The Interrogation of 'Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Senate Select Committe on Intelligence
Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program,
pp. 66[92] - 73[99].
December 2014


CIA Interrogators Disagree with CIA Headquarters About Al-Nashiri's Level of Cooperation; Interrogators Oppose Continued Use ofthe CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques


'Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, [NOTE 332] assessed by the CIA to be an al- Qa'ida "terrorist operations planner" who was "intimately involved" in planning both the USS Cole bombing and the 1998 East Africa U.S. Embassy bombings, was captured in the United Arab Emirates in mid-October 2002. [NOTE 333] He provided information while in the custody of a foreign government, including on plotting in the Persian Gulf, [NOTE 334] and was then rendered by the CIA to DETENTION SITE COBALT [NOT ITS REAL NAME] in Country [REDACTED] on November [REDACTED] 2002, where he was held for [REDACTED] days before being transferred to DETENTION SITE GREEN [NOT ITS REAL NAME] on November [REDACTED] 2002. [NOTE 335] At DETENTION SITE GREEN, al-Nashiri was interrogated using the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, including being subjected to the waterboard at least three times. [NOTE 336] In December 2002, when DETENTION SITE GREEN was closed, al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were rendered to DETENTION SITE BLUE [NOT ITS REAL NAME]. [REDACTED] [NOTE 337]

In total, al-Nashiri was subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques during at least four separate periods, with each period typically ending with an assessment from on-site interrogators that al-Nashiri was compliant and cooperative. [NOTE 338] Officers at CIA Headquarters disagreed with these assessments, with the deputy chief of ALEC Station, [REDACTED], commenting that DETENTION SITE BLUE interrogators should not make "sweeping statements" in cable traffic regarding al-Nashiri's compliance. [NOTE 339] Officers at CIA Headquarters sought to reinstate the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques based on their belief that al-Nashiri had not yet provided actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. [NOTE 340]

Shortly after al-Nashiri arrived at DETENTION SITE BLUE, CIA interrogators at the detention site judged al-Nashiri's cooperation and compliance by his engagement and willingness to answer questions, while CIA Headquarters personnel judged his compliance based on the specific actionable intelligence he had provided (or the lack thereof). For example, in December 2002, interrogators informed CIA Headquarters that al-Nashiri was "cooperative and truthful," and that the "consensus" at the detention site was that al-Nashiri was "a compliant detainee" who was not "withholding important threat information." [NOTE 341] Officers from the CIA's ALEC Station at CIA Headquarters responded:

"it is inconceivable to us that al-Nashiri cannot provide us concrete leads....When we are able to capture other terrorists based on his leads and to thwart future plots based on his reporting, we will have much more confidence that he is, indeed, genuinely cooperative on some level." [NOTE 342]

Later, after multiple follow-up debriefings, DETENTION SITE BLUE officers again wrote that they had "reluctantly concluded" that al-Nashiri was providing "logical and rational explanations" to questions provided by CIA Headquarters and therefore they recommended "against resuming enhanced measures" unless ALEC Station had evidence al-Nashiri was lying. [NOTE 343] A cable from the detention site stated:

"without tangible proof of lying or intentional withholding, however, we believe employing enhanced measures will accomplish nothing except show [al-Nashiri] that he will be punished whether he cooperates or not, thus eroding any remaining desire to continue cooperating.... [The] bottom line is that we think [al-Nashiri] is being cooperative, and if subjected to indiscriminate and prolonged enhanced measures, there is a good chance he will either fold up and cease cooperation, or suffer the sort of permanent mental harm prohibited by the statute. Therefore, a decision to resume enhanced measures must be grounded in fact and not general feelings. [NOTE 344]


CIA Headquarters Sends Untrained Interrogator to Resume Al-Nashiri's Interrogations;
Interrogator Threatens al-Nashiri with a Gun and a Drill


After the DETENTION SITE BLUE chief of Base sent two interrogators back to the United States because of "prolonged absences from family" and the "fact that measures are no longer required for al-Nashiri," CIA Headquarters sent [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2], a CIA [REDACTED] officer who had not been trained or qualified as an interrogator, to DETENTION SITE BLUE to question and assess al-Nashiri. [NOTE 345]

In late December 2002, following a meeting at CIA Headquarters to discuss resuming the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques against al-Nashiri, the chief of RDG [NOTE 346]—the entity that managed the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program—objected to sending [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] to the detention site because he "had not been through the interrogation training" and because "had heard from some colleagues that [[REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2]] was too confident, had a temper, and had some security issues." [REDACTED] later learned from other CIA officials that "[CTC chief of operations [REDACTED] wabted [[REDACTED [OFFICER 2]] at [DETENTION SITE BLUE] over the holidays." [REDACTED] told the Office of Inspector General that "his assessment is that the Agency management felt that the [RDG] interrogators were being too lenient with al-Nashiri and that [REDACTEDl [CIA OFFICER 2]] was sent to [DETENTION SITE BLUE] to 'fix' the situation. [NOTE 347]

[REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] arrived at DETENTION SITE BLUE on December 2002, and the CIA resumed the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques on al-Nashiri shortly thereafter, despite the fact that [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] had not been trained, certified, or approved to use the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] wrote in a cable to CIA Headquarters that "[al]-Nashiri responds well to harsh treatment" and suggested that the interrogators continue to administer "various degrees of mild punishment," but still allow for "a small degree of 'hope,' by introducing some 'minute rewards'" [NOTE 348].

 It was later learned that during these interrogation sessions, [CIA OFFICER 2], with the permission and participation of the DETENTION SITE BLUE chief of Base, who also had not been trained and qualified as an interrogator, used a series of unauthorized interrogation techniques against al-Nashiri. For example, [CIA OFFICER 2] placed al-Nashiri in a "standing stress position" with "his hands affixed over his head" for approximately two and a half days." [NOTE 349] Later, during the course of al-Nashiri's debriefings, while he was blindfolded, [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] placed apistol near al-Nashiri's head and operated a cordless drill near al-Nashiri's body. [NOTE 350] Al-Nashiri did not provide any additional threat information during, or after, these interrogations. [NOTE 351]

Based on a report from CTC, the CIA Office of Inspector General conducted a review of these interrogation incidents, and issued a report of investigation in the fall of 2003. [NOTE 352] The Office ofInspector General later described additional allegations of unauthorized techniques used against al-Nashiri by [CIA OFFICER 2] and other interrogators, including slapping al-Nashiri multiple times on the back of the head during interrogations; implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused; blowing cigar smoke in al-Nashiri's face; giving al-Nashiri a forced bath using a stiff brush; and using improvised stress positions that caused cuts and bruises resulting in the intervention of a medical officer, who was concerned that al-Nashiri's shoulders would be dislocated using the stress positions. [NOTE 353] When interviewed by the Office of Inspector General, the DETENTION SITE BLUE chief of Base stated that he did not object to using the gun and drill in the interrogations because he believed [CIA OFFICER 2] was sent from CIA Headquarters "to resolve the matter of al-Nashiri's cooperation" and that he believed [CIA OFFICER 2] had permission to use the interrogation techniques. [NOTE 354] The chief of Base added that his own on-site approval was based on this and "the pressure he felt from Headquarters to obtain imminent threat information from al-Nashiri on 9/11-style attacks. [NOTE 355] In April 2004, [REDACTED] [CIA OFFICER 2] and the chief of Base were disciplined. [NOTE 356]


CIA Contractor Recommends Continued Use of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Against Al-Nashiri; Chief Interrogator Threatens to Quit Because Additional Techniques Might "Push [Al-Nashiri] Over The Edge Psychologically, " Refers to the CIA Program As a "Train Wreak [sic] Waiting to Happen"


On January 2003, CIA contractor DUNBAR arrived at DETENTION SITE BLUE to conduct a "Psychological Interrogation Assessment" to judge al-Nashiri's suitability for the additional use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and develop recommendations for his interrogation. The resulting interrogation plan proposed that the interrogators would have the "latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures," adding that "the use of the water board would require additional support from" fellow CIA contractor Grayson SWIGERT. According to the interrogation plan, once the interrogators had eliminated al-Nashiri's "sense of control and predictability" and established a "desired level of helplessness," they would reduce the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and transition to a debriefing phase once again. [NOTE 357]

After receiving the proposed interrogation plan for al-Nashiri on January 21, 2003, [REDACTED], CIA's chief of interrogations—whose presence had previously prompted al-Nashiri to tremble in fear [NOTE 358]—emailed CIA colleagues to notify them that he had "informed the front office of CTC" that he would "no longer be associated in any way with the interrogation program due to serious reservation[s] [he had] about the current state of affairs" and would instead be "retiring shortly." In the same email, [REDACTED] wrote, "[t]his is a train wreak [sic] waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens." [NOTE 359] [REDACTED] drafted a cable for CIA Headquarters to send to DETENTION SITE BLUE raising a number of concerns that he, the chief of interrogations, believed should be "entered for the record." The CIA Headquarters cable—which does not appear to have been disseminated to DETENTION SITE BLUE—included the following:

"we have serious reservations with the continued use of enhanced techniques with [al-Nashiri] and its long term impact on him. [Al-Nashiri] has been held for three months in very difficult conditions, both physically and mentally. It is the assessment of the prior interrgators that [al-Nashiri] has been mainly truthful and is not withholding significant information. To continue to use enhanced technique[s] without clear indications that he [is] withholding important info is excessive and may cause him to cease cooperation on any level. [Al-Nashiri] may come to the conclusion that whether he cooperates or not, he will continually be subjected to enhanced techniques, therefore, what is the incentive for continued cooperation. Also, both C/CTC/RG [Chief of CTC RDG] [REDACTED] and HVT Interrogator [REDACTED] who departed [DETENTION SITE BLUE] in [REDACTED] January, believe continued enhanced methods may push [al-Nashiri] over the edge psychologically." [NOTE 360]

The draft cable from [REDACTED] also raised "conflict of responsibility" concerns, stating:

"Another area of concernis the use of the psychologist as an interrogator. The role of the ops psychologist is to be a detached observer and serve as a check on the interrogator to prevent the interrogator from any unintentional excess of pressure which might cause permanent psychological harm to the subject. The medical officer is on hand to provide the same protection from physical actions that might harm the subject. Therefore, the medical officer and the psychologist should not serve as an interrogator, which is a conflict of responsibility. We note that [the proposed plan] contains a psychological interrogation assessment by [REDACTED] psychologist [DUNBAR] which is to be carried out by interrogator [DUNBAR]. We have a problem with him conducting both roles simultaneously." [NOTE 361]

Rather than releasing the cable that was drafted by [REDACTED], CIA Headquarters approved a plan to reinstitute the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques against al-Nashiri, beginning with shaving him, removing his clothing, and placing him in a standing sleep deprivation position with his aims affixed over his head. [NOTE 362] CIA cables describing subsequent interrogations indicate that al-Nashiri was nude and, at times, "put in the standing position, handcuffed and shackled." [NOTE 363] According to cables, CIA interrogators decided to provide al-Nashiri clothes to "hopefully stabilize his physiological symptoms and prevent them from deteriorating," [NOTE 364] noting in a cable the next day that al-Nashiri was suffering from a head cold which caused his body to shake for approximately ten minutes during an interrogation. [NOTE 365]

Beginning in June 2003, the CIA transferred al-Nashiri to five different CIA detention facilities before he was transferred to U.S. military custody on September 5, 2006. [NOTE 366] In the interim, he was diagnosed by some CIA psychologists as having "anxiety" and "major depressive" disorder, [NOTE 367] while others found no symptoms of either illness. [NOTE 368] He was a difficult and uncooperative detainee and engaged in repeated belligerent acts, including attempts to assault CIA detention site personnel and efforts to damage items in his cell [NOTE 369] Over a period of years, al-Nashiri accused the CIA staff of drugging or poisoning his food, and complained of bodily pain and insomnia. [NOTE 370] At one point, al-Nashiri launched a short-lived hunger strike that resulted in the CIA force feeding him rectally. [NOTE 371]

In October 2004, 21 months after the final documented use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques against al-Nashiri, an assessment by CIA contract interrogator DUNBAR and another CIA interrogator concluded that al-Nashiri provided "essentially no actionable information," and that "the probability that he has much more to contribute is low." [NOTE 372] Over the course of al-Nashiri's detention and interrogation by the CIA, the CIA disseminated 145 intelligence reports based on his debriefings. Al-Nashiri provided information on past operational plotting, associates whom he expected to participate in plots, details on completed operations, and background on al-Qa'ida's structure and methods of operation. [NOTE 373] Al-Nashiri did notprovide the information that the CIA's ALEC Station sought and believed al-Nashiri possessed, specifically "perishable threat information to help [CIA] thwart future attacks and capture additional operatives." [NOTE 374]

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  • To read the notes cited above, please consult the full summary of the committee study.
  • DETENTION SITES COBALT, GREEN, and BLUE are generally thought to refer to CIA "black sites" in Afghanistan (The Salt Pit), Thailand, and Poland (Stare Kiejkuty), respectively.
  • Hammond DUNBAR and Grayson SWIGGERT have been identified by the media as CIA contractors John "Bruce" Jessen and James Mitchell (respectively).