CIA's 'enhanced interrogation' sessions described as 'completely out of control'

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re with The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH here in Boston. We thought we’d heard the worst of it last December, when the US Senate released its infamous report on the CIA and torture. It detailed the agency’s use of what some call “enhanced interrogation methods,” and it concluded that the techniques that the CIA employed were brutal and ineffective. Now, a former Guantanamo detainee says those working for the CIA went even further than the Senate report described. Majid Khan is a cooperating witness for the US government, and according to his story, interrogators and guards working for the CIA never told headquarters about some of the worst torture methods they used, including sexual abuse.


David Rohde: What happened on these remote sites, does the CIA headquarters, the officials there, do those officials know what really went on, or was this a completely out of control, almost carnival-like situation with guards doing all kinds of things that weren’t reported back to headquarters?


Werman: That’s Reuters journalist David Rohde, and today he told Majid Khan’s story. He says it’s the first publicly released account from a high value al-Qaeda detainee who experienced enhanced interrogation. Rohde notes that Khan was educated in the US.


Rohde: He went to high school in the Baltimore area, in Maryland, and then after the 9/11 attacks, he went to Pakistan and joined al-Qaeda, and then he worked very closely with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, to try to plan more attacks in the US.


Werman: So, as you researched, as you reported your story, what did you learn about the CIA dealings with Majid Khan that we had not heard before, and why have we not heard Majid Khan’s story, and perhaps other stories like his?


Rohde: Well, he said that he was hung naked, which is a common practice, but what was different was that his genitals were repeatedly touched. He was videotaped twice while being interrogated naked, and then he underwent some sort of form of waterboarding. He was lowered into a tube of ice water and was waterboarded, the ice water was poured on his mouth and his nose, but they also repeatedly poured the ice water on his genitals as well. Some of the new details include him claiming that guards smelled of alcohol at times, and he said they also threatened to beat him with baseball bats, and sticks, and leather belts. This is part of a pattern where it seemed to be an effort to, according to human rights groups, humiliate prisoners by violating them or assaulting them sexually. It’s a grim story.


Werman: How many individuals had been tortured and the details of those so-called enhanced interrogations were not sent in by cable?


Rohde: We don’t know. So, we’re first hearing about Majid Khan’s personal story because for the last decade, at least, the CIA has blocked these detainees in Guantanamo and their lawyers from talking about the interrogations that went on. The CIA ruled that the detainees own memories of the interrogations was classified. After the Senate released the report over the objections of the CIA in December, the CIA and government officials agreed to declassify these memories, and this story is based on notes that Majid Khan’s lawyers took during seven years of meetings with him.


Werman: Let me get this right: you said the US government classifies memories?


Rohde: That’s correct. Both the detainees in Guantanamo and their lawyers were not allowed to publicly describe the detainees’ memories of their CIA interrogation sessions. Maybe an argument is that they would be revealing CIA methods, and once the Senate report made them public, there was no need to classify these memories anymore.


Werman: It’s interesting, I mean the CIA says he repeatedly lied to them during the interrogations and now he’s turned government witness. He could still be lying, right?


Rohde: Yes, it’s possible, and in the past, in response to the Senate reports, CIA officials said they did not find Khan credible and basically said they don’t trust him. His lawyers say, “Then why has the government agreed to use him as a government witness?” As part of his plea agreement, Majid Khan has agreed to testify against al-Qaeda operatives. He says he regrets what he did. So, his lawyers point out that the government themselves finds him credible enough to testify against an al-Qaeda defendant, so why are his stories of torture not credible?


Werman: So, what next for Majid Khan and what about accountability for any of the torturers?


Rohde: Majid Khan’s lawyers are asking that he be moved to the United States, that he be a test case for Guantanamo detainees who have pled guilty and are cooperating with the US government to be moved into the US federal system. They feel that a federal judge can give him a fairer sentence and really value his cooperation more than a military judge. My own view is if the administration and if President Obama are going to close Guantanamo Bay, that process of moving some prisoners, maybe Majid Khan, needs to begin soon or there simply won’t be enough time left in Obama’s term.


Werman: Reuters journalist David Rohde. Thanks for telling us about this. Always good to speak with you.


Rohde: Thank you.


Werman: We contacted the Justice Department for their reaction to the story. So far, we’ve received no comment.