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CIA psychologist gives harrowing testimony about waterboarding of terror suspect at black ops site in Thailand

‘He was snorting and blowing water out of his nose,’ CIA contractor told military court

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 04 May 2022 19:24 BST
Gina Haspel confirmation hearing: Haspel promises not to restart CIA programme

A CIA psychologist who waterboarded a Saudi man suspected of being the mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing has given chilling testimony about how the prisoner was quickly “broken” by the torture technique.

James E Mitchell was giving evidence before a military court in Guantanamo Bay hearing pre-trial arguments this week in the case of al-Qaeda suspect Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, The New York Times reported.

Dr Mitchell, a contractor with the CIA, subjected Mr Nashiri to several waterboarding sessions at a CIA black ops site in Thailand in 2002.

He said Mr Nashiri became so compliant after being waterboarded that he would crawl into a “confinement box” without being ordered to by guards, The Times reported.

Initially Mr Nashiri resisted getting into the cramped wooden box, but after a while he “liked being in the box”, Dr Mitchell testified.

“He’d get in and close it himself.”

Dr Mitchell and another interrogator, John Bruce Jessen, stopped waterboarding after the third session because they feared they were harming him.

“He was snorting and blowing water out of his nose,” Dr Mitchell told the military court, according to The Times.

Mr Mitchell said the waterboarding was overseen by CIA doctors and was authorised by the Justice Department.

The USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in an explosives-laden boat while refuelling at the Yemeni port of Aden on 12 October 2000, killing 17 sailors.

CIA director Gina Haspel ran a secret black site in Thailand where Nashiri was waterboarded in 2002 (AP)

Mr Nashiri was arrested in Dubai in 2002 and held in CIA custody for nearly four years, before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.

Attorneys for Mr Nashiri are holding pre-trial hearings as part of a years-long effort to have government evidence excluded from his death penalty trial.

Mr Nashiri was also subjected to a procedure known as “rectal feeding”, where a tube was inserted into a prisoner’s anus in order to provide them with liquids and nutrients.

Current CIA director Gina Haspel was in charge of the secret black site in Thailand at the time Mr Nashiri was imprisoned there.

Heavily redacted cables from 2002 show Mr Nashiri was so affected by the waterboarding that he “whimpered that he would do anything his interrogators required”.

He was told if he did not cooperate, he would suffer “in ways he never thought possible”.

“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,” reads one document, released in 2018.

Waterboarding, as practised by the CIA, involves strapping down a detainee, covering their face with a cloth and then pouring water over the nose and mouth to create a terrifying sensation of drowning. It is widely considered to be a form of torture.

The technique dates back hundreds of years but it came to earn notoriety in the years after the 9/11 attack when the CIA employed it against suspects detained as part of the so-called war on terror.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in interrogations of detainees in 2009.

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