This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=abd_al-rahim_al-nashiri
a.k.a. Abdul-Rahim Hussein Muhammad 'Abdu, Mullah Bilal, Mohammed Omar al-Harazi, Abdul Rahman Hussein al-Nashari, Abdul Rahim Hussein Muhammad Abda al-Nashiri, Bulbul, Abda Hussein Mohammed, Abdul Rahim Hussein Muhammad Abda al-Nashr, Sa'eed al-Mansouri
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that al-Qaeda attempts to smuggle weapons into Saudi Arabia to mount attacks on police stations. The plot is uncovered and prevented by Saudi intelligence, and two of the unsuccessful gunrunners, future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are watchlisted. (Follman 10/18/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 266, 310-311, 448) However, Almihdhar and Alhazmi continue to move in and out of Saudi Arabia unchecked and will obtain US visas there in April 1999 (see 1993-1999 and April 3-7, 1999). The US is supposedly informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s al-Qaeda connection by the end of 1999 (see Late 1999). Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an associate of Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000), is implicated in a plot to smuggle four Russian antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia around the same time, although it is unclear whether this is the same plot or a different one. The Saudi authorities uncover this plot and the US is apparently informed of the missile seizure in June 1998. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3, 491)
When Saudi authorities foil a plot by al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to smuggle missiles into the kingdom (see 1997), CIA director George Tenet becomes so concerned they are withholding information about the plot from the US that he flies to Saudi Arabia to meet Interior Minister Prince Nayef. Tenet is concerned because he believes that the four antitank missiles smuggled in from Yemen by al-Nashiri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, may be intended for an assassination attempt on Vice President Albert Gore, who is to visit Saudi Arabia shortly. Tenet and another CIA manager are unhappy about the information being withheld and Tenet flies to Riyadh “to underscore the importance of sharing such information.” Tenet obtains “a comprehensive report on the entire Sagger missile episode” from Interior Minister Prince Nayef by making a not-so-veiled threat about negative publicity for Saudi Arabia in the US press. (Tenet 2007, pp. 105-6) It will later be reported that the militants’ plan is apparently to use the armor-piercing missiles to attack the armored limousines of members of the Saudi royal family. (Tyler 12/23/2002) There are no reports of the planned attack being carried out, so it appears to fail due to the confiscation of the missiles. However, al-Nashiri will later be identified as a facilitator of the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998) and will attend a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is monitored by local authorities and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000).
A witness questioned during the FBI’s investigation of the African embassy bombings says that al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri intends to attack a US vessel in Aden. The USS Cole will be bombed in Aden harbor two years later (see October 12, 2000) and al-Nashiri, who provided a fake passport for one of the embassy bombers (see August 22-25 1998), will be one of the managers of the operation (see November-December 2000). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/9/1998 ; Wright 7/10/2006 )
After the East African embassy bombings, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri calls a number in Yemen to discuss attacking a US warship. Al-Nashiri will go on to have a prominent role in the attacks against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000) and USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) in Yemen. US authorities learn of this call no later than December 2000, although it is not clear how they do so. (CNN 12/20/2000) The number called by al-Nashiri is not disclosed by the media, but some of al-Nashiri’s associates lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which began to be monitored by US authorities around this time (see Late 1998-Early 2002 and January 5-8, 2000).
After he is arrested for the Nairobi embassy bombing (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is questioned by local Kenyan law enforcement and the FBI, and discloses important information (see August 4-25, 1998). When he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda operatives, one of the people he identifies is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (a.k.a. Bilal), a cousin of another Nairobi bomber. Al-Nashiri is an al-Qaeda leader who helped al-Owhali obtain a false passport in Yemen when al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda safe house in April-May 1998. It is unclear where the FBI obtained the photo of al-Nashiri, although US intelligence was previously informed of al-Nashiri’s involvement in a plot to smuggle anti-tank missiles into Saudi Arabia (see 1997). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/9/1998, pp. 16 ; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14 3/7/2001; Burke 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3)
In early 1999, al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash is sent to Yemen to help al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri obtain explosives to bomb a ship, and also to get a US visa so he can travel to the US to take part in an operation there. Three 9/11 hijackers get a US visa around this time (see April 3-7, 1999), but bin Attash has more trouble, apparently because he is Yemeni and the others are Saudi. While there, bin Attash is arrested by Yemeni authorities. Bin Laden finds out about the arrest and is concerned that bin Attash might reveal the ship bombing and US operations while under interrogation. Bin Laden contacts a Yemeni official and makes a deal, offering not to attack Yemen if the Yemeni government does not confront him and releases bin Attash in the summer of 1999. Both sides agree to the deal and bin Attash returns to Afghanistan without revealing either plot. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 155-156) There is other evidence Yemeni officials will help al-Nashiri, as his ship attack plot eventually targets the USS Cole while stationed in Yemen (see April 2000 and After October 12, 2000).
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar tells another operative that al-Qaeda is planning a ship-bombing attack. The US will learn this from a detainee interviewed in December 2001. The detainee will say that Almihdhar informed him that al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was the plot’s originator. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 491) Al-Nashiri discussed the ship bombing attack in a telephone call made in late 1998. The call may have been to the al-Qaeda communications hub at which Almihdhar lived and may also have been picked up by the US (see (Mid-August 1998)). Al-Qaeda soon attempts to attack the USS The Sullivans in Aden, Yemen, but the plan fails (see January 3, 2000). Almihdhar, who will be accused of participating in the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000, Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001), travels to Yemen shortly before the attack on the Sullivans (see November/December 1999) and apparently leaves one day after it (see January 2-5, 2000).
About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Ressa 8/30/2002; Eckert 9/27/2002) According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. (Bamford 2008, pp. 18) Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. (Kelley 2/12/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. (Shenon and Johnston 1/31/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). (Abuza 12/24/2002) He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (BBC 8/15/2003) , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). (Ressa 3/14/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). (CNN 8/14/2003; CBS News 8/15/2003) Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. (Fineman and Drogin 2/2/2002) Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003; Blomquist 7/10/2003) Many other media reports will identify him as being there. (Gumbel 6/6/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/29/2003) For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003) In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 ) He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). (Abuza 12/1/2002) He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” (Hosenball 12/16/2008)
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. (Los Angeles Times 10/10/2001; Gunaratna 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 59) He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3) (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) (CNN 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. (Thomas 11/26/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Elliott 9/15/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002) German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” (Frantz and Butler 8/24/2002) Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. (Drogin and Meyer 10/17/2001) Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. (Sullivan 9/20/2002) One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. (Gebauer 10/1/2002) Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). (Whitaker 10/15/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Hosenball 9/4/2002)
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. (Abuza 12/24/2002) US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 )
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008)
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. (King and Bhatt 10/21/2001) Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. (James 11/17/2001) However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. (Cloud, Wartzman, and Tkacik 10/8/2001) Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 ) However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 330) Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. (CNN 5/15/2003)
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. (US Congress 10/17/2002) According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. (Associated Press 10/2/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 10/7/2002; Abuza 12/24/2002; Landay 6/12/2004) After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). (Doward 12/12/2006)
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) (Sullivan 9/20/2002)
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
Yemen’s interior minister, Hussein Arab, issues a letter to al-Qaeda commander Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri instructing Yemeni authorities to give safe passage to al-Nashiri and three bodyguards without being searched or intercepted. The letter states that, “All security forces are instructed to cooperate with him and facilitate his mission.” Al-Nashiri’s mission turns out to be the attack on the USS Cole in which seventeen US sailors are killed (see October 12, 2000). Arab will be removed from his position in April 2001, but the letter will not come to light until the Cole trial in Yemen in 2004, when it is read out in court by the defense. Jamal Amer, editor of the weekly Al-Wasat, will comment that the letter “proves that there is a link between the security authorities and these groups.” (Associated Press 8/25/2004) In May 2001, UPI will report, “According to several US government sources, one of the reasons the attack on the Cole succeeded was involvement by the ‘highest levels’ of the Yemen government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, although Saleh himself personally was not, one said.” (Sale 5/20/2001)
9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh spends four weeks in Yemen. The exact timing of his visit is unknown, except that he arrives in August 2000 and leaves in September. (Abuza 12/24/2002; US Department of Defense 12/8/2006)
Planning Cole Bombing? - While in Yemen, it seems probable bin al-Shibh is involved in preparations for the USS Cole bombing. There are reports that he takes part in the bombing, and he flies back to Yemen to be there in time for the bombing in early October (see October 10-21, 2000).
Does He Visit Monitored Yemen Hub? - While there, it is also possible that he visits the highly monitored al-Qaeda Yemen communications hub, which is in Sana’a. It will not be confirmed or denied that he visits the hub at this time. However, bin al-Shibh is Yemeni, and he is a cousin of future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife, and she lives at the house where the hub is located. (Finn 6/12/2002; Finn 9/11/2002) (Note that he also has other family in Sana’a, as this is where he grew up, so it seems probable he would spend at least some of his visit in Sana’a.) (McDermott 2005, pp. 41) Furthermore, at some point before the Cole bombing, bin al-Shibh meets with al-Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. It is not known where the meeting takes place, but al-Hada runs the Yemen hub (and he is also related to bin al-Shibh) (see Before October 12, 2000). Also, al-Qaeda operatives use the hub to “put everything together” for the Cole bombing, and bin al-Shibh is probably involved in preparations for the bombing at this time. The bombers also call the hub as part of their preparations (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000).
Could Bin Al-Shibh Be Tracked? - If bin al-Shibh does visit (or even just call) the Yemen hub at this time, and/or during his later visit right at the time of the Cole bombing, he would be monitored by US intelligence. The US not only listens in on the hub’s phone, but it monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Although it is uncertain, US intelligence may already be aware of bin al-Shibh through his attendance at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the attack on the USS Cole, is said to meet two associates, Ahmed al-Hada and al-Hada’s nephew Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in Yemen. (Schrom 10/1/2002; Hosenball 12/2/2002) Al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden, has been under surveillance since 1998, at least (see August 4-25, 1998). The surveillance of al-Hada is reportedly so important that his house is monitored by spy satellites, to visually identify everyone coming and going (see Late August 1998), although it is unclear where the meeting with al-Nashiri takes place. The exact timing of this meeting and that with bin al-Shibh is not known, although bin al-Shibh stays in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000), and then arrives in Yemen again one day before the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000). (Hosenball 12/2/2002) Bin al-Shibh is repeatedly denied a US visa. Although the earlier applications are denied on the grounds he may stay in the US, it will later be suggested that his presumed role in the Cole bombing may have influenced one or more later denials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001).
The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. (ABC News 10/13/2000; Coll 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 191) The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). (Whitaker 10/14/2000) The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 184) The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” (Whitaker 10/13/2001) The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 190)
In 2008, the Washington Post will report that shortly after the October 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, US and Yemeni investigators are able to determine that the mastermind of the bombing was al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). Yemeni authorities insisted that Nashiri had fled the country before the Cole bombing. But an anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Post that in fact al-Nashiri was still in the country and Yemeni investigators had located him in a town about 90 miles northwest of the Aden, where the bombing took place. Al-Nashiri spends several months in this town while receiving high-level protection from the government. “We knew where he was, but we could not arrest him,” this official will say. (Whitlock 5/4/2008) It has separately been reported that several months before the bombing, al-Nashiri was given safe passage through Yemen without needing to be searched, at the orders Yemeni interior Minister Hussein Arab (see April 2000).
After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” (Wright 7/10/2006 ) In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. (CNN 12/13/2000) Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). (CNN 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright 2006, pp. 318) US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).
In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. (US Congress 9/18/2002) CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. (Tenet 2007, pp. 148-149) The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149) Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. (Tenet 2007, pp. 147)
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149)
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet 2007, pp. 149) This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. (US Congress 9/18/2002)
In 2007, NBC News will report that the CIA uses aggressive interrogation techniques on at least 13 high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees between 2002 and 2004. These techniques are first used on Abu Zubaida, captured in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), and some of the techniques are discontinued in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal around the middle of 2004 (see April 28, 2004), which is also around the time the CIA’s Inspector General issues a secret report suggesting many of these techniques could be a violation of an international treaty against torture (see May 7, 2004). Euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation,” these techniques include:
Exposure to extreme heat and cold.
Psychological and physical abuse.
The use of psychotropic drugs.
Waterboarding. However, waterboarding is allegedly only used on about four of the detainees (see May 2002-2003).
All 13 of these detainees will later be transferred to Guantanamo prison to stand trial before a military tribunal there (see September 2-3, 2006). (Two others similarly transferred - Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi - are captured after the Abu Ghraib scandal and thus are not subjected to as many interrogation techniques.) (Windrem 9/13/2007) However, there are other “ghost detainees” not officially acknowledged as captured by the US government (see June 7, 2007). Some, like Hassan Ghul, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, and Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, are held in the same secret prison as most of the “official” high-ranking detainees later transferred to Guantanamo, so it would seem likely that aggressive techniques have been used on many of them as well. In 2007, President Bush will sign an executive order allowing the CIA to use most of these aggressive techniques again (see July 2007).
The CIA videotapes interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda detainees. The interrogations of at least two detainees are taped. One of the detainees is Abu Zubaida, who helped run a training camp in Afghanistan (see March 28, 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After). (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) Another is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, chief of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula (see Early October 2002 and (November 2002)). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The tapes run to a “couple hundred hours,” and mostly show 24 hour a day coverage of Zubaida in his cell. However, some portions show aggressive interrogations, including waterboarding. According to one source, full transcripts are not made, although summaries are drafted and sent back to CIA headquarters. (Fox News 12/13/2007; Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) Another source says the opposite, “A detailed written transcript of the tapes’ contents—apparently including references to interrogation techniques—was subsequently made by the CIA.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) However, after tapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri’s interrogations are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005), some tapes are still in existence (see September 19 and October 18, 2007), suggesting that either not all tapes of their interrogations are destroyed, or that one or more other detainees are videotaped. Another detainee whose interrogations may be taped is Ramzi bin al-Shibh, because he is the most important remaining al-Qaeda leader who is captured during this time period (see June 13-September 25, 2000 and September 11, 2002). In addition, at least one audio recording is also made. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 ) According to a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the interrogations are recorded because “new” procedures are used during the interrogations and the tapes are “meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages.” The videotaping apparently ends in 2002. (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) Another reason for the videotaping is said to be Abu Zubaida’s poor medical condition - he was shot several times during the operation to capture him. An intelligence official will later say, “There were concerns that there be a record of his medical treatment and condition in the event that he died.” (Whitelaw 12/13/2007) However, there are various allegations these detainees are tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After, June 16, 2004, Shortly After September 6, 2006, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Some of the tapes are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005) and there will be a media and political outcry when this is revealed in 2007 (see December 6, 2007).
In 2007, it will be reported that the CIA used the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding on at least three detainees. The Associated Press will claim the detainees are:
Abu Zubaida, who is captured in March 2002 and tortured around May 2002 (see March 28, 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is captured in November 2002 (see Early October 2002 and (November 2002)).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is allegedly captured in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). (Hess 12/11/2007)
NBC News will report a list of three that includes Hambali, who is captured in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003 and Shortly After August 12, 2003). NBC’s list also mentions KSM and Zubaida, but does not mention al-Nashiri. (Windrem 9/13/2007) In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will hint that slightly more than three may have been waterboarded, writing, “The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied to only a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks…” (Tenet 2007, pp. 242) ABC News will claim in September 2007, “It is believed that waterboarding was used on fewer than five ‘high-value’ terrorist subjects…” (Ross, Esposito, and Raddatz 9/14/2007) Prior to 2002, waterboarding was classified by the US government as a form of torture, and treated as a serious criminal offense. US soldiers were court-martialled for waterboarding captives as recently as the Vietnam War. The technique is said to simulate death by drowning. (Mayer 8/6/2007) In the 1600s, King James I of England wrote about the torture his government was using and stated that waterboarding was the most extreme form of torture used, worse than the rack and thumbscrews. (Horton 12/15/2007) In 2007, it will be revealed that at least some of the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were videotaped, and it is suspected by some that their waterboarding may have been taped (see Spring-Late 2002). These tapes will later be destroyed under controversial circumstances (see November 2005). A government official will later claim that waterboarding is no longer used after 2003. The CIA and US military will prohibit the use of waterboarding in 2006. (Hess 12/11/2007)
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.” (Eban 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. (Johnston and Risen 6/27/2004; Suskind 2006, pp. 116-117; Johnston 9/10/2006; Eban 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. (Priest 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). (Suskind 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.” (Suskind 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 , 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.” (Rose 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.” (Stein 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.” (Rose 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.” (Priest and Gellman 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. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007)
A suspected al-Qaeda operative named Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani is arrested in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 10, 2002. He is a Saudi who later became a Pakistani citizen. Starting in 2000, he began running an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi. He will be held in Pakistani custody until he is transferred to a US prison in Afghanistan in May 2004. He will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba in September 2004. His driver, Muhammad Madni, is arrested too, and Madni reportedly quickly reveals the location of other safe houses in Karachi. (US Department of Defense 5/26/2008)
Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani’s brother, is arrested at one of the safe houses this same day. According to Abdul Rahim’s 2008 Guantanamo file, he is an important al-Qaeda figure because he began running up to six Karachi safe houses, on behalf of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), from early 2000 until his capture. According to his file, many important al-Qaeda leaders stayed at his safe houses and interacted with him or his brother while they were passing through Karachi, including: Saif al-Adel, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khallad bin Attash, Saad bin Laden, KSM, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Musaad Aruchi, and Hassan Ghul (who is said to be his brother-in-law). Furthermore, 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers stayed at his safe houses while coming or going through Pakistan, including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ahmed Alghamdi (the others are not mentioned in his Guantanamo file by name). Abdul Rahim does not admit knowing their mission, but says he picked them up at airports, kept them at safe houses, and transported some of them to their next destinations. He apparently is working on a plot to bomb Karachi hotels used by Westerners, but it is scuttled by the arrests. He is held by Pakistan for two months, then he will be handed to US forces and held in various prisons in Afghanistan until September 2004, when he is transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/9/2008)
The next day, these other safe houses are raided by the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency). 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh is arrested at one of the safe houses (see September 11, 2002). However, in contrast to the claim that the arrest of Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani led to the arrest of bin al-Shibh and others, there is a claim that an Al Jazeera reporter, Yosri Fouda, interviewed bin al-Shibh and KSM in a Karachi safe house in the middle of 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), then told the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, where the interview took place, and the emir told the CIA. The CIA then began intensely monitoring Karachi for safe houses, which finally led to these raids (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
Hassan Ali bin Attash, brother of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, is arrested at the same safe house as bin al-Shibh. Hassan will later be named by many other Guantanamo prisoners as an al-Qaeda operative, but not nearly as important a one as his brother. He will later say that he was held by the Pakistani government for a few days, then taken to Kabul, Afghanistan, by US forces for a few days, and then sent to Jordan and kept in Jordanian custody for over a year. He will be transferred to Guantanamo in January 2004, and where he subsequently remains. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008)
One other suspected al-Qaeda operative is arrested at the safe house with bin al-Shibh and bin Attash (located on Tariq Road). The three of them allegedly hold knives to their throats and threaten to kill themselves rather than be captured. But they are overwhelmed after a four-hour stand-off. (US Department of Defense 12/8/2006)
At another safe house, there is a gun battle when it is raided. Two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are killed. One of those killed, Hamza al-Zubayr, is considered an al-Qaeda leader and the leader of the group in the house. The remaining six are arrested. All six will later be transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008) All of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
High-ranking al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is captured in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Al-Nashiri is believed to have played a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), attended a 9/11 planning summit in Malaysia in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), was one of the masterminds of the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), and planned the 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg (see October 6, 2002). Said to be chief of al-Qaeda’s operations in the Persian Gulf region, he is taking flight lessons in the remote UAE region of Umm Al-Qaiwain when he is arrested by local authorities and then turned over to the CIA. An unknown number of other al-Qaeda suspects are arrested with him, but apparently they are considered less important and are not handed to the CIA as well. Most reports indicate he is arrested on November 8, 2002, about two weeks before the first media leaks about his arrest. (Tyler 12/23/2002) However, US News and World Report will later claim that he was arrested even earlier, early in October 2002. “Al-Nashiri soon broke; he even let officials listen in as he called his associates.” This leads to intelligence on Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a top al-Qaeda operative, and the US assassinates him with a missile strike on November 3, 2002, after trailing him for about two weeks (see November 3, 2002). (Kaplan et al. 6/2/2003) Al-Nashiri will remain in secret CIA prisons until 2006 and then will be transfered to the Guantanamo Bay prison (see September 2-3, 2006).
Al-Qaeda conducts a suicide bombing against a French oil tanker, the Limburg. The attack takes places in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen. One crew member is killed and over 90,000 barrels of oil leak into the sea. The attack is similar to the one on the USS Cole almost two years before (see October 12, 2000) and is planned by one of the same people, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. (BBC 10/16/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 153)
The CIA flies detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from the United Arab Emirates, where he was captured (see Early October 2002), to an agency black site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
The CIA transfers detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from the agency black site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit to another CIA prison in Thailand. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
Shortly after his arrest in the United Arab Emirates in early October 2002 (see Early October 2002), al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is taken to an unknown location and tortured. He is waterboarded, which is a technique simulating drowning that is widely regarded as torture. He is only one of about three high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). (Hess 12/11/2007) Much will later be written about the torture and interrogation of other top al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida, but next to nothing is publicly known about what happens to al-Nashiri in the months after his arrest. However, in late 2007 it will be reported that at least some of his interrogations were videotaped by the CIA (see Spring-Late 2002) and his waterboarding was videotaped. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) But these videotapes will later be destroyed in controversial circumstances (see November 2005). The waterboarding likely takes place in Thailand, because the videotape of al-Nashiri’s torture will be destroyed there in 2005 (see November 2005). (Hosenball 6/28/2008)
The CIA transfers detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from a CIA prison in Thailand to a similar black site in Poland. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
At least two CIA interrogators blow cigar smoke in the face of al-Qaeda detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. One interrogator will later admit doing this to the CIA’s inspector general, but will say he smoked the cigars to “cover the stench” in the room and to help him remain alert late at night. He will add that he would not do it again, because of “perceived criticism.” Another interrogator will also admit smoking cigars in two sessions with al-Nashiri, again apparently to cover up the smell. However, he will say he did not deliberately force smoke into al-Nashiri’s face. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 43 ) At this time al-Nashiri is apparently being held at a CIA base in Poland. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
CIA interrogators use stress positions that will later be described as “potentially injurious” on detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri is required to kneel on the floor and lean back, and on one occasion he does this a CIA officer reportedly pushes him backwards. On another occasion, an unnamed person has to intervene after somebody else expresses concern that al-Nashiri’s arms might be dislocated from his shoulders. At this time the interrogators are attempting to put al-Nashiri into a standing stress position; he is reportedly lifted off the floor by his arms while they are bound behind his back with a belt. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 43 ) The timing of these events is unknown, although other similar abuse of al-Nashiri takes place around December 2002 (see Late December 2002 or Early January 2003 and Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). At this time al-Nashiri is apparently being held at a CIA base in Poland. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
CIA employees who have been applying “enhanced interrogation techniques” to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri decide that he is now “compliant.” The techniques, including waterboarding, have been used on al-Nashiri for around a month (see (November 2002)). At this point, the agency regards him to be ready to be “debriefed”—a CIA term for part of an interrogation conducted by a more knowledgeable officer who does not use the enhanced techniques, or not to such an extent. Following this decision, the Counterterrorist Center at CIA headquarters sends out a senior operations officer to question al-Nashiri. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 36, 41 ) This officer will later become known to the public as “Albert.” (Goldman 9/7/2010) Al-Nashiri is currently being held at CIA black site in Poland (see December 5, 2002).
A CIA official known as a “debriefer” who has come out to question al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a secret CIA black site in Poland says that al-Nashiri is withholding information during interrogations. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 41 ; Goldman 9/7/2010) Al-Nashiri had previously been tortured by the agency (see (November 2002)), but the torture stopped when interrogators decided he was “compliant” (see Mid-December 2002). However, due to the decision that al-Nashiri is withholding information, some of the agency’s harsh techniques, including hooding and shackling, are now reinstated. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 41 ) According to a former CIA official who will talk to the Associated Press in 2010, the conclusion reached by the debriefer, who will later become known to the public as “Albert,” is disputed. Based on this official’s account, the Associated Press will report that there are “heated arguments at CIA headquarters” over what to do with al-Nashiri, but that in the end the abuse starts again. (Goldman 9/7/2010)
A CIA official known as a “debriefer” attempts to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a handgun and a power drill. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ) The official, who will later become known as “Albert,” had come to interrogate al-Nashiri at an agency black site in Poland after al-Nashiri had been tortured (see (November 2002)), but recently decided that al-Nashiri was still withholding information (see Mid-December 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Mayer 2008, pp. 225; Goldman 9/7/2010) Albert gets approval for the plan to use the gun from his supervisor, known only as “Mike,” although Mike does not clear the plan with CIA headquarters. (Goldman 9/7/2010) Albert takes an unloaded semi-automatic handgun into al-Nashiri’s cell. He racks it once or twice, simulating the loading of a bullet into the chamber, close to al-Nashiri’s ear. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ) After again receiving consent from Mike, around the same day Albert takes a power drill into the cell. While al-Nashiri is naked and hooded, he revs the drill to frighten al-Nashiri, but does not touch him with it. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Goldman 9/7/2010) This abuse will be reported to CIA headquarters (see January 2003), but the Justice Department will decline to prosecute Albert (see September 11, 2003), and the result of the CIA inspector general’s investigation of the matter is unknown (see October 29, 2003).
A CIA officer who is interrogating al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri threatens to harm al-Nashiri’s mother and family. The officer tells al-Nashiri that if he does not talk, “We could get your mother in here,” and, “We can bring your family in here.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ) At this time al-Nashiri is apparently being held at a CIA base in Poland. The officer will later become known as “Albert.” (Goldman 9/7/2010) Albert, who also threatens al-Nashiri with a gun and power drill around the same time (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003), apparently wants al-Nashiri to infer, for what the CIA’s inspector general will call “psychological reasons,” that he may not be a US official. Instead, al-Nashiri is to believe that he comes from an Arabic country. Al-Nashiri would infer this because of Albert’s Arab accent. According to the inspector general, this is because it is “widely believed in Middle East circles” that interrogation by officials of this Arabic country involves “sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42-43 ) The name of the Arabic country is not known, although Albert is of Egyptian descent. (Goldman 9/7/2010) Albert will admit not identifying himself as a US official to al-Nashiri, but say that he neither claimed to be an official of this Arabic country nor threatened his family. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42-43 )
Sometime in 2003, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller raises the idea of destroying videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during discussions in 2003 with Justice Department lawyers. But the Justice Department lawyers advise against destroying them. It is unknown what the basis for their advice is. Muller similarly approaches White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harriet Miers with the idea and she also advises him against it (see Between 2003-Late 2005). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007)
Two or more CIA officers who have arrived for temporary duty at an agency black site in Poland where al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is being held discover that unauthorized interrogation techniques have been used against him. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Goldman 9/7/2010) These techniques include the use of a handgun and power drill to frighten al-Nashiri (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). They were applied by an officer later referred to as “Albert,” with the approval of his supervisor, “Mike.” The newly arrived officers report the use of the techniques to CIA headquarters, which informs the agency’s inspector general. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Goldman 9/7/2010)
The Justice Department’s criminal division decides not to prosecute a CIA officer, known only as “Albert,” who intimidated al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a handgun and power drill during interrogations. The use of the gun and drill took place around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003), but was not authorised by CIA headquarters. As there will be no prosecution, the department returns the matter to the CIA. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Goldman 9/7/2010) The CIA’s inspector general will issue a report on the incidents the next month, but its conclusion is unknown (see October 29, 2003).
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, issues a report on the use of a handgun and power drill to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during an interrogation. A CIA officer known only as “Albert” threatened al-Nashiri with the gun and drill at a CIA black site in Poland around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Goldman 9/7/2010) The incidents have already been referred to the Justice Department, which has declined to prosecute (see September 11, 2003). What conclusions Helgerson comes to in the report are unknown. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 42 )
Following unsuccessful attempts by the 9/11 Commission to get direct access to high-value detainees on which some sections of its report will be based (see Summer 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the Commission decides to add a disclaimer to its report at the beginning of Chapter 5, the first of two that describe the development of the 9/11 plot. The disclaimer, entitled “Detainee Interrogation Reports,” reads: “Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al-Qaeda members. A number of these ‘detainees’ have firsthand knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses—sworn enemies of the United States—is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place. We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process. We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured 9/11 conspirators and al-Qaeda members in our report. We have evaluated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative. We have been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody has been confirmed officially by the US government.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 146) Most of the endnotes to the report indicate the sources of information contained in the main body of the text. Of the 132 endnotes for Chapter 5, 83 of them cite detainee interrogations as a source of information contained in the report. Of the 192 endnotes for Chapter 7, 89 cite interrogations. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488-499, 513-533) The interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is mentioned as a source 211 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) He was repeatedly waterboarded and tortured (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and it will later be reported that up to 90 percent of the information obtained from his interrogations may be unreliable (see August 6, 2007). Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission sometimes seems to prefer KSM’s testimony over other sources. For instance, in 2003 the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry reported that the CIA learned in 1996 that KSM and bin Laden traveled together to a foreign country in 1995, suggesting close ties between them (see 1996). But the 9/11 Commission will ignore this and instead claim, based on KSM’s interrogation, that KSM and bin Laden had no contact between 1989 and late 1996. (US Congress 7/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 148-148, 489) The interrogations of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are used as a source 74 times, 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 68 times, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 14 times, al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 13 times, and and a generic “interrogation[s] of detainee” is used as a source 57 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Most of these detainees are said to be tortured (see May 2002-2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Although the CIA videotaped some of the interrogations, it does not pass the videos to the 9/11 Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Slate magazine will later say that these detainees’ accounts are “woven into the commission’s narrative, and nowhere does the 9/11 report delve into interrogation tactics or make any recommendations about the government’s continuing or future practices. That wasn’t the commission’s mandate. Still, one wonders where video evidence—or the knowledge that such evidence was being withheld—might have led it.” (Bazelon and Lithwick 12/10/2007)
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, releases a highly classified report from his office that examines allegations of torture from the time period between September 2001 (after the 9/11 attacks, when the CIA first began detaining suspected terrorists and informants) and October 2003. In the report, Helgerson warns that some aggressive interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA since early 2002 (see Mid-March 2002) might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The report doubts the Bush administration position that the techniques do not violate the treaty because the interrogations take place overseas on non-US citizens. It will be released, in heavily redacted form, to the public in August 2009 (see August 24, 2009). From what becomes known of the report’s contents, the CIA engaged in a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics on the part of its interrogators. Some of these tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials. The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” The report does not conclude that the techniques reviewed constitute torture, but it does find that they appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Jehl 11/9/2005; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009)
Physical Abuse - The report defines torture as an act “intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering.” It then begins detailing such acts. Incidents of physical abuse include:
One incident caused the death of an Afghani detainee. According to the report: “An agency independent contractor who was a paramilitary officer is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions. The detainee died in custody.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) In a 2009 statement, Helgerson will write: “In one extreme case, improvisation took a disastrous turn when an agency contractor in rural Afghanistan—acting wholly outside the approved program and with no authorization or training—took it upon himself to interrogate a detainee. This officer beat the detainee and caused his death. Following an investigation of the incident, this contract employee was convicted of assault and is now in prison.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Waterboarding was routinely used, in a manner far exceeding previously issued guidelines. Interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water,” and later explained that they needed to make the experience “more poignant and convincing.” The CIA interrogators’ waterboarding technique was far more aggressive than anything used in military survival training such as the SERE program (see December 2001). Eventually, the agency’s Office of Medical Services criticized the waterboarding technique, saying that the “frequency and intensity” with which it was used could not be certified as “efficacious or medically safe.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) The report refers in particular to the treatment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who was reportedly waterboarded more than once (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Waterboarding is considered torture and is illegal in the US. The report also raises concern that the use of these techniques could eventually cause legal troubles for the CIA officers who used them. (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Helgerson will write: “We found that waterboarding had been utilized in a manner that was inconsistent with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The department had provided the agency a written legal opinion based on an agency assurance that although some techniques would be used more than once, repetition would ‘not be substantial.’ My view was that, whatever methodology was used to count applications of the waterboard, the very large number of applications to which some detainees were subjected led to the inescapable conclusion that the agency was abusing this technique.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
In July 2002, a CIA officer used a “pressure point” technique “with both of his hands on the detainee’s neck, the officer manipulated his finger to restrict the detainee’s carotid artery.” The carotid artery supplies the brain with oxygenated blood; such “manipulat[ion]” could lead to unconsciousness or even death. A second officer “reportedly watched his eyes to the point that the detainee would nod and start to pass out. Then the officer shook the detainee to wake him. This process was repeated for a total of three applications on the detainee.”
A technique routinely used by CIA interrogators was the “hard takedown,” which involves an interrogator grabbing a detainee and slamming him to the floor before having the detainee moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. One detainee was hauled off his feet by his arms while they were bound behind his back with a belt, causing him severe pain.
Another routinely used technique is “water dousing,” apparently a variant of waterboarding, in which a detainee is laid on a plastic sheet and subjected to having water sluiced over him for 10 to 15 minutes. The report says that at least one interrogator believed the technique to be useful, and sent a cable back to CIA headquarters requesting guidelines. A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
- - Detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), was repeatedly “bathed” with hard-bristled scrub brushes in order to inflict pain. The brushes caused abrasions and bleeding. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Helgerson will write: “Agency officers who were authorized to detain and interrogate terrorists sometimes failed in their responsibilities. In a few cases, agency officers used unauthorized, threatening interrogation techniques. The primary, common problem was that management controls and operational procedures were not in place to avoid the serious problems that arose, jeopardizing agency employees and detainees alike.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Mental Abuse - Numerous instances of mental and emotional abuse were also documented.
In 2002, interrogators staged a mock execution to intimidate a detainee. CIA officers began screaming outside the room where the detainee was being interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.” The report says that after witnessing this performance, the detainee “sang like a bird.”
Handguns and power drills were used to threaten detainees with severe bodily harm or death. One such instance involved al-Nashiri. An American, whose name is not released but who is identified as not being a trained interrogator and lacking authorization to use “enhanced methods,” used a gun and a power drill to frighten him. The American pointed the gun at al-Nashiri’s head and “racked” a round in the chamber. The American also held a power drill near al-Nashiri and revved it, while al-Nashiri stood naked and hooded. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
In 2009, reporter David Ignatius will say he finds the “image of a CIA interrogator standing with a power drill next to somebody he’s interrogating… particularly horrific, because that’s a technique that’s been used in torturing people in Iraq.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
A CIA interrogator told al-Nashiri that if he did not cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring your family in here.” The report says that the interrogator wanted al-Nashiri to infer for “psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused. The interrogator has denied actually threatening to sexually abuse al-Nashiri’s mother or other relatives.
An interrogator threatened the lives of one detainee’s children. According to the report, an “interrogator said to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, quote, ‘we’re going to kill your children.’” According to the report, the debriefer was trying to exploit a belief in the Middle East that interrogation techniques included sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainees. It was during these same interrogation sessions that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Fear of Recriminations - According to the report, there was concern throughout the agency over the potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” according to the report. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009) According to the report, CIA personnel “are concerned that public revelation” of the program will “seriously damage” personal reputations as well as “the reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself.” One officer is quoted as saying he could imagine CIA agents ending up before the World Court on war crimes charges. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this,” another officer said. But “it has to be done.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) Helgerson will write: “This review of the agency’s early detention and interrogation activities was undertaken in part because of expressions of concern by agency employees that the actions in which they were involved, or of which they were aware, would be determined by judicial authorities in the US or abroad to be illegal. Many expressed to me personally their feelings that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with long established US government policy and with American values, and was based on strained legal reasoning. We reported these concerns.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Recommendations - The report lists 10 recommendations for changes in the treatment of detainees, but it will not be reported what these are. Eight of the recommendations are apparently later adopted. Former CIA assistant general counsel John Radsan will later comment, “The ambiguity in the law must cause nightmares for intelligence officers who are engaged in aggressive interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects and other terrorism suspects.” (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Approval, Contradictory Statements by Attorney General - The report says that Attorney General John Ashcroft approved all of these actions: “According to the CIA general counsel, the attorney general acknowledged he is fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard and that CIA is well within the scope of the DOJ opinion that the authority given to CIA by that opinion. The attorney general was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.” In 2009, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that the contents of the report “conflict… with the public statements that have been made over the years by Bush administration officials and CIA directors.” In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency’s detention and interrogation program was “very carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—has been carefully controlled and lawfully conducted.” Isikoff will say, “It’s kind of hard to square that with… what was in the CIA inspector general report that had been presented five years ago in 2004.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Questions of Effectiveness - The report does document that some interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots, and finds that some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment (see August 24, 2009). It finds that “there is no doubt” that the detention and interrogation program itself prevented further terrorist activity, provided information that led to the apprehension of other terrorists, warned authorities of future plots, and helped analysts complete an intelligence picture for senior policymakers and military leaders. But whether the harsh techniques were effective in this regard “is a more subjective process and not without some concern,” the report continues. It specifically addresses waterboarding as an illegal tactic that is not shown to have provided useful information. “This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report reads, and notes that in many instances, the frequency and volume of water poured over prisoners’ mouths and noses may have exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization. In the instance of detainee Abu Zubaida, the report finds, “It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu [Zubaida]‘s increased production [of intelligence information], or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst.” In 2009, Isikoff will note that the effectiveness of torture is not clarified by the report. “As you know, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and others who had defended this program have insisted time and again that valuable intelligence was gotten out of this program. You could read passages of this report and conclude that that is the case, that they did get—some passages say important intelligence was gotten. But then others are far more nuanced and measured, saying we don’t really know the full story, whether alternative techniques could have been used.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Cheney Blocked Report's Completion - Reporter Jane Mayer later learns that Cheney intervened to block Helgerson from completing his investigation. Mayer will write that as early as 2004, “the vice president’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [interrogation] program.” Helgerson met repeatedly and privately with Cheney before, in Mayer’s words, the investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” She will call the meetings “highly unusual.” In October 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden will order an investigation of Helgerson’s office, alleging that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” (Leopold 3/6/2009)
US News and World Report reports that according to unnamed US and Jordanian intelligence sources, Al Jafr prison, in the southern desert of Jordan, is used as a CIA interrogation center. About 100 detainees have allegedly been processed there, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “Most stay just a few days before being shipped out to longer-term facilities,” the magazine reports. (Kaplan and Ozernoy 6/2/2003) The CIA and the Defense Department refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any detention facilities in Jordan controlled by the US. (First 6/2004 )
In June 2005, US District Judge Henry Kennedy orders the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.” US District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a nearly identical order one month later. Later that year, the CIA will destroy videotapes of the interrogation and possible torture of high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005). In 2005, Zubaida and al-Nashiri are not being held at the Guantanamo prison, but at secret CIA prisons overseas. But while evidence of torture of Zubaida and al-Nashiri is not directly covered by the orders, it may well be indirectly covered. David Remes, a lawyer for some of the Guantanamo detainees, will later claim, “It is still unlawful for the government to destroy evidence, and it had every reason to believe that these interrogation records would be relevant to pending litigation concerning our client.” In January 2005, Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler assured Kennedy that government officials were “well aware of their obligation not to destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.” (Apuzzo 12/12/2007) In some court proceedings, prosecutors have used evidence gained from the interrogation of Zubaida to justify the continued detention of some Guantanamo detainees. Scott Horton writing for Harper’s magazine will later comment that “in these trials, a defendant can seek to exclude evidence if it was secured through torture. But the defendant has an obligation to prove this contention. The [destroyed videotapes] would have provided such proof.” (Horton 12/15/2007)
By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007)
In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” (Meyer 12/9/2007) Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007; Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2007) A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)
The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. (Hosenball 6/28/2008; Goldman and Apuzzo 7/26/2010) The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” (Gorman 12/10/2007) Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” (CBS News 12/7/2007) CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).
Most top al-Qaeda leaders being held by the US has been in a secret CIA prison in Poland. But after the nonprofit watchdog group Human Rights Watch discloses the existence of the prisons, the prisoners are moved to a new CIA prison located in the North African nation of Mauritania. The New Yorker will report that “After a new government friendly to the US took power, in a bloodless coup d’état in August, 2005… it was much easier for the intelligence community to mask secret flights there.” (Hersh 6/17/2007) A Mauritanian newspaper places the prison at Ichemmimène, a town deep in the Sahara desert. (Le RÃ©novateur Quotidien 6/29/2007) ABC News lists eleven prisoners making the move:
Abu Zubaida (held in Thailand then Poland).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (held in Poland).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (held in Poland).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (held in Poland).
Khallad bin Attash (held in Poland).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (held in Poland).
Hassan Ghul (held in Poland).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (held in Poland).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman (held in Poland).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (held in Pakistan then Poland).
Further, Hambali is a high level prisoner in US custody but he is being held elsewhere. (Ross and Esposito 12/5/2005; ABC News 12/5/2005) In 2007 Council of Europe, the European human rights monitoring agency, will reveal that the main CIA prison for high-level prisoners was in a Soviet-era military compound at Stare Kjekuty, in northeastern Poland. Lower-level prisoners from Afghanistan and Iraq were held in a military base near the Black Sea in Romania. The governments of Poland and Romania will continue to deny the existence of the prisons even after the US government admits to their existence. (Grey and Carvajal 6/8/2007) Eleven of the twelve prisoners mentioned above were subjected to the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” called torture by many. In 2006, Bush will announce that the CIA prisons are being emptied and high level prisoners will be transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see September 2-3, 2006).
Some 'Ghost' Prisoners - But the list of prisoners being transferred will include some other names and will not include al-Shaykh al-Libi, Ghul, al-Sharqawi, or Abdul-Rahman. It will later come out that al-Sharqawi was probably sent to Guantanamo in late 2004 after being held in a Jordanian prison (see February 7, 2002). Ghul is a ‘ghost’ prisoner until he is turned over to the Pakistani government in 2006 (see (Mid-2006)). Al-Libi is similarly turned over to Libya (see Between November 2005 and September 2006). The fate of Abdul-Rahman remains unknown. (Ross and Esposito 12/5/2005)
The US temporarily closes a network of secret CIA prisons around the world and transfers the most valuable prisoners to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, for eventual military tribunals. The prison network will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). There were reportedly fewer than 100 suspects in the CIA prisons; most of them are apparently sent back to their home countries while fourteen are sent to Guantanamo. All fourteen have some connection to al-Qaeda. Seven of them reportedly had some connection to the 9/11 attacks. Here are their names, nationalities, and the allegations against them.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He is the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks and many other al-Qaeda attacks. A CIA biography of KSM calls him “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.”
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks.
Hambali (Indonesian). He attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and is accused of involvement in many other plots, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002).
Khallad bin Attash (a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash) (Yemeni). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and had a role in other plots such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000).
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks and arranged transportation for some hijackers. His uncle is KSM.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Yemeni). A member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. The CIA calls him the “primary communications intermediary” between the hijackers and KSM. He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Saudi). He is said to have been one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
The remaining seven suspects are alleged to have been involved in other al-Qaeda plots:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian, raised in Saudi Arabia). He is said to be a facilitator who helped make travel arrangements for al-Qaeda operatives. He is also alleged to have organized a series of planned millennium attacks.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Tanzanian). He was indicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is also said to be an expert document forger.
Majid Khan (Pakistani). He lived in the US since 1996 and is said to have worked with KSM on some US bomb plots (see March 5, 2003).
Abu Faraj al-Libbi (a.k.a. Mustafa al-‘Uzayti) (Libyan). He allegedly became al-Qaeda’s top operations officer after KSM was captured.
Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate and was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate. He is accused of providing funds for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia (see August 5, 2003). He was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Gouled Hassan Dourad (Somali). He allegedly scouted a US military base in Djibouti for a planned terrorist attack.
The fourteen are expected to go on trial in 2007. (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006; Willing 9/7/2006)
Shortly after 14 high-ranking al-Qaeda prisoners are transferred from secret CIA prisons to the US-controlled Guantanamo prison in Cuba (see September 2-3, 2006), the International Committee of the Red Cross is finally allowed to interview them. The prisoners include 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hambali, and Abu Zubaida. The Red Cross has a policy of not publicizing or commenting its findings. However, some US officials are shown the report on the interviews with these prisoners and apparently some of these officials leak information to the New Yorker about one year later. The New Yorker will report, “Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the CIA’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the US Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.” (Mayer 8/6/2007)
Combat Status Review Tribunal hearings are held for fourteen high-value detainees who have been moved to Guantanamo Bay and are being held there by the US military (see September 2-3, 2006). The purpose of the hearings is to check that the detainees are properly designated as “enemy combatants.” Transcripts of the unclassified part of the hearings are released to the media, but no journalists are allowed to attend the hearings, and no photographs of the prisoners are released. However, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) view Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession on closed circuit television in Guantanamo Bay (see March 10, 2007).
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) admits to being involved in dozens of terror plots and attempts to morally justify his actions (see March 10, 2007), causing a good deal of interest in the media (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi says he is not an al-Qaeda member. However, he admits receiving military training from al-Qaeda, and helping some of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as knowing Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and KSM (see March 21, 2007).
Hambali is accused of being a leader of al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and being involved in several bomb plots in Southeast Asia. He submits a wide-ranging written statement and denies all involvement in terrorist acts, saying he resigned from JI in 2000. (US department of Defense 4/4/2007 )
Khallad bin Attash is accused of being involved in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole. He says that the details of his participation in the attacks, as presented in the evidence, are incorrect, but admits being involved in the attacks. (US department of Defense 3/12/2007 )
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) admits sending hijacker Marwan Alshehhi some money, but says he knew nothing of the plot, denies being an “enemy combatant,” and says he has provided “vital information” to the US (see March 30, 2007).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh refuses to attend the hearing, or talk to his personal representative and translator, so only the summary of unclassified evidence is read out at the hearing. He is accused of knowing three of the hijacker pilots and facilitating the plot, as well as helping Zacarias Moussaoui and being captured at an al-Qaeda safehouse. (US department of Defense 3/9/2007 )
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is accused of involvement in the African embassy and USS Cole bombings, but claims that he was tortured into confessing details of plots he invented (see March 10-April 15, 2007). However, he admits knowing Osama bin Laden and several other militants, as well as receiving up to $500,000 from bin Laden and distributing it to associates, some of whom used the money to get married and some of whom used it “to do other stuff.” He admits knowing the people involved in the USS Cole attack, such as al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who he describes as a “regular guy who was jihadist,” and he admits buying the boat used in the attack and some explosives in Yemen using money provided by bin Laden. (US department of Defense 3/14/2007 )
Abu Zubaida is accused of heading the Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan, and admits heading Khaldan, but denies actually being a member of al-Qaeda (see March 27, 2007) and complains of torture (see March 10-April 15, 2007).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is accused of being involved in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), for which he was indicted in the US. He admits being present when one of the bomb trucks was purchased and traveling in a scouting vehicle, but not to the embassy; and he admits buying the explosives, but argues another team member “could have gotten it himself, but he sent me to get it and bring it to him.” He also says he was told the explosives were for “mining diamonds.” He admits working with al-Qaeda, but denies actually being a member. He concludes by saying he “would like to apologize to the United States Government for what I did before… it was without my knowledge what they were doing but I helped them.” (US Department of Defense 3/17/2007 )
Majid Khan, who is alleged to have facilitated travel for extremists and to have planned an attack inside the US, attends the hearing, but says he “would rather have a fair trial… than a tribunal process.” He also denies the charges, complains of being tortured in US custody (see March 10-April 15, 2007), and submits favorable testimony from witnesses. For example, one witness claims he was forced to make a false statement saying that Khan wanted to participate in a suicide operation against Pakistani President Musharraf by the FBI, which threatened to transfer him to Guantanamo Bay. Khan also points out that he helped the FBI catch an illegal immigrant and says he will take a lie detector test. (US department of Defense 4/15/2007 )
Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who was accused of running an al-Qaeda guest house in Afghanistan, running a communications hub, and facilitating travel for militant trainees, elects not to participate in his hearing, as, according to his personal representative, “his freedom is far too important to be decided by an administrative process and [he] is waiting for legal proceedings.” (US department of Defense 3/9/2007 )
Mohamed Farik Amin is accused of being involved with the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah and of helping finance attacks by it. He attends the hearing, but does not say anything. (US department of Defense 3/13/2007 )
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) does not to attend the hearing and is represented by his personal representative. He is accused of facilitating the transfer of funds for attacks in Southeast Asia, being an associate of Hambali, and having suspicious materials in the apartment where he was arrested. He says he has “nothing to do with JI” and that “it is true I facilitated the movement of money for Hambali, but I did not know what it was going to be used for.” He also points out, “it is not against the law in Thailand to have an M-16 in your apartment.” (US Department of Defense 3/20/2007 )
Gouled Hassan Dourad is accused of heading an al-Qaeda cell in Djibouti and of participating in operations by Al-Ittihad al-Islami in Somalia, but decides not to attend the hearing. He denies the specific allegations, but acknowledges fighting Ethiopians, which he says is his “right.” (US Department of Defense 4/28/2007)
At hearings in Guantanamo Bay in spring 2007 to determine whether they are “enemy combatants” (see March 9-April 28, 2007), several alleged top al-Qaeda leaders complain of being tortured in US custody:
Alleged al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida says he is ill in Guantanamo Bay and has had around 40 seizures that temporarily affect his ability to speak and write properly, as well as his memory; apparently they are originally the result of a 1992 injury from which he still has shrapnel in his head. He says that the seizures are brought on by broken promises to return his diary, which he describes as “another form of torture,” as he is emotionally attached to it. He also says he was tortured after being captured (see Mid-May 2002 and After), when he was “half die”, due to a gunshot wound received when he was taken, and that he lied under torture. However, the passage in which he describes his treatment at this time is redacted. He has many other injuries, has lost a testicle, and also complains the Guantanamo authorities refuse to give him socks for his cold feet. He has to use his prayer hat to keep his feet warm and does so during the hearing. (US Department of Defense 3/27/2007 )
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed remarks that, “I know American people are torturing us from seventies.” However, the next section of the transcript is redacted. He also says his children were abused in US custody. (US Department of Defense 3/10/2007 )
Alleged travel facilitator Majid Khan submits a 12-page “written statement of torture.” Khan’s father also gives an account of the torture he says his son was subjected to: he was tied tightly to a chair in stress positions; hooded, which caused him difficulty breathing; beaten repeatedly; deprived of sleep; and kept in a mosquito-infested cell too small for him to lie down in. His father also says Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s children, aged about 6 and 8, were held in the same building and were tortured by having insects placed on their legs to make them disclose their father’s location. (US department of Defense 4/15/2007 )
Alleged al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri says he was tortured into confessing the details of plots he invented. He claims that “he was tortured into confession and once he made a confession his captors were happy and they stopped torturing him… [and] he made up stories during the torture in order to get it to stop.” Many of the details of the torture are redacted, but he says in one unredacted comment, “One time they tortured me one way and another time they tortured me in a different way.” (US department of Defense 3/14/2007 )
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says that the claims of torture could undermine the legitimacy of future military commissions: “Someone has got to get to the bottom of these allegations… If there is something there, they are going to need to address it.” The Pentagon promises to investigate the allegations, but Amnesty International comments, “Given the Bush administration record so far on these matters, it strains credulity that any such investigation would be anything other than substandard, or [that] those responsible would be held accountable.” (Meyer 3/31/2007)
Fourteen “high value” detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007) are ruled to be “enemy combatants.” The detainees include 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, 9/11 coordinator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali, and al-Qaeda leaders Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. However, a judge had previously ruled that designating a detainee an “enemy combatant” was meaningless and that a person designated an enemy combatant could not be tried under the Military Commissions Act (see June 4, 2007). The Washington Post comments, “It is unclear if these men can be tried at military commissions without a change in the law or a newly designed review.” (White 8/10/2007)
MSNBC runs an inaccurate story about waterboarding and its alleged usefulness. According to an article by Robert Windrem sourced to four senior US officials, only three detainees have been waterboarded: alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and Jemaah Islamiyah head Hambali. The article contains several claims that will later be proved false:
It says that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was not one of three detainees who was waterboarded. (Windrem 9/13/2007) However, it will later be generally reported that he was indeed waterboarded, and Vice President Dick Cheney will admit it in 2008. (Ward 12/18/2008)
The report claims that Hambali was one of the three detainees who was waterboarded. (Windrem 9/13/2007) However, this claim will later fade, with al-Nashiri replacing Hambali as the third detainee subjected to waterboarding. (Ward 12/18/2008) The article also falsely claims that Hambali was subjected to waterbaording because he was “resistant to other interrogation methods.” It adds that he “cried like a baby,” a claim repeated in a prominent subheadline, and “quickly told all he knew.” (Windrem 9/13/2007)
One former senior intelligence official is quoted as saying that “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping,” although it will later emerge that KSM was waterboarded 183 times on five separate days (see After March 7, 2003 and April 18, 2009).
In addition, the article says, “a total of 13 high value detainees—all of them ranking al-Qaeda operatives—were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in 2002 through 2004.” (Windrem 9/13/2007) However, according to a 2008 interview with Cheney, the US applied enhanced interrogation techniques to 33 detainees. This number appears to relate to a longer period, from 9/11 until late 2008, although cases where enhanced techniques were used after 2004 are not well known. (Ward 12/18/2008)
The Justice Department’s National Security Division and the CIA’s inspector general conclude their preliminary inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes showing the interrogation of detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After). They report that there is enough evidence to start a criminal investigation, but do not say for certain that a crime has been committed. (Greenwald 1/2/2008) A prosecutor is appointed to head the investigation (see January 2, 2008).
After the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General conclude there should be a criminal probe into the destruction of videotapes showing interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see January 2, 2008), Attorney General Michael Mukasey appoints John Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, to oversee the case. The investigation would usually be handled by the prosecutor’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, but that office is recused to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests. Durham will not act as an independent special prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame Wilson case, but will report to the Deputy Attorney General. (Greenwald 1/2/2008) Durham made his name as a prosecutor in a difficult organized crime case in Boston. (Lewis 1/13/2008) House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) criticizes the appointment, saying, “it is disappointing that the Attorney General has stepped outside the Justice Department’s own regulations and declined to appoint a more independent special counsel in this matter… The Justice Department’s record over the past seven years of sweeping the administration’s misconduct under the rug has left the American public with little confidence in the administration’s ability to investigate itself. Nothing less than a special counsel with a full investigative mandate will meet the tests of independence, transparency and completeness.” (Greenwald 1/2/2008)
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. (Gorman 2/6/2008) Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains, “After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” (Whitlock 5/4/2008)
Newsweek reports that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the CIA’s destruction of video of the torture of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is continuing, but proceeding slowly. Federal prosecutor John Durham has recently filed a federal court affidavit that states he is examining whether anyone “obstructed justice, made false statements, or acted in contempt of court or Congress in connection with the destruction of the videotapes.” He is specifically attempting to determine if the destruction violated any judge’s order. But progress is slow, and the investigation is likely to take six months or more, which means any criminal charges will probably come after the November 2008 presidential elections. Two sources close to former intelligence officials who are potential key witnesses in the case say these officials have not been summoned to give grand jury testimony. One of them has not even been questioned by the FBI yet. (Hosenball 6/28/2008) Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Durham to head the investigation in January 2008 (see January 2, 2008).
The Defense Department announces that it is charging al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with “organizing and directing” the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 12, 2000) and will seek the death penalty. Al-Nashiri was captured in 2002 (see Early October 2002), held and tortured in secret CIA prisons until 2006 (see (November 2002)), and then transferred to Defense Department custody at the Guantanamo prison (see September 2-3, 2006). He will be tried there in a military tribunal. Al-Nashiri told a hearing at Guantanamo in 2007 that he confessed a role in the Cole bombing, but only because he was tortured by US interrogators (see March 10-April 15, 2007). CIA Director Michael Hayden has conceded that al-Nashiri was subjected to waterboarding. (Associated Press 6/30/2008) Khallad bin Attash, who is being held at Guantanamo with al-Nashiri and other al-Qaeda leaders, allegedly had a major role in the Cole bombing, but he is not charged. Presumably this is because he has already been charged for a role in the 9/11 attacks.
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). (Finn 1/30/2009)
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. (Leopold 3/6/2009)
The CIA releases heavily redacted documents containing statements by Guantanamo detainees concerning their allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of CIA personnel. The documents are released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawsuit seeks uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo qualify as “enemy combatants.” Previously released versions were redacted so heavily as to contain almost no information about abuse allegations; the current versions, while still heavily redacted, contain some new information. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, the lead attorney on the FOIA lawsuit, says: “The documents released today provide further evidence of brutal torture and abuse in the CIA’s interrogation program and demonstrate beyond doubt that this information has been suppressed solely to avoid embarrassment and growing demands for accountability. There is no legitimate basis for the Obama administration’s continued refusal to disclose allegations of detainee abuse, and we will return to court to seek the full release of these documents.” The ACLU press release notes, “The newly unredacted information includes statements from the CSRTs of former CIA detainees,” and includes quotes from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003); alleged high-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After); and accused terrorists Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)) and Majid Khan (see March 10-April 15, 2007). These statements include details about their treatment, which the ACLU refers to as “torture and coercion”:
Abu Zubaida - “After months of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs. They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.… They say ‘this in your diary.’ They say ‘see you want to make operation against America.’ I say no, the idea is different. They say no, torturing, torturing. I say ‘okay, I do. I was decide to make operation.’”
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - “[And, they used to] drown me in water.”
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - “This is what I understand he [a CIA interrogator] told me: you are not American and you are not on American soil. So you cannot ask about the Constitution.”
Majid Khan - “In the end, any classified information you have is through… agencies who physically and mentally tortured me.” (American Civil Liberties Union 6/15/2009)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) releases a memo entitled “CIA IG Report Confirms Effectiveness of CIA Interrogation Program.” The memo is in response to the release of a 2004 CIA report detailing numerous instances of torture and abuse against detainees by CIA interrogators and contractors (see August 24, 2009). The RNC memo asserts that, far from detailing potential crimes and abuses, the report proves that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program was effective in garnering critical intelligence from detainees. The memo reads in part: “Media coverage [of the report] seems to imply that CIA interrogators were constantly going beyond programmatic guidance, where the IG report found the reality to be that ‘there were few instances of deviations from approved procedures.‘… Additionally, the media today has latched on to the use of a gun in an interrogation, without usually reporting the other important element of that salacious story, which is that the interrogator was promptly disciplined for his actions.… Similarly going unreported today is that the release of the IG report should finally put to rest claims that the CIA interrogation program was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence.” The memo notes that in the report, “[a]gency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, and [Abd al-Rahim a]l-Nashiri.” In the report, an unidentified senior CIA official called the program “an absolute success.” (Goldfarb 8/24/2009) The RNC statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from former Vice President Dick Cheney (see August 24, 2009).
The US Justice and Defense Departments announce that five detainees are to be moved from Guantanamo to New York, where they will face trial in ordinary civilian courts for the 9/11 attacks. The five are alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who helped coordinate the attacks, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who assisted some of the 19 hijackers in Asia, and Khallad bin Attash, who attended a meeting with two of the hijackers in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The five previously indicated they intend to plead guilty (see December 8, 2008). US Attorney General Eric Holder says: “For over 200 years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims. Once again we will ask our legal system to rise to that challenge, and I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was also involved in the decision on where to try the men. (US Department of Justice 11/13/2009) However, five detainees are to remain in the military commissions system. They are Ibrahim al-Qosi, Omar Khadr, Ahmed al-Darbi, Noor Uthman Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. (McClatchy 11/14/2009) These five detainees are fighting the charges against them:
Ibrahim al-Qosi denies the charges against him, saying he was coerced into making incriminating statements; (USA v. Ihrahm Ahmed Mohmoud al Qosi 7/16/2009 )
Khadr’s lawyers claim he was coerced into admitting the murder of a US solider in Afghanistan; (Edwards 11/14/2009)
Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi also claims he was forced to make false confessions (see July 1, 2009); (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
Noor Uthman Mohammed denies most of the charges against him (see (Late 2004));
Al-Nashiri claims he was forced to confess to trumped up charges under torture (see March 10-April 15, 2007). (US department of Defense 3/14/2007 )
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