Washington, D.C., October 18, 2018 – The National Security Archive’s Freedom of Information lawsuit against the CIA has won release of the previously censored dates and times on cables sent by future CIA director Gina Haspel when she commanded a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where interrogators tortured and waterboarded an al-Qaeda suspect, according to the new documents posted on the Archive’s Web site today.
The new versions of the Haspel cables now provide a detailed chronology of the CIA torture, which began on “Day One” of the suspect’s confinement at the site, November 15, 2002, and continued even after his removal to a different black site, in Poland, on December 4, 2002. The torture included being slammed against walls, forced nudity, confinement in coffin-sized boxes, shackles and hoods such as seen in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, and waterboarding – which U.S. prosecutors established as a war crime in proceedings against Japanese soldiers after World War II.
The CIA had previously redacted the dates and times along with large portions of the texts when the Archive won release of the cables in August 2018. The CIA claimed that these details would reveal still-sensitive sources and methods of intelligence gathering that were exempt from the FOIA.
But Archive staff, working through pro bono counsel Peter Karanjia and Lisa Zycherman at Davis Wright Tremaine, demonstrated to the CIA and the U.S. Attorney’s office that precisely such dates and times had been released in other FOIA cases with no damage to national security, thus casting serious doubt on the CIA’s indiscriminate use of the “(b)(1), (b)(3)CIA Act, (b)(3)NatSecAct” claim to turn major portions of the released cables into Swiss cheese.
One of the newly released portions documents Haspel’s own intelligence failure in believing the al-Qaeda suspect had imminent attack information (what defenders of torture call the “ticking time bomb” rationalization). Cable 11258 sent on November 16, 2002 admitted that the second torture session “produced little actionable threat information” but “left base officers guardedly optimistic that the aggressive procedures may already be having an impact on subject’s resistance posture.” Haspel wrote, “Although base has little doubt that subject is withholding actionable information, the shock of his first hours at [black site] appears to have focused him on our interests and on the severity of his predicament.” The Senate Intelligence Committee report declassified in 2014 documents that the suspect in fact did not have imminent threat information, and had already confessed any useful intelligence during his prior captivity in Dubai.
The CIA's latest release (right side) shows the base officers were "guardedly optimistic that the aggressive procedures may already be having an impact on subject’s resistance posture.”
“The Freedom of Information Act gives leverage to citizens to hold their spies accountable at least to the judgment of history,” said Archive director Tom Blanton, who identified the Haspel cables in an obscure footnote to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, and filed a FOIA for them after Haspel was nominated by President Trump to be CIA director. The Archive went to court on April 27, 2018, but CIA refused to release the cables in time for Haspel’s rushed confirmation process, which took place mostly behind closed doors (she was confirmed on May 17, 2018 by a vote of 54-45).
Read the documents
CIA Cable 11246, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted, probably 15] November 2002 Debriefing of 'Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri," circa November 15, 2002. Declassified 7/31/2018, C06665557, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
The CIA did not release a new version with date and time for this cable, which is the first one of 12 listed in footnotes 336 and 337 on page 67 of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report, declassified in 2014, as documenting Nashiri's detention and interrogation. The declassified CIA Inspector General report on torture set the likely date for this document as November 15, 2002, since that was Day One of Nashiri's detention at the Thailand black site commanded by Gina Haspel, and "aggressive" interrogation had started "immediately" on his arrival. As chief of base, Haspel was responsible for all communications with headquarters, including this cable back to CIA's ALEC Station describing the interrogation of Nashiri. CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen led the torture session starting at 0415 hours by placing Nashiri against "the walling board," and telling him "they wanted to know who, what, when where and how ongoing operations would take place, and would stop at nothing to get it." When Nashiri began to describe the earlier Hormuz plots instead of current threat information he did not have, Mitchell and Jessen threw him to the floor and the "security team" ripped off his clothes, shaved his head "while subject moaned and wailed," and locked him in the confinement box at 0445 hours. According to former CIA lawyer John Rizzo, a prisoner could stand in this "large" box roughly the size of a coffin, while the "small" box reserved for shorter stays was only big enough to "curl up" in. The cable below established that Nashiri stayed in the confinement box for over 12 hours, until 1703.
CIA Cable 11258, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of Second [redacted, probably 15] November 2002 Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," November 16, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665558, then with date and time released on 10/3/2018, as the result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
The release of the date and time on this cable confirms that it covers the Day One torture sessions that took place on November 15, 2002. The cable reported the "base officers" "planning session" presided over by Gina Haspel, and the focus on "imminent Al-Qa'ida plots against U.S." Details included removing Nashiri from the "large box" at 1703 hours (he had been locked in at 0445, more than 12 hours earlier), adjusting his shackles, and removing his hood. Interrogators "walled" Nashiri (slamming him against the "walling" panel) when he started describing what they called "failed operations and old information," and then confined him in the "small" box for 30 minutes. When allowed to talk, Nashiri provided extensive detail of plans and names involved in the Hormuz and Dubai operations he had previously admitted to in his Dubai interrogations. Haspel's report to headquarters commented that Nashiri's admissions "were disjointed and appeared to conflict in certain places, but contained some information that may be actionable."
CIA Cable 11263, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Interrogations of 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," November 17, 2002. Declassified 7/31/2018, C06665559, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time, as the result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
The date and time on this cable confirm that it describes the second day (November 16) of Nashiri's torture at the black site commanded by Gina Haspel. As base commander, Haspel was responsible for this cable reporting on three separate interrogation sessions, featuring hooded confinement in the "large" box, multiple applications of "the walling technique," one use of the "small" box, and the first reference in these cables to "the water table" as a threat - the waterboarding that would later be applied to Nashiri three times. CIA censored the final six pages of this cable in full.
CIA Cable 11270, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," circa November 19, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665560, and again on 10/3/2018 with the "Day Five" reference released, as the result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
Previously, Archive staff thought this cable likely covered the third or fourth day (November 17-18) of Nashiri's interrogation at the Thailand black site commanded by Gina Haspel, but the release of the "Day Five" reference in the second paragraph (even without the date and time) confirms that this describes the November 19 torture sessions. CIA redacted most of the description of the two sessions on that day, one that started at 1013 local time, and the other - "following lunch and several strategy meetings between base personnel" - at 1555 local time. Before and after, Nashiri was hooded and confined to the "large" box; while during the sessions, he was "backed against the walling panel."
CIA Cable 11284, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 First Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri [redacted]," November 21, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665561, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time released, as the result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
Even though CIA initially redacted the date of this cable and other identifying information in the first and second paragraphs, the similarities between this cable and one released in February 2018 as a result of the ACLU's Salim v. Mitchell civil lawsuit, followed by the DeFraia v. CIA FOIA lawsuit, suggested to Archive that that this cable covered the first torture session on Day Five of Nashiri's detention, that is, November 19, 2002. The reference to "pocket litter" in the first paragraph was initially deleted, but Archive staff pointed out to CIA that a similar cable had previously been released asking for the pocket littler. The Day Five first session lasted over an hour, starting at 0950, when "subject was removed from the large box and was led, hooded, to the walling wall." The session included the "attention grab" technique and the "walling technique for emphasis," and an extended discussion of Nashiri's failed attempts to acquire small boats for attacks in the Strait of Hormuz - one of his recruits apparently diverted his wooden ship to the sheep trade between Somalia and Yemen. "Subject was locked in the large box at 1054 hours."
CIA Cable 11293, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri - Part III," November 21, 2002. Declassified 7/31/2018, C06665563, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time released, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
There is some contradiction between this cable and the next in number sequence. This one reported the "final afternoon session" started at 1345 while 11294 says the "third session lasted from 1545 hours to 1700 hours." The cables may be talking about two different "third" sessions, or perhaps an afternoon session that started with an unusual outside questioner and then moved back to the regular interrogators. Here, the person asking questions was not Mitchell or Jessen, the HVTI psychologists who were the usual interrogators, but someone outside the core torture group, perhaps sent from headquarters to pose questions about the "ref requirements." Notably, the questioner was repeatedly "asked to leave the room" while the interrogators apply the "attention grab" and walling "on several occasions."
CIA Cable 11294, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Third Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," November 22, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665562, and on 10/3/2018 with date and time released, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
The cable number sequence connects this cable to 11293 and 11284 above, and the Day Five torture sessions with Nashiri. Questions apparently focused on Nashiri's associates in Yemen, and the interrogators employed on multiple occasions the "attention grab" and the "walling technique." Most of the text is redacted. At the end, "subject was also warned to drink more of his water, and was then locked in his box at 1700 hours."
CIA Cable 11322, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 First Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," circa November 26, 2002. Declassified 7/31/2018, C06665564, and again on 10/3/2018 with the "Day 12" reference, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
CIA continued to redact the date and time on this cable, but released the "Day 12" reference in the second paragraph. This confirms the Archive's deduction from the declassified CIA Inspector General report the described the waterboarding of Nashiri as beginning on the 12th day of his detention, which would make the date November 26, 2002. This cable from the Thailand black site commanded by Gina Haspel back to CIA ALEC Station reported, "Interrogation escalated rapidly from subject being aggressively debriefed by interrogators while standing at the walling wall, to multiple applications of the walling technique, and ultimately, multiple applications of the watering technique." At one point, Nashiri "was left strapped to the waterboard to contemplate his fate" for 20 minutes; afterwards, Mitchell and Jessen told him "no matter what subject thought might happen to him, interrogators were not going to let subject come to grave harm; indeed, they were going to ensure that he would be able to answer the questions they would pose to him again and again." "The water treatment was applied at 1214 hours," after which "Interrogators covered subject's head with the hood and left him on the water board, moaning, shaking and asking God to help him repeatedly...." Mitchell and Jessen applied another "water treatment" at 1340 hours (likely a typo for 1240) saying "they wanted to know of operations against the U.S. Subject was not being honest with them, and they were willing to continue to give subject the same treatment, day in and day out, for months if need be, until subject decided to cooperate." But "Subject again said that there were no operations, they weren't talking operations, and begged interrogators to tell him more so that he would be able to remember what they wanted." The cable included some confusing reports on timing: paragraph 12 gave 1340 as the time for the second waterboarding, while paragraph 13 listed 1252 as the time when Nashiri was locked, naked, in the small box, and the second paragraph reported the whole torture session as lasting from 1107 to 1252, so 1240 was likely the actual time of the waterboarding.
CIA Cable 11344, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Second Interrogation Session with 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri," November 30, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665568, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time released, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
The CIA has now released the date of this cable from November 30, describing the November 26 torture sessions. The text describes the precise timing of two torture sessions that were also mentioned in Cable 11322 above, which is likely the "Ref A" cable that is deleted here. This second torture session lasted from 1655 to 1850, and included one "water board treatment" after "interrogators told subject he was not being helpful, that he was taking their words and spitting them back, and that subject was leaving them with no choice in the matter. Interrogators advised that they could not believe subject when all he was telling them were lies; interrogators were going to get the truth out of subject eventually. Over subject's protests, the water technique was applied. Interrogators told subject they were going to do this again, and again, and again until subject decided to be truthful; subject mumbled something unintelligible."
CIA Cable 11352, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted] November 2002 Interrogation Sessions with 'Abd Al-Rahim Husayn Muhammad 'Abdu Nashir," December 1, 2002. Declassified 6/26/2018, C06665565, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time and "Day 14" reference released, as a result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
This cable from the Thailand black site to CIA ALEC Station reported on two interrogation sessions with Nashiri that took place on "Day 14," which would have been November 28, 2002, and included several new elements different from the previous cables in this series. First was Nashiri's name, previously rendered as 'Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, and now as 'Abd Al-Rahim Husayn Muhammad 'Abdu Nashir. Second was the mention that Nashiri would soon be "moved to another facility (described as a much worse place)" - the Thailand site would be closed on December 4, 2002 because of tensions with the Thai government and CIA's discovery that a major U.S. newspaper was on to the location, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report. Third was the "base note" included in paragraph 3 about Nashiri's small gesture towards privacy, that the "small box had been moved by subject overnight to the far corner of the cell, to block the view of subject's waste bucket from direct view through the cell bars" - to which "interrogators informed subject that this was not his space at all - it was their space, and he was not to do anything with it without their permission." Fourth was the actual admission of failure by the interrogators Mitchell and Jessen: "Interrogators then told subject that his non-compliance with their requests for accurate, meaningful information was really all their fault, for not conditioning subject properly. Likening the conditioning process to tenderizing a fine steak, interrogators told subject that perhaps he similarly just needed conditioning and 'tenderizing' to be ready for what interrogators were asking of him." This was after extended sessions of physical violence, wall slamming, box confinement, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, shackling, stress positions, and waterboarding. The marked differences between the prior cables and the cables after this date from the Thailand black site suggest the possibility that someone other than Gina Haspel may have authored or authorized them. Haspel may have finished her temporary duty assignment as chief of base (the end of November would have been 30 days since she arrived), and been succeeded by a new base chief, although press accounts report that she stayed through the closing of the base. The U.S. Senate process that confirmed Haspel as CIA director in 2018 failed to establish any actual dates for her responsibilities at the Thailand black site and other CIA posts, leaving her as the first undercover CIA director in U.S. history.
CIA Cable 11359, "Subject: Eyes Only - Details of [redacted, likely 1] December 2002 Interrogation Sessions with 'Abd Al-Rahim Husayn Muhammad 'Abdu Nashir," December 3, 2002. Declassified 7/31/2018, C06665566, and again on 10/3/2018 with date and time and "Day 17" reference released, as the result of FOIA litigation, National Security Archive v. CIA.
If Gina Haspel was still the chief of base of detention site GREEN in Thailand on December 3, 2002, as press accounts report, this cable describing the "Day 17" torture sessions marks her descent into language right out of spy novels or the "Shades of Gray" series to describe potentially criminal behavior by CIA employees. "HVTI [redacted, either Mitchell or Jessen] and linguist [redacted] strode, catlike, into the well-lit confines of the cell at 0902 hrs [redacted], deftly removed the subject's black hood with a swipe, paused, and in a deep, measured voice said that subject - having 'calmed down' after his (staged) run-in with his hulking, heavily muscled guards the previous day - should reveal what subject had done to vex his guards to the point of rage."