CIA memo describes “catlike” team members in interrogation sessions

Newly declassified cables describing waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques applied to suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri while CIA Director Gina Haspel was known to have run the agency’s black site in Thailand have been released by the National Security Archive, a research institute at George Washington University, in Washington D.C.

Names, dates and other details are redacted from the cables, circa 2002, whose release was the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by the archive, but triangulation among other previously released documents suggests the techniques were being administered by CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. 

Most of the cables — which are assumed to have been either written or authorized by Haspel — though graphic and descriptive, offer a near-clinical description of what happened to Nashiri, e.g., “interrogators continued to apply the walling technique while repeating that subject was not giving them the responses they needed.”

Al Nashiri is being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where he was transferred in 2006. 

One of the last cables released, from December 2002, contains remarkably descriptive, near-literary, language.

“Security team backed the hooded and shackled subject against the walling panel with the towel/neck restraint over his narrow shoulders,” the cable describes. “HVTI and linguist … strode, catlike, into the well-lit confines of the cell at 0902 hrs… 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. 

Subject, blinking in the fluorescent light, did a few characteristically flicks of his tongue, reacquired his nervous tick, and in a frail, squeaky voice, replied: ‘Nothing'”

The CIA is not commenting on the documents or their release. The Archive says it filed the FOIA request for the Haspel cables on April 16, after President Trump nominated her to head the CIA. 

Haspel faced intense questioning from senators during her confirmation hearings over her role while the U.S. used “enhanced interrogation” methods. 

Haspel vowed she wouldn’t restart the program under her watch.

“I understand that what many people around the country want to know about are my views on CIA’s former detention and interrogation program,” Haspel said in written testimony. “I have views on this issue, and I want to be clear. Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”

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