that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered SERE tactics are effective in obtaining useful intelligence. But nonetheless, from this time forward Zubaida’s interrogations will be based on these techniques. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman, Michael Rolince, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file; BBC, 4/23/2009] Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Stephen J. Hadley, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In May 2002, the CIA began using new torture techniques on captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After), and by June senior CIA officials prepare a preliminary report to determine whether Zubaida’s confessions are accurate or not. According to author Gerald Posner, they “found nothing that could definitively prove Zubaida a liar. And they had uncovered some minor corroborating evidence about the times and places of the meetings he had mentioned, which meant he could be telling the truth.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 192] Vanity Fair will later comment that the “CIA would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaida, and celebrate [James] Mitchell”—the psychologist who devised the torture techniques used on Zubaida by the CIA (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, and Mid-April 2002)—“as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and [his business partner Bruce] Jessen had been awarded a medal by the CIA for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was ‘absolutely in the ether,’ says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Much Intelligence Comes from His Possessions and FBI Interrogations - However, the reliability of Zubaida’s confessions remains controversial years later, and several factors complicate accessing their impact. For one, it appears that some of his most important confessions took place a month earlier when the FBI was interrogating him using rapport building instead of torture (see Late March through Early June, 2002). What the New York Times calls his two most notable confessions—that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind and giving up the name of Jose Padilla, a militant living in the US—appear to come from this earlier period, although some accounts conflict. [New York Times, 6/27/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117; New York Times, 9/10/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Furthermore, it is often not clear what was obtained from Zubaida’s confessions and what was obtained from his possessions. Journalist Ron Suskind will later write: “The phone numbers, computers, CDs, and e-mail address seized at Zubaida’s apartment now—a month after his capture—began to show a yield.… These higher-quality inputs were entered into big Cray supercomputers at NSA; many then formed the roots of a surveillance tree—truck to branches to limbs and buds.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117] So while it is said that information from Zubaida helped lead to the capture of al-Qaeda figures such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Omar al-Faruq, and Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, it is unclear where this information came from exactly. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Additionally, it is not even clear if he provided such leads. For instance, it has been reported that the main break that led to bin al-Shibh’s capture had nothing to do with Zubaida (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). [Salon, 9/7/2006]
Zubaida Describes Vague and Unverifiable Plots - By most accounts, Zubaida’s confessions under torture around this time are frustratingly vague. He describes many planned attacks, such as al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Red alerts are sounded and thousands of law enforcement personnel are activated each time, but the warnings are too vague to lead to any arrests. Suskind will later comment that Zubaida’s information was “maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115-116, 121] But Suskind will later say more definitively: “[Zubaida] said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.” [Salon, 9/7/2006] Posner claims that Zubaida provided “false information intended to misdirect his captors.” For instance, “He caused the New York police to deploy massive manpower to guard the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of May [2002], after he told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a plan to destroy ‘the bridge in the Godzilla movie.’” [Posner, 2003, pp. 191]
Link between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Perhaps the most important claims Zubaida makes, at least from the viewpoint of Bush administration officials, are his allegations of an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Some of Zubaida’s claims will later be leaked by administration officials, particularly his assertion that Osama bin Laden’s ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq (see December 2001-Mid-2002, October 2, 2002, and January 28, 2003). A former Pentagon analyst will later say: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaida’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaida was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.” Another Pentagon analyst will recall: “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Zubaida Appears to Be Feeding Interrogators' Expectations - Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert at the time who was able to analyze all the evidence from Zubaida, will later claim that the CIA “got nothing useful from the guy.” [Congressional Quarterly, 12/14/2007] Coleman will say: “The CIA wants everything in five minutes. It’s not possible, and it’s not productive. What you get in that circumstance are captives and captors playing to each other’s expectations, playing roles, essentially, that gives you a lot of garbage information and nothing you can use.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 114] Given his low position in the jihadist hierachy, Coleman will add, Zubaida “would not have known that if it was true. But you can lead people down a course and make them say anything.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Counterterrorism “tsar” General Wayne Downing is apparently intimately involved in Zubaida’s interrogation and will later recall: “[Zubaida] and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] In legal papers to prepare for a military tribunal hearing in 2007, Zubaida himself will assert that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Bruce Jessen, Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dan Coleman, Jose Padilla, Wayne Downing, Omar al-Faruq, James Elmer Mitchell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In an address to the nation, President Bush labels captured Islamist militant Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations.” He says: “Among those we have captured is a man named Abu Zubaida, al-Qaeda’s chief of operations. From him, and from hundreds of others, we are learning more about how the terrorists plan and operate; information crucial in anticipating and preventing future attacks.” He warns, “[W]e now know that thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us, and this terrible knowledge requires us to act differently.” [White House, 6/6/2002] This is, presumably, an oblique reference to the torture being inflicted on Zubaida and other detainees by CIA personnel (see April - June 2002). And by this time, senior government officials are aware that many intelligence officials believe that Zubaida’s importance and links to al-Qaeda have been overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Instructors from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversees the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, conduct a training seminar for intelligence officials. JPRA officials, including senior psychologist Bruce Jessen, have proposed a set of interrogation procedures that amounts to torture (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002), and the JPRA instructors are now training CIA and other agency officials in those procedures. Two JPRA legal advisers tell the group that such harsh interrogation methodologies are already deemed acceptable, even though the Justice Department has not yet issued such approval (see August 1, 2002). The lawyers tell the seminar participants, “They [interrogators] could use all forms of psychological pressure discussed, and all the physiological pressures with the exception of the ‘water board.’” The lawyers say that waterboarding might also be permitted, but interrogators “would need prior approval.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] During the seminar, CIA agents are given two days of training in waterboarding (see July 1-2, 2002). In 2009, the media learns that Jessen and his partner, James Mitchell, are paid $1,000 a day for the training (see April 30, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Elmer Mitchell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bruce Jessen, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA attorneys meet with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department’s head of its criminal division, Michael Chertoff, and aides and lawyers from the National Security Council, Justice Department, and FBI. The meeting provides participants with an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for captured Islamist militant Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file] The CIA has already begun torturing Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, Mid-May 2002 and After, and June 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Chertoff, National Security Council, US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director George Tenet meets with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Rice tells Tenet that the CIA can begin its proposed interrogation plan for captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002 and July 13, 2002), advising him “that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation” of Zubaida. Rice’s authorization is subject to a determination of legality by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file; BBC, 4/23/2009] The CIA has already begun torturing Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, Mid-May 2002 and After, and June 2002).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown from Pakistan to Morocco as part of a joint British-American attempt to force him to divulge information about possible nuclear devices owned by Islamist militants (see May 17 - July 21, 2002). He is flown—trussed, gagged, blindfolded, and diapered (see October 4, 2001)—to Rabat, Morocco, a flight later confirmed by the CIA’s own flight logs. He remains in Moroccan custody for 15 months.
Beaten, Slashed with Scalpels - As he will later recall, he is introduced to Moroccan detention practices by an interrogator named Marwan, who gives him thorough and repeated beatings. When Mohamed has been softened up: “[T]hey cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was totally naked.… They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and start another. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.” This happens time and again over the next 15 months.
British Complicity in CIA, Moroccan Interrogations - Documents disclosed for Mohamed’s later lawsuit against the US (see February 4, 2009) show that British MI5 agents are aware of the entirety of Mohamed’s treatment, and are in collusion with the Moroccans and the US in Mohamed’s treatment; on September 30, MI5 and CIA officials hold a conference where Mohamed’s treatment and interrogation are discussed. During much of Mohamed’s detention in Morocco, MI5 passes questions and photographs to the CIA for use in Mohamed’s interrogations (see February 24, 2009). Mohamed will later recall: “They started bringing British files to the interrogations—thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. It was when they started asking the questions supplied by the British that my situation worsened. They sold me out.”
Elaborate Confessions - By this time, as Mohamed will recall, he is willing to confess to anything to make the torture stop. “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” he will recall. “I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.” The “gas pipe” plot connects Mohamed to 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who supposedly conceived of the idea. “I said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had given me a false passport after I was stopped the first time in Karachi and that I had met Osama bin Laden 30 times,” Mohamed will recall. “None of it was true. The British could have stopped the torture because they knew I had tried to use the same passport at Karachi both times (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). That should have told them that what I was saying under torture wasn’t true. But so far as I know, they did nothing.”
'Rendered' to Afghanistan - Fifteen months after being “rendered” to Morocco, Mohamed is “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA (see January-September 2004). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, “Marwan” (Moroccan interrogator), Binyam Mohamed, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld issues a secret directive to Special Operations forces allowing them to “capture terrorists for interrogation or, if necessary, to kill them” anywhere in the world. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The policy appears to actually prefer the killing or secret interrogation of terrorists over legally arresting and then charging them (see July 22, 2002). Bush already issued a presidential finding authorizing the killing of terrorist leaders (see September 17, 2001), and a list of “high-value” target has been created (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but this increases such efforts. [New York Times, 12/15/2002] However, Bush has not rescinded a presidential executive order dating from the 1970s that bans all assassinations, claiming that terrorists are military combatants. “Many past and present military and intelligence officials have expressed alarm” at the legality, wisdom, ethics, and effectiveness of the assassination program. Apparently much of the leadership of Special Operations is against it, worrying about the blowback effect. In February 2002, a Predator missile targeting someone intelligence agents thought was bin Laden hit its target, but killed three innocent Afghan farmers instead (see February 4, 2002). [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The first successful assassination will take place in November (see November 3, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Special Operations Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Jay Bybee.Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 pdf file] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Cofer Black, then director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks about US interrogation policy during a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry hearing. “This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: there was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] He apparently made similar comments on September 19, 2001, to the first CIA operatives heading to Afghanistan after 9/11 (see September 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Cofer Black, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Qaed Senyan al-Harethi.Qaed Senyan al-Harethi. [Source: Yemen Observer]A CIA-operated Predator drone fires a missile that destroys a truck of suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The target of the attack is Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a top al-Qaeda operative, but five others are also killed, including American citizen Kamal Derwish. [Washington Post, 11/4/2002; Associated Press, 12/3/2002] Al-Harethi is said to have been involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Bush administration officials say Derwish was the ringleader of a sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see September 13, 2002). [Washington Post, 11/9/2002; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] A former high-level intelligence officer complains that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants “to take guys out for political effect.” Al-Harethi was being tracked for weeks through his cell phone. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The attack happens one day before mid-term elections in the US. Newsweek will note that timing of the strike “was, at the very least, fortuitous” for the Bush administration. [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] New Yorker magazine will later report, “The Yemeni government had planned to delay an announcement of the attack until it could issue a joint statement with Washington. When American officials released the story unilaterally, in time for Election Day, the Yemenis were angry and dismayed.” [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] Initial reports suggest the truck was destroyed by a car bomb. But on November 5, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will brag about the strike on CNN, thus ruining the cover story and revealing that the truck was destroyed by a US missile (see November 5, 2002). [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] US intelligence appears to have learned of al-Harethi’s whereabouts after interrogating Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, captured the month before (see Early October 2002).

Entity Tags: Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, Scott L. Silliman, Kamal Derwish, Condoleezza Rice, Al-Qaeda, Paul Wolfowitz, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Kamal Derwish.Kamal Derwish. [Source: PBS]The revelation that the US killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen with a Predator missile strike (see November 3, 2002 and November 5, 2002) sparks a debate about the morality and legality of remote attacks outside of war zones. The Bush administration had previously criticized Israel’s policy of “targeted killings” of Palestinian militants. Newsweek comments, “A State Department spokesman bobbed and weaved and tried to draw distinctions. But, privately, administration officials say the difference is really one of scale and frequency.” [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] Many international lawyers and some foreign governments question the legality of the assassination. [Guardian, 11/6/2002] For decades, the US government has been prohibited from conducting assassinations. The Bush administration says it still adheres to that policy but makes an exception for “enemy combatants” such as al-Qaeda leaders. In December 2002, it will be revealed that President Bush approved a secret “high-value target list” of about two dozen terrorist leaders, giving the CIA basic executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those in the list. The CIA is also empowered to capture or kill terrorists not mentioned in the list (see September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 12/15/2002] Additional controversy is generated when it is discovered that US citizen Kamal Derwish was one of those killed in the strike. Derwish is alleged to have been connected to an al-Qaeda cell in Buffalo, New York. US officials say the CIA has the legal authority to target and kill US citizens it believes are working for al-Qaeda (see July 22, 2002). [Associated Press, 12/3/2002] The New Yorker reveals that there were two planned Predator strikes in Yemen called off at the last minute that turned out to be aimed at innocent people instead of al-Harethi. One recently retired Special Forces operative who served on high-level planning staffs at the Pentagon warns that the civilians running the military are no longer trying to “avoid the gray area.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reportedly behind the effort to use the CIA and special forces for more remote killings (see July 22, 2002). One former high-level intelligence officer complains, “They want to turn these guys into assassins. They want to go on rumors—not facts—and go for political effect, and that’s what the Special Forces Command is really afraid of.” [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] Noting that in its battle against al-Qaeda, the US has effectively deemed the entire planet a combat zone, Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security says, “Could you put a Hellfire missile into a car in Washington, DC?…The answer is yes, you could.” But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says, “No constitutional questions are raised here.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/24/2002; Associated Press, 12/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Scott L. Silliman, Condoleezza Rice, Kamal Derwish, Donald Rumsfeld, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, informs the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, that the CIA Counterterrorist Center has established a program to detain and interrogate terrorists at foreign sites. At the same time, Pavitt also informs Helgerson that he has just learned of an apparently controversial incident and sent a team to investigate it. It appears that the incident triggered the notification to the inspector general about the program. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1 pdf file] The incident is the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see After October 2001 and November 20, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The detention and interrogation program has been in operation since March at the latest, as high-value detainee Abu Zubaida was arrested and then taken to a CIA black site at that time (see March 28, 2002 and April - June 2002). However, it is unclear whether Helgerson was aware of the program prior to being informed by Pavitt.

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), James Pavitt, Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Operations, John Helgerson

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

2003: CIA Prison in Thailand Closed

A CIA prison in Thailand closes at some time this year. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] The prison’s location is not known with certainty, although a Vietnam War-era base at Udron was used by the agency for counterterrorist purposes around this time. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297] The prison was built in March 2002 (see March 2002) and the best-known high-value detainee previously held there was militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002 and Mid-April-May 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Following his arrest in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) finds himself in CIA custody. After two days of detention in Pakistan, where, he will allege, he is punched and stomped upon by a CIA agent, he is sent to Afghanistan. After being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Mohammed will say of his transfer: “My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Naked - He is reportedly placed in a cell naked for several days and repeatedly questioned by females as a humiliation. He is attached to a dog leash and repeatedly yanked into the walls of his cell. He is suspended from the ceiling, chained naked in a painful crouch for long periods, doused with cold water, and kept in suffocating heat. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007] On arriving in Afghanistan, he is put in a small cell, where, he will recall, he is “kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” After about an hour, “I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning.”
Interrogators - He will add: “Approximately 13 persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about 10 muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.” This is the usual interrogation session that Mohammed will experience over the next few weeks.
Cold Water - They are interrupted periodically by his removal to a separate room. There, he will recall, he is doused with “cold water from buckets… for about 40 minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.”
No Toilet Access - During one interrogation, “I was offered water to drink; when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.” When he is returned to his cell, as he will recall, “I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, he is resistant to these methods, so it is decided he will be transferred to a secret CIA prison in Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), where he will be extensively waterboarded and tortured in other ways.

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Communications antenna at Stare Kiejkuty, the Polish “black site” where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was held for a time after his capture.Communications antenna at Stare Kiejkuty, the Polish “black site” where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was held for a time after his capture. [Source: CBC]9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, after being detained and abused for three days in US custody in Afghanistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), is transferred to another CIA-run facility in Poland. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The facility is later identified as Stare Kiejkuty, a secret prison near the Szymany military airbase. Mohammed is flown in on a Gulfstream N379P jet known to prison officials as “the torture taxi.” The plane is probably piloted by “Jerry M,” a 56-year-old pilot for Aero Contractors, a company that transfers prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009] He is dressed in a tracksuit, blindfolded, hooded, has sound-blocking headphones placed over his ears, and is flown “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair,” as he will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). He later says he manages to sleep a few hours, for the first time in days. Upon arrival, Mohammed is stripped naked and placed in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist, and interrogator.” The walls are wooden and the cell measures some 10 by 13 feet. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
'I Would Be Brought to the Verge of Death and Back Again' - As he will later recall, it was in this detention camp that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” The interrogators tell him that they have received the “green light from Washington” to give him “a hard time” (see Late September 2001 and September 25, 2002). As he will later recall: “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.‘… I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor.” When he falls asleep, “all my weight [is] applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds.” The ICRC will later confirm that Mohammed bears scars consistent with his allegations on both wrists and both ankles. “Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”
Interrogations - He is interrogated in a different room, in sessions lasting anywhere from four to eight hours, and with a wide variety of participants. Sometimes women take part in the interrogations. A doctor is usually present. “If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head, and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.”
'Alternative Procedures' - The CIA interrogators use what they will later call “alternative procedures” on Mohammed, including waterboarding (see After March 7, 2003) and other techniques. He is sprayed with cold water from a hose-pipe in his cell and the “worst day” is when he is beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. “My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators.” He is then waterboarded until a doctor intervenes. He gets an hours’s sleep and is then “put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.” He sleeps for a “few minutes” on the floor of cell after the torture sessions, but does not sleep well, “due to shackles on my ankles and wrists.” The toilet consists of a bucket in the cell, which he can use on request, but “I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.” In the first month he is only fed on two occasions, “as a reward for perceived cooperation.” He gets Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] to drink every four hours. If he refuses it, “then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.” He loses 18 kg in the first month, after which he gets some clothes. In addition, “Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Deliberately False Information - As he will later tell ICRC officials, he often lies to his interrogators: “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.… I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent… wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of Mohammed’s confessions may be unreliable. Furthermore, he will recant many of his statements (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Jack Goldsmith, “Jerry M”, Aero Contractors, International Committee of the Red Cross, David S. Addington, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Stare Kiejkuty

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Khallad bin Attash, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Mark Danner, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. [Savage, 2007, pp. 184; Slate, 9/11/2007]
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” [Slate, 9/11/2007]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Time, 8/21/2009] Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” [Time, 8/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Leon Panetta, Erik Prince, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bush acknowledging the secret CIA prison network.Bush acknowledging the secret CIA prison network. [Source: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press]In a speech, President Bush acknowledges a network of secret CIA prisons and announces plans to try 14 top al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in military tribunals. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006]
Admits Existence of Detainees in CIA Custody - Bush tells his listeners: “In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.… Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged.… We knew that Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking.… As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures… The procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.… These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used—I think you understand why.” Bush then adds that Zubaida “began to provide information on key al-Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September 11” (see June 2002). Another high-value detainee, 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003 and August 6, 2007). [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The 14 prisoners will be put on trial as soon as Congress enacts the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which he is sending to Congress for its approval today. [Savage, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Political Reasons to Acknowledge CIA Prisons - The US government has never officially acknowledged the existence of the CIA prisons before, despite numerous media accounts about them. Bush’s speech comes less than two months before midterm Congressional elections and also comes as the White House is preparing new legislation to legalize the CIA’s detention program and shield US officials from prosecution for possible war crimes. Knight Ridder comments that the speech “appeared to be intended to give him more leverage in his negotiations with Congress over how to try suspected terrorists.… In addition to the potential political benefits, Bush had other reasons to make the program public. A Supreme Court ruling in June struck down the administration’s plan to bring terrorist suspects before military tribunals and called into question the legality of secret CIA detentions.” [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006]
Sites Closed Down? - Other administration officials say the CIA prison network has been closed down, at least for the time being. (In fact, it will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007).) Reportedly, “fewer than 100” suspects had ever been in CIA custody. It is not known who they were or what happened to all of them, but most of them reportedly were returned to their home countries for prosecution. Fourteen “high-value” suspects, including accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were transferred from the secret CIA prisons to the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba in the days just prior to Bush’s speech (see September 2-3, 2006).
Torture is 'against [US] Values' - Bush says: “I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it—and I will not authorize it.” However, he says the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition against “humiliating and degrading treatment” could potentially cause legal problems for CIA interrogators. Other administration officials say harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used in the CIA prisons. Such techniques are considered by many to be forms of torture. Bush claims that information gleaned from interrogations in the secret prisons helped thwart attacks on the US and provided valuable information about al-Qaeda operations around the world. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006; Washington Post, 9/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Military Commissions Act, Abu Zubaida, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
bullet Main elements of the CIA detention program;
bullet Arrest and transfer;
bullet Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
bullet Other methods of ill-treatment;
bullet Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
bullet Prolonged stress standing;
bullet Beatings by use of a collar;
bullet Beating and kicking;
bullet Confinement in a box;
bullet Prolonged nudity;
bullet Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
bullet Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
bullet Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
bullet Threats;
bullet Forced shaving;
bullet Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
bullet Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA acknowledges that it has operated under the rubric of two secret Bush administration documents that authorized it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. Since 2004, the agency has refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the documents, and has argued in court that to make such an acknowledgement would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought the CIA in court over the documents, says in a statement by its executive director, Anthony Romero: “The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny. Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command.” One of the documents is a secret executive order signed by President Bush authorizing the CIA to set up “black site” detention facilities overseas (see September 17, 2001), and the other is a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that CIA interrogators could use against top al-Qaeda suspects. In legal papers previously filed in court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an “interest” in interrogating detainees. Today, however, the agency acknowledges the existence of the two documents. It continues to withhold the documents themselves; their contents remain unknown to the public. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “We intend to press for the release of both of these documents. If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/14/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony D. Romero, Jameel Jaffer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, Amrit Singh, National Security Council, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Condoleezza Rice, Jay S. Bybee, Jameel Jaffer, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner, John Rizzo, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases several heavily redacted documents detailing the CIA’s use of waterboarding as well as a similarly redacted CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. The documents are obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. In addition, Judge Alvin Hellerstein has “preliminarily overruled” CIA assertions that other documents it is withholding are exempt from the lawsuit. ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says: “Even a cursory glance at these heavily redacted documents shows that the CIA is still withholding a great deal of information that should be released. This information is being withheld not for legitimate security reasons but rather to shield government officials who ought to be held accountable for their decisions to break the law.”
OIG Report References Classified OLC Torture Memo - The OIG report contains references to an as-yet unreleased Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo from August 2002 authorizing an array of brutal interrogation methods (see August 1, 2002). (The OIG report calls the memo “unclassified.”)
As-Yet Unreleased Documents - If Hellerstein follows through on his preliminary ruling, the CIA could be forced to disgorge three more documents:
bullet A September 17, 2001 CIA presidential directive setting up secret CIA detention centers abroad (see September 17, 2001);
bullet An August 2002 OLC memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods (see August 1, 2002);
bullet CIA documents gathered by the CIA’s inspector general in the course of investigations into unlawful and improper conduct by CIA personnel.
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “We welcome the court’s preliminary ruling rejecting the CIA’s attempt to withhold records relating to its unlawful treatment of prisoners. If sustained, this ruling would be a historic victory that could compel the CIA to publicly disclose for the first time meaningful records relating to its use of torture.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/27/2008] The documents will be released two months later (see July 24, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Alvin K. Hellerstein, American Civil Liberties Union, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Amrit Singh, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jameel Jaffer.Jameel Jaffer. [Source: ACLU (.org)]The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases three heavily redacted documents detailing the Bush administration’s use of brutal torture methods against detainees in US custody. The documents are turned over to the ACLU by the CIA after a judge orders their release (see May 27, 2008). “These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody,” says ACLU official Jameel Jaffer. “The Justice Department twisted the law, and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes.” One document is an August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods, including waterboarding (see August 1, 2002). The memo states that interrogation methods that cause severe mental pain do not amount to torture under US law unless they cause “harm lasting months or even years after the acts were inflicted upon the prisoners.” The other two documents, from 2003 and 2004, are memos from the CIA related to requests for legal advice from the Justice Department. The 2003 memo shows that the OLC authorized the agency to use what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques”; the memo shows that when those techniques were used, the CIA documented, among other things, “the nature and duration of each such technique employed” and “the identities of those present.” The 2004 memo shows that CIA interrogators were told that the Justice Department had concluded that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation methods” did not constitute torture. The memo also advised CIA interrogators that, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that courts can decide whether foreign citizens could be held at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), they should be aware that their actions might possibly be subject to judicial review. Jaffer says: “While the documents released today do provide more information about the development and implementation of the Bush administration’s torture policies, even a cursory glance at the documents shows that the administration continues to use ‘national security’ as a shield to protect government officials from embarrassment, criticism, and possible criminal prosecution. Far too much information is still being withheld.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/24/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. [Public Record, 3/6/2009]

Entity Tags: John Durham, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Lev Dassin, Amrit Singh, Jane Mayer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
bullet The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
bullet Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
bullet Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
bullet While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
bullet The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, refuses to acknowledge his role in approving the torture of suspected terrorists. In 2008, ABC News named Powell as one of the members of the National Security Council’s principals committee who repeatedly authorized a variety of torture techniques to be used on detainees (see April 9, 2008). He also declines to affirm that several techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, qualify as torture. Powell says the torture of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002) and other al-Qaeda suspects “were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level with regard to what could be done with these types of interrogation. I cannot say further because I don’t have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it’s going to have to be in the written record of that meeting what will determine whether anything improper took place. But it is always the case that at least in the State Department’s standpoint, we should be consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Convention and that’s why this was such a controversial, controversial issue that you have to go—in due course I think we all will go to the written record. I’m not sure what memos were signed or not signed. I didn’t have access to all of that information.” Maddow asks, “If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were giving the approval for sleep deprivations, stress positions, waterboarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were getting their authorization?” Powell refuses to answer, saying, “I don’t know If any of these items would be considered criminal and I would wait for whatever investigation that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.” Maddow asks if he regrets his own participation in discussions about interrogations and torture, but Powell cuts her off to state: “There was no meeting on torture. It is constantly said that the meetings—I had an issue with this—we had meetings on what torture to administer. What I recall, the meetings I was in, I was not in all the meetings and I was not an author of many of the memos that have been written and some have come out and some have not come out. The only meetings I recall was where we talked about what is it we can do with respect to trying to get information from individuals who were in our custody. And I will just have to wait until the full written record is available and examined.… I don’t know where these things were being approved at a political level.” [MSNBC, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Rachel Maddow, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA says it intends to close down the network of secret overseas prisons it used to torture suspected terrorists during the Bush administration. CIA Director Leon Panetta says that agency officers who worked in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under President Bush had declared their actions legal. Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009) and investigations by the International Committee of the Red Cross (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) have shown that torture was used on several prisoners in these so-called “black sites.” Panetta says the secret detention facilities have not been used since 2006, but are still costing taxpayers money to keep open. Terminating security contracts at the sites would save “at least $4 million,” he says. The CIA has never revealed the location of the sites, but independent investigations and news reports place at least some of them in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania, and Jordan. Agency officials have claimed that fewer than 100 prisoners were ever held in the sites, and around 30 of them were tortured. The last 14 prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006), but then-President Bush ordered the sites to remain open for future use. Since then, two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are known to have been kept in the sites. Panetta also says that the CIA will no longer use private contractors to conduct interrogations. [New York Times, 4/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Leon Panetta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Jessen, Rachel Maddow, Malcolm Nance, James Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The House Intelligence Committee launches an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about an agency program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was initiated shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but Congress was not notified of it, apparently at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), until it was shut down in July 2009 (see June 23, 2009 and June 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Congressional Democrats are furious that the program was not shared with the House Committee and with its Senate counterpart. However, some Congressional Republicans say that as Congress had already approved broad authorities for the CIA after 9/11, the CIA was not required to brief lawmakers on specifics about the program, which never became operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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