A CIA psychologist who waterboarded a Saudi man suspected of being the mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing has given chilling testimony about how the prisoner was quickly “broken” by the torture technique.
James E Mitchell was giving evidence before a military court in Guantanamo Bay hearing pre-trial arguments this week in the case of al-Qaeda suspect Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, New York Times reported.
Dr Mitchell, a contractor with the CIA, subjected Mr Nashiri to several waterboarding sessions at a CIA black ops site in Thailand in 2002.
He said Mr Nashiri became so compliant after being waterboarded that he would crawl into a “confinement box” without being ordered to by guards, The Times reported.
Initially Mr Nashiri resisted getting into the cramped wooden box, but after a while he “liked being in the box”, Dr Mitchell testified.
“He’d get in and close it himself.”
Dr Mitchell and another interrogator, John Bruce Jessen, stopped waterboarding after the third session because they feared they were harming him.
“He was snorting and blowing water out of his nose,” Dr Mitchell told the military court, according to TheTimes.
Mr Mitchell said the waterboarding was overseen by CIA doctors and was authorized by the Justice Department.
USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in an explosives-laden boat while refueling at the Yemeni port of Aden on 12 October 2000, killing 17 sailors.
Mr Nashiri was arrested in Dubai in 2002 and held in CIA custody for nearly four years, before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Attorneys for Mr Nashiri are holding pre-trial hearings as part of a years-long effort to have government evidence excluded from his death penalty trial.
Mr Nashiri was also subjected to a procedure known as “rectal feeding”, where a tube was inserted into a prisoner’s anus in order to provide them with liquids and nutrients.
Current CIA director Gina Haspel was in charge of the secret black site in Thailand at the time Mr Nashiri was imprisoned there.
Heavily redacted cables from 2002 show Mr Nashiri was so affected by the waterboarding that he “whimpered that he would do anything his interrogators required”.
He was told if he did not cooperate, he would suffer “in ways he never thought possible”.
“Interrogation escalated rapidly from subject being aggressively debriefed by interrogators while standing at the walling wall, to multiple applications of the walling technique, and ultimately, multiple applications of the watering technique,” reads one document, released in 2018.
Waterboarding, as practiced by the CIA, involves strapping down a detainee, covering their face with a cloth and then pouring water over the nose and mouth to create a terrifying sensation of drowning. It is widely considered to be a form of torture.
The technique dates back hundreds of years but it came to gain notoriety in the years after the 9/11 attack when the CIA employed it against suspects detained as part of the so-called war on terror.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in interrogations of detainees in 2009.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.