The CIA’s use of torture was far more “brutal and sadistic” than was disclosed in last year’s controversial US Senate report into the agency’s interrogation techniques, according to new information from a Guantanamo Bay detainee.
The newly declassified accounts of the torture of Majid Khan, a so-called “high value detainee”, describe in graphic detail how he was sexually assaulted, hung from a beam for several days without a break and half-drowned in tubs of freezing water.
The descriptions are contained in 27 pages of notes from interviews between Mr Khan and his legal team that were cleared for release by the US government on Tuesday, and first reported by Reuters.
The notes appear to corroborate a Telegraph report from September last year in which a highly-placed intelligence source alleged that CIA waterboarding went far beyond the controlled ‘simulated’ drowning known as ‘waterboarding’.
In the new testimony, Mr Khan, who was arrested in Karachi in 2003 and held for more than three years in CIA black sites before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, is described undergoing the near-drownings during an interrogation in May 2003.
“Guards and interrogators brought him into a bathroom with a tub. The tub was filled with water and ice. Shackled and hooded, they placed Khan feet-first into the freezing water and ice,” the excerpt said, “They lowered his entire body into the water and held him down, face-up in the water. An interrogator forced Khan’s head under the water until he thought he would drown.”
Last year an intelligence source provided a very similar description of CIA excesses against an unnamed detainee, telling The Telegraph: “They weren’t just pouring water over their heads or over a cloth. They were holding them under water until the point of death, with a doctor present to make sure they did not go too far. This was real torture.”
The source added that doctors were also present during the near-death interrogations to ensure there was not a fatality – a fact corroborated by Mr Khan – who says he begged one doctor for help but the doctor instead instructed the guards to hang him from a metal bar for a further 24 hours.
The notes say that Mr Khan was kept in the dark for much of 2003 and in solitary confinement from 2004-2006, that he was threatened with tools, including a hammer, and that his interrogators sometimes had the smell of alcohol on their breath.
Mr Khan, now 35, grew in Baltimore, Maryland and is now a government witness in the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others accused in the September 11 attacks, after pleading guilty to terror conspiracy charges in February 2012.
Lawyers for Mr Khan and other rights groups say that the new testimony makes clear that the 500-page Senate torture report – which was bitterly contested by the CIA and caused huge controversy when it was released last year – only scratched the surface of what actually happened.
“It is clear that the CIA interrogators were completely out of control,” Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents Mr Khan told The Telegraph, “the reality of what happened to men like Majid Khan is far more brutal and sadistic than has been revealed in the Senate report or any of the other prior public disclosures.”
Reprieve, the UK-based legal charity that represents several victims of CIA extraordinary rendition, said the testimony proved that there was still a “huge amount” of work to be done to reveal both the truth about torture, and the role played in the CIA’s programme by Britain.
“While the Senate torture report is a crucial piece of work, it has always been very clear that those parts of it which were published were only the tip of the iceberg,” said Kat Craig, Reprieve’s legal director, “Today’s revelations make clear that many of the grisly details remain hidden in the shadows.”
Another extended extract that Mr Khan’s lawyers shared with The Telegraph described how he was subjected to near-drowning during an interrogation in July 2003, to the point where his lungs filled with water.
The notes continue:
“He was hung for several days from a metal pole, without any break, without any food and very little water. Guards and interrogators then carried Khan into a room. [There was a] tub constructed from plastic sheeting that again had water and ice in it. Khan was forced into the tub and held down on his back, his hands were shackled underneath him and the arch of his back forced his head to tilt backwards into the water at an angle. A cloth hood remained on his face as the guards forced his body down into the tub. One of the interrogators held a bucket filled with water and large chunks of ice over his head. The interrogator poured the water and ice into Khan’s mouth and nose as well as on his genitals from a high distance. As the interrogator poured the tub began to fill up. Khan could not breath and water went into his lungs. The guards and interrogators flipped Khan over from his front to his back several times, each time forcing his head into the water. An interrogator demanded answers to his questions throughout this process. This torture session was followed by a 15 minute videotaped interrogation in another room where Khan was forced to sit naked on a wooden box and he was again subject to sleep deprivation. He was forced to write his own confession while being filmed naked if he wanted some rest.”
According to a full list of excerpts released by the The Center for Constitutional Rights:
Khan was raped while in CIA custody (“rectal feeding”) and sexually assaulted:
“As described in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, Khan was raped while in CIA custody (‘rectal feeding’). He was sexually assaulted in other ways as well, including by having his ‘private parts’ touched while he was hung naked from the ceiling.”
The CIA maintains that rectal feedings were necessary after Khan went on a hunger strike and pulled out a feeding tube that had been inserted through his nose. Senate investigators said Khan was cooperative and did not remove the feeding tube.
Khan was hung on a wooden beam for days on end:
“Interrogators and guards at a black site hung Khan by his hands from a wooden beam for three days. He was naked and shackled. He was provided with water but no food.”
Khan spent much of 2003 in total darkness:
“Majid had an uncovered bucket for a toilet, no toilet paper, a sleeping mat and no light…. For much of 2003 he lived in total darkness.”
Khan was held in solitary:
“Khan was essentially held in solitary confinement from 2004 to 2006.”
Khan’s family was threatened by interrogators:
“They also threatened to harm his family, including his young sister. He was told, ‘son, we are going to take care of you. We are going to send you to a place you cannot imagine.’”
Khan experienced repeated beatings and threats to beat him with tools, including a hammer:
“They would come in with a bag of tools and set them down next to Majid. They would pull out a hammer and show it to Majid. One of them threatened to hammer Majid’s head. They sometimes smelled like alcohol.”
Doctors were among Khan’s worst torturers; Khan was hung on a metal bar:
“When a physician came to examine him, Khan begged for help. In response, the physician instructed the guards to take Khan back into the interrogation room with the metal bar and hang him. Khan remained hanging there for another 24 hours before being interrogated again and forced to write his own ‘confession’ while being filmed naked if he wanted some rest. He was finally placed in a cell, where he remained numb and immobile for several days.”