CIA ‘black site’ detainee used as live prop to teach torture, report says

Newly declassified 2008 document details interrogation methods used on Ammar Al Baluchi, one of five men charged over 9/11

The sun sets behind the closed Camp X-Ray detention centre at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, in 2019. AP
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A man detained by the CIA in Afghanistan was used by US interrogators teaching torture techniques, leaving him with brain damage, a declassified document has revealed.

The 2008 report, by the agency’s inspector general, stated that Ammar Al Baluchi, one of five men charged over 9/11, was repeatedly slammed into a plywood wall so trainees could receive “certification”.

All “the interrogation students lined up to ’wall’ Ammar” so the lead interrogator, identified only as “NX2”, could assess their techniques, the report said.

The documents, first reported by the New York Times’s Forever Wars team, were part of a court filing by lawyers for Mr Al Baluchi, who is held at the country's military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

They hope he will receive an independent medical examination, something they say the US government has denied him for years.

"This documents is fourteen years old, but was publicly released only now after a long struggle — and many more classified RDI (Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation) documents exist," Alka Pradhan, a lawyer for Mr Al Baluchi, told The National.

"The CIA's report proves our longtime theory that the purpose of holding military commissions offshore at Guantanamo is to illegally prosecute Mr Al Baluchi while continuing to hide his torture," she said.

Mr Al Baluchi is one of five inmates at Guantanamo charged with helping to plot the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The inspector general’s report noted that Mr Al Baluchi co-operated with Pakistani authorities before he was rendered by the CIA to the “black site” in Kabul in 2003, where he was immediately tortured.

The agency knew the rendition was conducted “extra-legally” because he was under Pakistani jurisdiction and no longer posed “a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to US persons or interests”, the document said.

CIA headquarters justified the use of its methods by claiming Mr Al Baluchi had information on imminent attacks, but the report concluded his torture did not lead to any new useful information. The report called the agency’s justification “fuzzy and unclear”.

Information he supplied did little to improve his circumstances. CIA officers were more concerned with him being compliant than with the quality of information he had provided, the report said.

Mr Al Baluchi would later say he was so terrified by the enhanced interrogation techniques that he made up stories.

In 2003, the lead interrogator invited students to observe and participate in Mr Al Baluchi’s torture for “on-the-job” practice.

The goal of the class was to employ enforced interrogation techniques during an “actual interrogation” that also included face-slapping.

One student was “too much into it”, a debriefer said in the report.

At the site, known as both Salt Pit and Cobalt, interrogators went beyond the approved methods used to torture Mr Baluchi, dousing him with iced water and forcing him into a stress position with a stick placed behind his knee joints.

He was also subjected to 82 hours of sleep deprivation, in excess of the 72-hour limit considered to be the maximum use.

During the “walling”, an enhanced interrogation technique approved by CIA headquarters, interrogators placed Mr Al Baluchi’s knees against a makeshift plywood wall, wrapped a towel around his head, grabbed the ends of the towel and shoved him against the wall.

The objective was to “bounce” his head off the wall, the report states. It notes he was “naked for the proceedings”.

Sessions typically lasted for less than two hours.

“Interrogators took turns because fatigue would set in for the interrogator doing the walling,” the report said.

Despite the medical staff repeatedly claiming he was mentally fit enough for the torture to continue, one debriefer said Mr Al Baluchi clearly had “major psychological issues”.

A 2018 head scan found “abnormalities indicating moderate to severe brain damage”, the report states.

Mr Al Baluchi was held at six detention sites from 2003 to 2006 before he was taken to Guantanamo Bay.

His case has been stuck in pretrial litigation for nearly a decade, but prosecutors last week initiated plea discussions that could resolve it.

The other defendants of the “9/11 Five” trial are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin Al Shibh and Mustafa Al Hawsawi. Each defendant in the case has been held at Guantanamo for 15 years.

All five defendants face the death penalty if convicted by military commission.

Updated: March 26, 2022, 4:15 PM