8 Years Ago Today, KSM Was Probably Being Waterboarded for the 179th Time

I don’t really know precisely what days in March 2003 the CIA’s contractors waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a total of 183 times.

But I thought about the rough timing when Dafna Linzer tweeted about this Steven Aftergood post, noting the report in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of what they did last Congress said they still weren’t done with their torture review.

It is nearly a decade since the Central Intelligence Agency embarked on its controversial post-9/11 program of prisoner detention and interrogation, which included “enhanced” procedures that would later be repudiated and that were widely regarded as torture.  But even now, an accurate and complete account of that episode remains unavailable.

It is more than two years since the Senate Intelligence Committee belatedly began “a study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.”  The Committee reported (pdf) this month that “the CIA has made available to the Committee over 4 million pages of CIA records relating to its detention and interrogation program.”

Yet the Committee said that its two year old review of the nearly decade-old program is still not complete:  “The review has continued toward the goal of presenting to the Committee, in the [current] 112th Congress, the results of the review of the extensive documentary record that has been provided to the Committee.”  There was no mention of presenting the results of the review to the public.

It seems to me we’re never going to see that report until after the 8 year statute of limitations on torture expire for everything described in the report that clearly exceeded John Yoo’s expansive interpretation of what constitutes torture. And we’re sure as hell not going to get a report on the death threats they illegally used with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri just as DOD is about to charge him in a military commission.

But they might have to “keep working” on it for a couple more years: I’m betting the government used water “dousing” in 2004 in an illegal manner, too.

It’s a brand new kind of job security for government workers, the kind of “work” they have to do to make sure the statutes of limitation expire on the crimes they’re investigating while they’re investigating them.

  1. NMvoiceofreason says:

    The Bush Homicides

    They have bigger problems. I see dead people. I see dead people with no “get out of jail free” statute of limitations toe tags. This is never going to go away, and it will only get worse.

  2. lysias says:

    This was going on at that secret CIA prison in Szymany, Poland, wasn’t it?

    I wonder if we’ll learn more about all of this from the Polish investigation that the U.S. has refused to cooperate with.

  3. lysias says:

    According to Wikipedia, KSM was captured in a joint CIA/ISI operation on Mar. 1, 2003. If all of this waterboarding happened in March 2003, how much of his testimony — including the implication of Aafia Siddiqi and all the operational details of 9/11 the 9/11 Commission used in its report — was not tainted by his torture?

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s hard to say. Most of the reports in the 9/11 Commission from him came later–starting in July. And he himself has suggested that what he said after his torture was true (remember, he likes to boast of how he pulled this off).

      • lysias says:

        I think anything a detainee says after being tortured is also tainted. After all, there is always the implicit threat of the torture resuming to influence whatever the detainee says.

      • frandor55 says:

        After being waterboarded 183 times in a month who knows what is left of a personality, of memories being actual or implanted?

  4. eCAHNomics says:

    As I noted on Jeff Kaye’s post yesterday, this is another example of how incredibly inefficient the U.S. torture program is. 183 waterboardings to get what? A couple of false confessions? A smidgeon of lies about other terrorists.

    This is 99% about sadism.

    • lysias says:

      Sadism, or a desire to get testimony supporting the line the torturers want supported (whether it is true or not being immaterial)?

      • eCAHNomics says:

        As I mentioned in my comment, the amount of that kind of info has been minuscule. The program is basically a failure at that objective.

        And of course, there is no truth to anything the torturees said.

    • bluewombat says:

      This is 99% about sadism.

      Well, Junior Bush did like to blow up frogs and brand his fraternity brothers with hot coat hangers, now that I think about it.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Sorry, you’re right. I had linked to the interview in an earlier thread, and didn’t notice that was still in my copy function. Thought I had copied the Kaye link. Thank you very much for finding the error & correcting it.

        • mzchief says:

          !De nada! It’s a fortunate find as it allows me to bring up the topic of Americans needing to ask questions about the multi-generational human and environmental damage aspects of US military activities and actions. I have a theory that the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) was used to cover up such within the US.

          • eCAHNomics says:

            Listen to the other interview at your leisure. It’ll rip your heart out, even more than torture.

            • mzchief says:

              Thank you for the tip. These things confirm information I have been coming in contact with since the 1960s. I think if we did a “freeze frame” and did a human and environmental health status review, I think a lot of folks would be shocked at the results– planet wide.

              • eCAHNomics says:

                I also agree with your point about the extent to which the U.S. military goes to cover up all the human & environmental damage that exists well beyond their horrific military operations. Can you say agent orange, to name just one.

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Thanks for the links, eCAHNomics and mzchief.

        I think what the Jessen notes make clear is that the use of the torture on the detainees was to break them, use them for propaganda purposes, false confessions, show trials, and most likely experimentation. “Intelligence exploitation”, or the elicitation of information, was also one of the things they sought. But you don’t need a full-scale “exploitation” program for that.

        While I agree with the sadism, the manifest (if cold-blooded) reason for waterboarding someone this many times is to see what it will do. It’s possible that they were unable to break KSM, at least not until that many waterboarding trials were completed. Note, each session of waterboarding includes multiple trials of the waterboard, so the 183 most likely refers to trials/administrations, not sessions.

        It was interesting to read in the SASC report that JPRA/SERE had proposed circa 2003 in the CONOP (concept of opertations plan) for torture at the SMU TF in Iraq “constant sensory deprivation” and “the water board”. Legal authorities supposedly rejected these up at higher levels, but we can’t be sure they weren’t used there. The report notes re this CONOP: “Those exploitation principles were similar to those that had been included in the [Jessen] exploitation draft plan nearly a year and a half earlier.” (p. 185)

        So we can assume, but until these plans are declassified, that “constant sensory deprivation” and “the water board” were in the original Jessen draft exploitation plan, which preceded the use of the waterboard on KSM. The draft plan was originated prior to Jessen leaving to join Mitchell at CIA, but we can strongly believe that they were working for (unwittingly or not) the CIA by Dec. 2001. It’s noteworthy that Mitchell was seen with CIA at that time (at Seligman’s house, per NYT), and that Mitchell-Jessen later had a high-ranking CIA psychologist, former APA president Matarazzo, on their governing board.

        This linkage corroborates what a source told me a few years ago (and which I reported here at FDL), that CIA had approached Roger Aldrich of JPRA (Jessen’s boss) and was the conduit for their plans re exploitation. I can’t know to what degree this was coordinated with JCS. I also find it suspicious that a CIA psychiatrist, doing research with SERE mock-torture trainees at just this time, on “uncontrollable stress”, who had a lot of connections to JSOC higher-ups as well, was not somehow involved. But that is still speculation on my part.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, they got their expert on al Qaeda, right, who could give them classes on terrorism?

      It just took a while. Or, alternately, he was in the custody of sadists.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        The USG needs classes on terrorism? Gee, coulda fooled me. The biggest terrorist in the world today lives in the WH.

  5. rmwarnick says:

    I read somewhere that a provision in the USA PATRIOT Act abolished the eight-year statute of limitations for torture. Of course, the idea was to prosecute terrorists not CIA torturers.

  6. tjbs says:

    Guess that falls on Mr Magnificent Representative of the Present Day American Justice Department, eric holder, what a slimy bastard.

    And a shout out to his criminal co-conspirator Bogus barry, burying dick and george”s Torture/ Murder/ Treason and at the same time expanding his unitary executive thingy.

    Yes sir, Mr. hoax N change.

  7. trademarkdave says:

    Thank God we’ve got a Democrat as president now who’s promised to get to the bottom of this! Ohwaitaminnit…

  8. perrylogan says:

    Anyone who’s watched “24” knows that torture always works quickly and results in 100% accurate information.

  9. wendydavis says:

    Thanks for the acknowledgement of the passing years, Emptywheel.

    I was trying to remember if it were Rumsfeld or Cheney who watched a prisoner being waterboarded at Gitmo; I’m guessing Rummy. I admit I hold him in more contempt than any of the others; his face can haunt me.

    While googling, I can across a link to Sherry Jones’ Torturing Democracy, and thought I’d post it here.

    • lysias says:

      Cheney is reported to have visited the secret CIA prison in Szymany while he was in Poland in January 2005, ostensibly to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (irony of ironies!) Who knows what he witnessed during that visit?

      As far as we know, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was still at the Szymany prison then, wasn’t he?

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Drove by that location with my Polish cousin in June 2000. He said: The Russians moved out & the Americans moved in. Didn’t find out until 2007 what the U.S. used it for.

          • eCAHNomics says:

            Yes, it’s turned out to be one of the more memorable parts of the trip. It’s in the middle of nowhere, only very small towns & farms. I wouldn’t be surprised if me & my son (who was asleep in the back seat of the car when we drove by) were the only regular Americans in the vicinity for years.

            However, it is very clear to me in retrospect that the locals knew pretty much what was going on, judging from that brief remark. They undoubtedly noticed white jets without tail numbers flying in & out, and someone may have figured out it was CIA, in which case, rumors would have spread that gossip all over the place. Prolly didn’t know torture was going on, nor who passengers were.

            • lysias says:

              Wouldn’t some Polish locals have been employed at the camp, and mightn’t they have gossiped?

              And then there’s the possibility of CIA people talking while in their cups.

              • eCAHNomics says:

                I was highly embarrassed by this revelation of what my govt had done, so I had no response. You know, how your emotions are your immediate reaction and only a lot later does the intellectual part of your brain kick in. There was also a language barrier that made asking detailed & subtle questions impossible.

                The compound, or base, was surrounded by a stucco wall, maybe 6′ tall, or maybe as much as 8′.

                You know the sum total of the experience. So the rest of what I type could be regarded as speculation.

                My guess is that if renditions & torture were going on inside, no locals were hired to work there. Also, since there wasn’t much to do in outside the base in the area anyhow, U.S. personnel were prolly not allowed to leave.

                But who the heck knows. It might be worth some investigative reporter going there & trying to find out how much the locals knew. Such a person would have to be fluent in Polish.

                • bobschacht says:

                  My guess is that if renditions & torture were going on inside, no locals were hired to work there. Also, since there wasn’t much to do in outside the base in the area anyhow, U.S. personnel were prolly not allowed to leave.

                  I doubt it. The janitorial staff, cooks, & other menial workers wouldn’t be brought in, because then you’d have to provide housing (that would be one tip-off.) Clerical staff might be imported, because that skill set would not be available in the environs you describe. If locals were hired, who spoke only the local dialects, and the management of the place spoke only some mutually unintelligible language, that would provide a security barrier, but would also be noticed by the locals. And the eyes need no translators: what they’re asked to clean up would be noticed. If you really want to find out what was going on there, ask the help.

                  Bob in AZ

              • eCAHNomics says:

                Thanks for the links.

                I haven’t kept in touch with my Polish roots very much. That trip was an exception.

                Hard to explain why. To simplify, my interests tend to lie elsewhere, and in that particular trip there was a big disproportionate response between my effusively friendly distant relative there & me & my son. That made me feel uncomfortable, like we could not find an emotional temperature that could make a low key relationship work, and I could never ramp up to where he was.

                  • eCAHNomics says:


                    My parents’ generation is long gone. My father’s home town was Clinton, MA. We visited relatives there most summers but despite that, my generation never bonded. We all went off to different geographies & pursuits. And even though I grew up in Buffalo, with a very large P-A community, we had no contact with it.

                    IOW, we completely ‘melted’ into the pot in our own ways.

                    Interesting you should raise such issues. I haven’t thought about them much.

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    Re the SSCI “report” or investigation. It won’t matter because anything important will be withheld as secret, for sake of so-called national security. So yes, while the statue of limitations runs out, the even more important issue of getting to the truth will be mostly withheld.

    Look at how the otherwise very interesting and revealing SASC report on detainee abuse covered up the SV-91 link to the origin of the torture program, hiding the very material that was reverse-engineered. Such material would have shown, and we now know, was specifically used to protect U.S. captured personnel from exploitation via false confessions, show trials, etc., i.e., collaboration with the enemy. This was “reverse-engineered” not to get intel, but to get the false confessions.

    From the original Truthout article (emphasis added):

    Levin’s office did not return phone calls or emails for comment. However, the report he released in April 2009, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody,” refers to SV-91. The report includes a list of acronyms used throughout the report, one of which is “S-V91,” identified as “the Department of Defense High Risk Survival Training” course. But there is no other mention throughout the report of SV-91 or the term “High Risk Survival Training,” possibly due to the fact that sections of the report where it is discussed remain classified. Still, the failure by Levin and his staff to follow up with Kearns–the key military official who had retained Jessen’s notes and helped develop the very course those notes were based upon that was cited in the report–suggests Levin’s investigation is somewhat incomplete.

    Why redact SV-91? Because they didn’t want the trail to the origins of the program so open. Instead, we get a cock-and-bull story about the AQ manual and counter-resistance methods.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Since Mr. Obama is inherently unable to deal with confrontation with those who oppose him, only with those whom he takes for granted, he is constitutionally (so to speak) unable to look backward or to hold his predecessor or his own staff accountable for the wrongs they committed and continue to commit.

    That solidifies what Mr. Bush did to the Department of Justice: turn it into the his personal criminal defense law firm instead of the enforcers – without passion or prejudice – of American law.

    Mr. Obama ought, therefore, to recognize his devices and desires and rename his in-house law firm the Department of Injustice. That fits their role in obfuscating crimes rather than investigating them, at least where they involve high crimes and misdemeanors among the corporate and political and class.

    • bluewombat says:

      Mr. Obama ought, therefore, to…rename his in-house law firm the Department of Injustice

      I’ve maintained for a long time that the Department of “Defense” should regain its original name, the Department of War.