Washington – Nearly a decade after CIA interrogators tortured a Saudi man suspected of involvement in Al-Qaeda’s bombing of the American destroyer Cole in 2000, the prisoner continued to experience lingering psychological consequences, including “nightmares that invoked being chained, naked and waterboarded,” newly declassified documents show.
The detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is facing the death penalty over charges before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay that he helped plot the Cole attack, which killed 17 sailors, as well as an attack on a French-flagged oil tanker in 2002 that killed a Bulgarian man. The newly declassified documents are part of a petition in a related case his lawyers are filing with the Supreme Court.
The new details add to the growing public understanding of what American officials, desperate to get information out of Mr. Nashiri that they hoped would stop terrorist attacks, did to the prisoner. They also show how that treatment created long-term consequences. When Bush administration lawyers authorized the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in 2002, one of their premises was that the program they enabled would inflict no lasting damage to the prisoners.
It has long been known that the CIA subjected Mr. Nashiri to some of the most extreme torture of any prisoner taken into the agency’s custody after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That included prolonged sleep deprivation and the suffocation technique called waterboarding, both of which the Justice Department deemed lawful. It also included a mock execution by an interrogator who racked the slide of a pistol as if preparing to fire it and then revved a power drill next to his head, which went beyond the approved program.
But even though some of what the government did to Mr. Nashiri has become public, including through the partial declassification of a 2004 CIA inspector general report and the release in 2014 of the executive summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee report about the interrogation program, many details have remained classified.
Among the newly disclosed details, the court filing showed that Mr. Nashiri was locked inside a coffin-like box for days. While it was known that confinement in cramped spaces was one of the torture techniques the CIA had approval to use at its black-site prisons, it was not previously known that Mr. Nashiri was among the detainees subjected to it.
The latest filing also discloses that photographs exist of the waterboard setup that the CIA used with Mr. Nashiri and at least two other prisoners, although the photographs were not revealed.
And government censors left unredacted details from a classified psychological examination of Mr. Nashiri that was conducted in 2012 as part of the commission case against him. It showed that his mental breakdown in response to the torture had long-term effects, including his continuing nightmares and other signs of post-traumatic stress.
“He developed a phobia of water and, when showering, kept the water pressure low,” the filing stated, citing the psychological review. “For approximately one year after being publicly transferred” from the CIA black-site program “to Guantánamo in 2006, he avoided leaving his cell altogether.”
Lawyers for Mr. Nashiri have been pursuing a lawsuit in the federal court system asking judges to block the government from prosecuting him before a military commission, rather than in civilian court. The argument centers on the idea that the bombings of the Cole and the French oil tanker did not take place in a wartime context, and so it is improper to use a military war-crime court to address them.
In August, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Mr. Nashiri’s lawsuit by a 2-to-1 vote, with the majority ruling that the pending commission proceedings had to run their course first and then Mr. Nashiri could raise the issue on appeal, assuming he is convicted. His lawyers are appealing to the Supreme Court, again seeking an order to shut down the commission trial.
Their petition and an attached appendix include a significant amount of information about what happened to Mr. Nashiri, drawn from classified summaries turned over to his defense team in the commission case. Large amounts of that material remained redacted.
The uncovered portions showed that Mr. Nashiri’s defense team also drew heavily from a recently published book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” by James E. Mitchell, one of two psychologists whom the CIA hired to design its interrogation program.
Mr. Mitchell’s book defended the program as he and the other psychologist, Bruce Jessen, had designed it, but portrayed C.I.A. officials as sometimes deviating from it — and from limits set by the Justice Department — to inflict more extreme physical abuse on detainees that the psychologists did not condone.
The New York Times