What We Know About Who the CIA Tortured, How, and What Good It Did

Officials continue to leak details from a classified report on the CIA's Bush administration torture program, giving us a fuller picture of who was tortured, how it happened, and what limited information the government learned.

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Senate aides and government officials continue to leak details from a classified report on the CIA's Bush administration torture program, giving us a fuller picture of who was tortured, how it happened, and what limited information the government learned.

The most recent (and probably the most detailed) assessment of the report's contents comes from Tuesday's Washington Post. In addition to fleshing out the dispute between the Senate and the CIA that flared up earlier this month, it also reinforces an Associated Press report that information collected through torture didn't help catch Osama bin Laden — if it did any good at all.

Here are the people we know were tortured by the CIA. (Under the rubric established by the Bush administration, none of what is described below counts as "torture," but is instead "enhanced" interrogation.)

Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi


Who he is: A nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was arrested in 2003 and taken to the CIA's "Salt Pit" facility near Kabul, according to the Post's sources.

How he was tortured: From the Post: "Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said."

It's important to note that the dunkings described are not the same as waterboarding, a technique in which a suspect's face is covered and water is poured over him to evoke a sensation of drowning.

What the torture told us: It is unclear, but the Senate report indicates both that the torture continued "even after it appeared that Baluchi was cooperating," and that his attorneys indicate he "suffered head trauma while in CIA custody."

Hassan Ghul

Who he is: An al Qaeda member who is generally credited with having provided the key piece of information allowing the CIA to identify the location of Osama bin Laden. Ghul is understood to have provided the basis for the first torture scene in Zero Dark Thirty.

How he was tortured: It isn't clear. As The Wire noted on Monday, Ghul appears to be the person California Sen. Dianne Feinstein referred to when she said that a detainee provided relevant information "the day before he was subjected to harsh CIA interrogation."

What the torture told us: The key detail about the identity of bin Laden's courier was given in response to a question from Kurdish authorities who questioned him prior to his being turned over to a secret CIA prison in Romania, the Post reports. He was killed by a drone in 2002.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed


Who he is: The architect of September 11th, according to the 9/11 Commission.

How he was tortured: Mohammed is one of the three terror suspects the CIA admits waterboarding. A 2009 Times article indicates that it happened 183 times. He became so expert at the practice that he figured out it could only last 10 seconds, and would count off the timing on his fingers.

What the torture told us: Nothing helpful in catching bin Laden. "Mohammed only discussed [the courier] months after being waterboarded, while he was under standard interrogation," sources told AP.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri


Who he is: The alleged mastermind of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.

How he was tortured: Waterboarding.

What the torture told us: Not clear, though the sources who spoke with the Post indicate that it continued even after he agreed to cooperate.

Abu Zubaida, a.k.a. Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein


Who he is: According to the CIA, a senior al Qaeda operative, necessitating his torture. "[E]xperts later determined that he was essentially a facilitator who helped guide recruits to al-Qaeda training camps," the Post reports.

How he was tortured: Waterboarding. In August of 2002, he was waterboarded 83 times according to a Justice Department memo reported by the Times.

What the torture told us: The Post: "One official said that almost all of the critical threat-related information from Abu Zubaida was obtained during the period when he was questioned by Soufan at a hospital in Pakistan, well before he was interrogated by the CIA."

The others

Two other men, Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khalid al-Sharif, told Human Rights Watch that, while held at the "Salt Pit," they were tortured similarly to al-Baluchi. The Post:

One of the men said CIA interrogators “would pour buckets of very cold water over his nose and mouth to the point that he felt he would suffocate. Icy cold water was also poured over his body. He said it happened over and over again,” the report says. CIA doctors monitored the prisoners’ body temperatures so they wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

It's not clear what information may have resulted.

Update, 4:00 p.m.: Katherine Hawkins, a national security fellow at Open the Government and an investigator for the Detainee Task Force, wrote to point out that the above list is incomplete. Hawkins pointed to this report from the Red Cross about the CIA's rendition and interrogation program which includes lengthier descriptions of both types of abuse and a list of 14 people to whom they were applied.

Hawkins also noted a chapter from the task force that looked specifically at the efficacy of the interrogation programs. Our initial list, focused on the new information in the Senate report, should not be considered a comprehensive overview of everything the CIA was involved in.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.