Why Don’t They Claim al-Nashiri’s Waterboarding Worked?

As I noted last night, Liz "MiniCheney" Cheney very pointedly avoided claiming that al-Nashiri provided important intelligence as a result of being waterboarded. In a non-sequitur response to Norah O’Donnell’s assertion that waterboarding is torture, MiniCheney offered this as rebuttal to O’Donnell’s point (at 2:15).

There were three people who were waterboarded, and two of those people are people who gave us incredibly important and useful information, information that saved American lives after they were waterboarded, both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.  

That’s pretty shocking, coming as it does from someone trying hard to claim waterboarding is effective. The implication is that Rahim al-Nashiri did not give such information after he was waterboarded.

But it turns out the 9/11 Commission actually used more information from al-Nashiri in its report than it did from Abu Zubaydah (though still not a lot), a total of 16 references–and the Commission may have included more information gathered immediately after waterboarding. There’s some confusion about when al-Nashiri was captured (the contemporaneous public announcement placed it in early November 2002, whereas the ICRC lists October 2002 without the specific date; the ICRC also reports that al-Nashiri was allegedly interrogated by Dubai agents for a month before being handed over to the Americans), and we have no reporting on precisely when al-Nashiri was waterboarded. Nevertheless, al-Nashiri gave information that was used in the 9/11 Report closer to his capture date than AZ and as close as a few of the KSM reports. And reports were generated consistently in all four months after he was captured:

November 20, 2002: One citation
November 21, 2002: Two citations (one contradicted by later reporting)
December  26, 2002: Three citations (one labeled "may not be true")
January 14, 2003: One citation
January 27, 2003: One citation
January 28, 2003: One citation
February 10, 2003: One citation
February 20, 2003: One citation
May 21, 2003: One citation
February 21, 2004: Four (probably) citations, all presumably in response to 9/11 Commission questions

Thus, if al-Nashiri was waterboarded in any of the four months following his capture, information collected in the same month made it into the report. (Note, much more of this testimony was corroborated than AZ’s or KSM’s.)

In other words, they did get information from al-Nashiri, at least in the 9/11 Report, more than they did from Abu Zubaydah. And while we can’t be sure, it may have been collected using waterboarding. But for some reason, MiniCheney carefully stops short of claiming they got information from al-Nashiri. 

Now, there are several possible reasons why MiniCheney doesn’t want to claim that waterboarding worked with al-Nashiri. Perhaps because, in his public appearance before the Combatant States Review Tribunal and unlike AZ and KSM, al-Nashiri did not admit to the central charges against him. KSM accepted the charges, AZ disputed specific allegations of allegiance to Al Qaeda but largely admitted his role in training terrorists. Al-Nashiri, however, claimed he was just a fisherman-businessman whose clients had used things he had sold them to bomb the Cole. Thus, while AZ and KSM have in a public statement supported the veracity of some of the central claims against them, al-Nashiri challenged all of it. This might make it harder for MiniCheney to claim his intelligence was true. 

Or perhaps it has to do with the statements about false confessions each man made. All three stated they had made false confessions. KSM didn’t provide much detail on this point; he was more focused on defending the innocent detainees who had also made false confessions. AZ had very specific complaints about the evidence against him and spoke of false confessions, but without much detail in his public statements. Al-Nashiri, however, makes specific statements about the things he confessed to.

[Listing the accusations] In regarding point number five. A relationship with people committing bombings in Saudi Arabia. They tortured me. [REDACTED] They used to call me "commander of the sea". The [sic] used to call me the "commander of the Gulf". He was in charge of the people there. When everything happened in Saudi Arabia or whenever explosions occurred. They used to tell me what relation do I have with those things and they used to torture me. And I have nothing to do with these things. Five years they weren’t able to get anything from me. I don’t know. Like now to admit what. Yes, I know these people. I know a lot of people in Saudi Arabia who do not want a military presence in Saudi Arabia. They will move against you in a natural way. I know some people in Saudi Arabia who I have helped financially. Some of them get married and some of them to do other stuff. But I’m not responsible if they take the money and they go and fight or do something else. Number six. Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb. [my emphasis]

There’s a lot more in the same vein. But this passage is particularly problematic because he reveals the degree to which the torturers were cueing al-Nashiri to tell them things they wanted to hear–up to and including claiming that OBL had a nuclear bomb. And, al-Nashiri reveals the laughs of the torturers, he explains he confessed these things because the tortuers asked him to, and he maintained they had gotten nothing from him in five years. Thus, while AZ and KSM make it clear that torturers elicited false testimony, al-Nashiri not only depicts the process of eliciting false testimony–complete with laughter from the torturers–but he insists that nothing he confessed to is true. 

Now all that–the embarrassment of false confession expressed in such detail–might explain why MiniCheney doesn’t claim they got useful information from him. One way or another, al-Nashiri’s public statement proves waterboarding got neither real information nor–just as importantly–someone even willing to play the compliant prisoner/show trial defendant. 

But then why did they stop after waterboarding him just twice?

Is it just that al-Nashiri willingly admitted their stories of nuclear bombs and other plots immediately, so they didn’t have to waterboard him anymore? But we know AZ and KSM did, too but they kept torturing them, ten or a hundred more times.

I don’t know the answer. It doesn’t make sense to me.

But I am wondering whether drational’s really important diary from today explains it. drational points out that one of the big "improvements" they made in 2005, after problems exposed–among other places–in the CIA IG Report, was to make sure doctors attending waterboarding sessions had tracheotomy kits available. Presumably, we might know now if al-Nashiri required a traheotomy after waterboarding. But is it possible something equally as serious happened?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

51 replies
  1. Aeon says:

    Good post (as usual).

    Keep in mind too, that al-Nashiri was one of the two detainees whose videotaped interrogations were destroyed. (AZ was the other.)

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah. And I’ve seen reports that they were specifically destroying the tapes because one of the torturers posed, laughing, in front of the camera. Given al-Nashiri’s reference to laughter (and he repeats it over and over), that may be a huge factor here–that the waterboarding clearly led to nothing but a false confession.

      • Aeon says:

        Since I mentioned it, I might as well add that your beloved Crazy Pete is believed by cognoscenti to have been either the leaker or the confirmer of the leak to Mark Mazzetti in early Dec. 2007 of the destruction by the CIA of the videotaped interrogations.

        Ya wouldn’t have thunk it, right?

        His motive was said to be payback for the Iran NIE (no ongoing nuclear weapons program).

    • MarkH says:

      Bushies might not want people to hear that it was our military presence in Saudi Arabia which spurred these people to attack us. Whether invited or not it would make us appear to be the instigators instead of the victims.

  2. klynn says:

    Thanks for this. You are so quick. I can quit working on my diary now!

    Now you know why I asked my question in the last post about whether the Cheney requested reports (specific, the 2004) was cited in the 9/11 Commission Report.

    And thank you for the tie-in to drational’s diary on the trache kits.

    My mind will rest for a bit.

    Did you read the quotes in my last comment on the Mitchell post? I’m probably pulling at nothing…

  3. phred says:

    I would like to reiterate my question from yesterday… On what basis did MiniCheney working in State have a need to know about highly classified interrogation information? PapaDick Cheney should not have been blabbing this willy nilly to family members.

    • Skilly says:

      I am with phred on this one. EW, I am sure has the answer to this, but when was the OLC memo from 2007 declassified so Cheney could talk about it’s contents in his recent statements? If it is not classified, why don’t we have it? Further, What did he tell his daughter about its contents, and why is she on tv anyway on these issues? If she has actual knowledge about these issues, what security clearance did she get to have it, and how can she talk freely about the contents of the memos on tv now? When does the pixie dust lose it’s mojo?

      • JGabriel says:

        What did [Cheney] tell his daughter about its contents, and why is she on tv anyway on these issues?

        Dick: C’mon Liz, go on TV for me!

        Liz: No, I don’t wanna! Why do you want me to do it anyway?

        Dick: Because, when I go on TV, people see Darth Vader. But you, you, my daughter, are young and beautiful. When you go on TV, they see my daughter, they see Princess Leia! Who could be a better defender of our defense of the nation?

        Liz: (cups her hands over her ears, in imitation of Leia’s hair buns, and looks in the mirror) Leia, huh? … Ok, I’ll do it.

        .

    • rafflaw says:

      phred,
      Your question about Liz Cheney was one that I also had. How did she get the clearance to know what happened to whom in the torture program? If she has knowledge of it, does that mean that Dick Cheney is guilty of leaking secrets to his daughter and should Holder question Liz to see what she “knows”?

      • pdaly says:

        i’ll bet Cheney will claim (if forced to explain himself) to have insta-declassified this to miniCheney when Cheney was officially President for a day (Bush underwent some medical procedure iirc).

  4. SparklestheIguana says:

    This exchange is kind of interesting:

    Court: Do you consider yourself an enemy combatant against the U.S. or our coalition partners?

    Detainee (al-Nashiri): I mean. I don’t know. The term enemy combatant is wide. It’s a big thing. If you think that anybody who wants the Americans to get out of the Gulf as your enemy, then you will catch about 10 million peoples in Saudi Arabia, that have same opinion. That will mean, that I am one of those people…..I do not think of myself as an enemy to anybody….

  5. slide says:

    I think the only fair and reasonable thing to do is to waterboard the big Dick and while we are at it throw in Lizard in the mix. How about 183 times in one month and we will see if we can get one shred of truth or honesty out of those two sociopaths.

  6. timbo says:

    Pardon me, but wouldn’t having to have a doctor on hand to perform a tracheotomy during “interrogation” mean that the interrogators were torturing the person under interrogation? I mean, it’s little niggling things like that that should get a special prosecutor on the case pronto…if the law has any meaning left in the United States that is.

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Wow, I just stumbled onto something weird in a mid-day checkin on the InnerToobz. Charlie Rangel on MSNBC, in an unusually frank conversation about how war is dehumanizing and soldiers are placed in very difficult circumstances.

    Rangel points out that the situation at Abu Gharib was a very confusing situation for the military being called upon to make decisions – that the responsibility for placing those soldiers in that situation belongs to their superiors. My sense is that his listeners really had not figured that out; not because they’re stupid, but because they don’t have any knowledge of that kind of organizational structure.

    Worth a view here.

    Well, my good heavens! As I was writing this up, a report by Jim Miklasczvski (sp?) came up regarding the photos coming out, and that they will ‘prove’ that the prisoner abuse was widespread and sanctioned by the Bush administration.

    Well, I expect to see more of MiniCheney on the teevee in an effort to drown out, demonize, scold, deride, obfuscate, and otherwise try her utmost to reframe, revise, or hide information coming out. And it’ll be interesting to see who joins her in desperate, furious attempts.

    I suspect Rangel was already on her shit-list. If not, he’ll move up a peg or two after this interview. As will the MSNBC Pentagon reporter, Jim M, who did nothing other than actually report a set of f-a-c-t-s.

  8. rosalind says:

    ot: the jack abramoff story, coming to a screen near you. titled “casino jack”, starring kevin spacey. from deadline hollywood

    The story is described to me as a modern day GoodFellas set in Washington DC that plays like a thriller involving Karl Rove and others in former President George W. Bush’s inner circle. Cameras will roll later next month.

  9. drational says:

    The footnote on p15 of the 2005 Bradbury note may hold clues:

    In our limited experience, extensive use of the waterboard can introduce new risks. Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness. An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately and the interrogator should deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water. If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention is required. Any subject who has reached this degree of compromise is not [censored hereafter].

    As far as we know, “Extensive” use of the waterboard was only AZ and KSM. However if al-Nashiri was tortured in Dubai before transfer to the CIA, he may have had “physical fatigue or psychological resignation.” It looks like the footnote was about to disclose that if you gave up during waterboarding and drowned (but were resuscitated), you would not be boarded again, which could have resulted in a single trial.

    The event they describe is not necessarily laryngospasm, so they may have been able to intervene with standard oral intubation, which would not leave a scar on the neck. And if the detainee was unconscious, they would not necessarily ever know that they were intubated, if the tube was removed before they regained consciousness.

    by the way thanks for the compliment and link.

    • behindthefall says:

      your quote:

      the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness. An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately and the interrogator should deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water. If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention is required.

      “excessive” filling of the airways??? And just who has the nerve to call this “simulated drowning” any longer??? “If the subject dies, you’re doing it wrong.” Laughter.

      A researcher wouldn’t be allowed to do this to a rat. Literally.

  10. GregB says:

    It still hasn’t washed into the national mindset that Abu Ghraib was a feature, not a bug.

    The release of these photos, may, just may allow enough people to make the connection that the land was ruled by out and out monsters and cowards.

    War is destructive, turning your military into torturing trained monkeys in order to justify a hyped up war is a whole order lower.

    -G

  11. bgrothus says:

    On the list of the “missing” prisoners referenced a thread down, most seem to have been arrested in Pakistan. Only one I saw was arrested in Iraq, a few are listed as “unknown” as to the specifics of their arrest, where/when.

    Doctors present for such as tracheotomies would imply that some very bad things (deaths?) happened when the “interrogations” were happening. It is incredibly outrageous that a baby is disappeared and assumed dead, not to mention the fate of other children who have not been seen.

    So, while all of this torture investigation is going on, the Taliban are said to be 60 miles from Islamabad. OBL may be closer to having the bomb than anyone in Iran.

  12. MadDog says:

    EW, I would also note one “curiousity”:

    How is that Liz “MiniCheney” Cheney (aka Lizard Cheney *g*), knows about this information herself?

    As I’ve been commenting in your previous post, the information that Dick Cheney wants is likely “close-hold” classified code-worded Top Secret/SCI material.

    It would seem strange that a mid-level Department of State weenie like “MiniCheney” Cheney (aka Lizard Cheney *g*) would be on that distribution list.

    Did Daddy tell her classified info in violation of the law?

    Does Daddy talk in his sleep about classified info, and if so, how would the Lizard hear about it?

    And finally, why does the Lizard think she can publicly talk about classified info in violation of the law?

    Shorter Cheneys I guess:

    “These Laws Are Meant For Breaking” sung to the tune of “These Boots Are Meant For Walking” by that always off-key Nancy Sinatra.

  13. alabama says:

    When I was a kid, some sixty or so years ago, being raised in Nixon’s Southern California as a Democrat, this particular practice, known as “the Chinese water torture” (I never did learn why), was considered the very worst thing short of dismemberment that one man could do to another. Worse than a crucifixion. I still get pretty upset when I think about it.

    So here we are, some sixty years later, with this genial, soft-spoken, African-American Democrat as our President, turning the entire Republican Party into nothing less than a water-torturing machine (except, of course, for Chuck Hagel, who can’t be a real Republican).

    So I’m beginning to think of Obama as history’s most lethal President. Fun, might I add, to watch, except for the fact that the lethal part is invisible, inaudible. The ultimate stealth politician.

    I mean, what the hell, the Mormons lining up on his side!

    • MarkH says:

      As a comedian/sage said recently (I paraphrase), thinking back to 2000, who would have imagined at that time that the next 8 years would have seen so much destruction and criminal behavior and that we would then elect an African-American to clean it up?

      These are amazing times.

  14. bmaz says:

    One way or another, al-Nashiri’s public statement proves waterboarding got neither real information nor–just as importantly–someone even willing to play the compliant prisoner/show trial defendant.

    Part of the evidence demonstrated on the torture tapes is that there is no evidence on the torture tapes. Been saying that all along. If the torture tapes even came close to proving something useful was gained from the torture, they wouldn’t have been destroyed. Instead what they likely demonstrated was 1) Torture and 2) No tangible results from the torture.

  15. eyesonthestreet says:

    two things:
    The torturer’s where supposed to smile after the torture event,
    “sere psychologists such as Mitchell and Jessen play two crucial roles. They screen the trainers who play interrogators, to ensure that they are stable personalities who aren’t likely to drift into sadism, and they function as psychic safety officers. If a trainer emerges from an exercise unable to smile, for example, he is viewed as “too into the problem,” says Dr. Lefever, and is likely to be removed.”

    about the Cheney timeline:
    “Last December, the nation’s best-known interrogation experts joined together to release a report, called “Educing Information,” that sought to comprehensively address the question of which methods work in interrogations.
    Scott Shumate served as an adviser to the report, which concluded that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered sere tactics work, or that sere psychologists make for capable interrogators. One chapter, authored by Kleinman, concludes: “Employment of resistance interrogators—whether as consultants or as practitioners—is an example of the proverbial attempt to place the square peg in the round hole.”
    But it is one of the features of our war on terror that myths die hard. Just think of the al-Qaeda–Iraq connection, or Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D. In late 2005, as Senator John McCain was pressing the Bush administration to ban torture techniques, one of the nation’s top researchers of stress in sere trainees claims to have received a call from Samantha Ravitch, the deputy assistant for national security in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. She wanted to know if the researcher had found any evidence that uncontrollable stress would make people more likely to talk.”

    my question: Why would VP’s deputy Ravitch be asking for evidence in late 2005?

    link to Vanity Fair article by K. Eban: http://www.vanityfair.com/poli…..rentPage=1

    • antibanana says:

      From the Vanity Fair article:

      Both army leaders and military psychologists say that psychologists help to make interrogations “safe, legal and effective.” But last fall, a psychologist named Jean Maria Arrigo came to see me with a disturbing claim about the American Psychological Association, her profession’s 148,000-member trade group. Arrigo had sat on a specially convened A.P.A. task force that, in July 2005, had ruled that psychologists could assist in military interrogations, despite angry objections from many in the profession. The task force also determined that, in cases where international human-rights law conflicts with U.S. law, psychologists could defer to the much looser U.S. standards—what Arrigo called the “Rumsfeld definition” of humane treatment.

      President George W. Bush delivers a speech acknowledging the existence of secret C.I.A. prisons such as those where Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were interrogated, September 2006. Gerald Herbert/A.P. Photo.
      Arrigo and several others with her, including a representative from

      This is a great starting point for finding out more Mitchell and Jessen.

      Haven’t pyschologists always had problems with insurance reimbursements, compared to those with MDs? Did someone promise the APA something?

  16. emptywheel says:

    Incidentally, we know from the ACLU letter that al-Nashiri’s waterboarding had to have happened by December at the latest, bc that’s when the torture tapes extend to.

    • drational says:

      Meaning that if they did have a near death in al-Nashiri in November-December 2002, they still went ahead with the board on KSM in March 2003, with full knowledge that their procedures could result in “ailments that are likely to result in permanent and serious physical damage in the absence of immediate medical treatment.” Considering this was Yoo’s definition of torture, they may have committed torture on KSM, fully cognizant of the legal jeopardy.

      • Mauimom says:

        “ailments that are likely to result in permanent and serious physical damage in the absence of immediate medical treatment.”

        As I read this, I wondered if anyone has researched [for comparison] any Nazi documents commenting on their “techniques”? This sounds so very “banality of evil.”

  17. Mary says:

    19 – I think that’s what it is as well. The original memo (2002) and info didn’t really even go into such a thing – the “giving up” as a possible outcome, so you can see that with the reference to in their experience, something happened between the original memo and the Bradbury re-issue. And if you combine the timing of Nashiri’s “arrest” (let’s say Oct 2002) with Priest’s article from way back, the CIA had a dead “detainee” on its hands by Nov 2002.

    The largest CIA prison in Afghanistan was code-named the Salt Pit. It was also the CIA’s substation and was first housed in an old brick factory outside Kabul. In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.

    I’m thinking that was on some interrogator’s minds – murder not having any statute of limitiations and not many supporters of torture like Limbaugh slapping himself are willing to go freeze themselves to death to show their ‘good faith’ support of torture. So although it was different tactics, if you had one dead detainee already and you started to waterboard someone who gave up and for whom a “sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water” failed, and aggressive medical attention was needed, you might be worrying about being the guy who tortures to death the next detainee. Also in early December of 2002, Qhatani’s abuse is sending his heart rate down to 35 bpm and causing emergency medical runs.

  18. Mary says:

    So, while all of this torture investigation is going on, the Taliban are said to be 60 miles from Islamabad. OBL may be closer to having the bomb than anyone in Iran.

    That’s pretty damn scarey too, isn’t it? Plus India can’t be all that thrilled. It’s part the catch-22 on the intel investigations – who are the people who can give you (if you are Obama, and if you appear what he appears to believe about intel with his picks of Brennan for his prime advisor and Kappes to run the functional end of CIA) the intel you need to make decisions on how to handle the Pakistan meltdown?

    Pretty much the same people in the center of all the torture.

    Torture worked so well, we know have an Afghan/Pakistan failed state problem vs. an Afghan failed state problem. And no Bin Laden to show for it.

  19. onwatch says:

    Bush never wanted to catch bin laden. He is a member of a family that did a lot of good stuff for him.

    • MarkH says:

      I think we need to get bin Laden (if he’s alive) and Zawahiri to deprive that militant crowd of their leaders who are most violent toward us. How we might handle them is a mystery because, as a nation, we’re sort of in the middle of considering whether to return to upholding our existing laws wrt this kind of thing.

      Two fangs, maybe only one.

  20. pdaly says:

    slightly OT: now that the OLC memos are public and we have heard about the details of enhanced torture/interrogations, have those redacted 16 characters in Harman’s 2003 letter become more obvious?

    This was the state of our “redaction action” as WilliamOckham called it in January 2008

    • rafflaw says:

      Muzzy,
      It doesn’t matter if torture works because it is illegal, period. Both under US Law and international law and it has been for years. Besides, the FBI and the Military both say it doesn’t work. John McCain says it doesn’t work.

  21. DrZen says:

    “It’s not torture because we do it to our own people.”

    What? You keep your own people in isolation for five years, intermittently shackling them to a chair for a week, and making them spend the whole day for weeks on end shackled to the ceiling on their tippytoes? Really?

    This SERE thing is going to need pushback. People need to say that even if you waterboard people in SERE, you don’t do so repeatedly and you don’t do it after depriving them of sleep for a couple of weeks. This is like saying that punching someone in the face is not torture because you once had a fistfight.

    • tjbs says:

      ONLY 10% of the SERE class is water tortured ,the rest watch.
      So maybe we only water tortured 10% of the bad guys?

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