CIA Torture Gets Even More Deplorable

Matthew G. Saroff
7 min readMar 15, 2022

It appears that the CIA brought agents in to torture Ammar Al-Baluchi as a training aid.

This is akin to people on the illegal dog-fighting circuit using, “Bait Dogs” to train their dogs to to maul other dogs.

It seems the everyone wanted to be Jack Bauer:

While in the CIA’s Lithuania black site, Ammar al-Baluchi had a conversation with an Agency torturer identified in legal documents as NZ7. It was 2005, about two years after the most physically excruciating period of al-Baluchi’s torture, which took place inside the total darkness of the CIA prison in Afghanistan known variously as Cobalt and the Salt Pit. After all this time, al-Baluchi had a suspicion.

He voiced it cautiously. Long after that period of acute torture, al-Baluchi repeatedly told his captors that he remained “consumed by fear” that it could return at any moment. Al-Baluchi assured NZ7 that he knew he was being “irrational,” according to a never-before-seen CIA inspector general report, but “Ammar described to him his concern that he was being used as an experiment.”

As an example, al-Baluchi recounted that when he had been sent to the black site in Vilnius — one of at least five places the CIA caged him — “he was afraid to complain about a pressure sore on his nose.” He explained to NZ7 “he was afraid Agency officers had caused it purposely to see what his reaction would be.”

The CIA inspector general couldn’t corroborate that. But its 2008 study, “Report of the CIA Inspector General Regarding Allegations of Torture Made by Ammar al-Baluchi,” found much to validate al-Baluchi’s suspicions that the CIA was experimenting on him.

That report came closer than any contemporary CIA document I have ever seen to conceding both that the agency tortured someone and that it was wrong to do so. FOREVER WARS is publishing this extraordinary document today for the first time.

“We now know that the CIA’s brutalization of Ammar at the black sites was secretly condemned by the Agency itself,” said Alka Pradhan, one of al-Baluchi’s military-commission attorneys. “But it didn’t stop the U.S. government from holding him in a CIA facility at Guantanamo, and trying to execute him using evidence derived from that very same treatment.”

………

Innocent men were tortured in black sites. Ammar al-Baluchi, born Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, is not one of them. When the Pakistani authorities first detained him, their rapport-based interrogation got him to say that he was part of a plan to attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi. That makes it all the more extraordinary for the CIA inspector general to criticize not only his torture but the very basis for his presence in CIA custody.

According to the timeline presented in the 2008 inspector general report, checked against the 2014 Senate intelligence committee torture report, the Pakistanis detained al-Baluchi on April 29, 2003. Redactions to the inspector general report make it difficult to determine when exactly the CIA rendered him to Cobalt, but according to the Senate report, it was likely May 17, the date the Senate determined that his torture began. The inspector general wrote that “Agency officers were determined to render Ammar and use EITs on him,” using an acronym for the CIA’s propagandistic euphemism “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” At Cobalt, they tortured al-Baluchi “immediately upon his arrival,” the inspector general found. The information he had already given the Pakistanis “made little difference to his circumstances.”

Once al-Baluchi arrived at Cobalt — we know it was Cobalt because the inspector general describes the site as enveloped in “total darkness, because there was no lighting in the cells,” matching known descriptions of Cobalt — “each of the interrogators NX2 was training used each of the measures on Ammar in order to gain their certification.” An interrogator identified as SG1 told the inspector general that “the goal was for NX2 to observe the early 2003 class members employ EITs during an actual interrogation, such as Ammar’s, and then to certify class members as interrogators.”

Among the interrogation techniques formally approved that January by CIA Director George Tenet were “slaps” to detainees’ faces and abdomens. Interrogators interviewed by the inspector general expressed ambivalence about what they actually were in practice. It seems that at least some CIA interrogators experienced cognitive dissonance stemming from their own propaganda about how they weren’t torturers: “X7Q [another interrogator] stated that ‘no one was beaten mercilessly’ and ‘I always tried to do the right thing’ or ‘what was expected.’ SG1 opined that Ammar could have thought the facial and abdominal slaps were beatings, even though they were approved EITs.” Even though.

………

Sometime in mid-2003, the torture prompted al-Baluchi to experience what appears to have been a psychotic break. “The cable indicated Ammar told [interrogator] X3L that, while he was undergoing standing sleep deprivation, he overheard English-speaking interrogators beat, torture and finally murder his friend/wife Aafia [Siddique] and her family, including her infant child,” the report states. A “debriefer” who was with al-Baluchi at multiple black sites over the years told the inspector general that he “had major psychological issues.”

………

NX2 clashed with one of the architects of the torture program, CIA contractor, psychologist, and real-life mad scientist James Mitchell. In his memoir, and confirmed by sworn testimony at Guantanamo Bay in January 2020, Mitchell identified NX2 as “the New Sheriff,” who marginalized Mitchell and took over interrogations at Cobalt. “Ammar’s assertion that an Agency officer — a man, [redacted] (sic) — gave him ‘psychosomatic attacks’ probably relates to interrogator NX2’s conduct toward him and may have some justification,” the inspector general concluded. The New Sheriff, the report recounts, became a rare example of a CIA officer forced out of the torture program — though never prosecuted — for his “exuberant” approach to his task. He is believed to be the late Charlie Wise, who helped the right-wing Contras torture Nicaraguans.

………

I did not have the inspector general report leaked to me. It appeared on Thursday in a federal court filing concerning al-Baluchi’s case. There are significant redactions, and a portion of the report did not show up on the case docket at all. But the version of it that was entered into the docket of al-Baluchi’s death-penalty military tribunal at Guantanamo around the time of Mitchell’s testimony two years ago is almost entirely blacked out. We are publishing it here so it does not languish in obscurity on the legal database PACER.

………

That’s because the inspector general described how, formally, both rendition and “enhanced interrogation” were supposed to be operations of last resort. With al-Baluchi, they were first resorts. “The totality of the measures Agency officers used on Ammar almost certainly caused him to interpret the techniques as the ‘torture’ he has alleged,” the inspector general wrote. I’ve never before seen any CIA documentation, during this period in the agency’s history, come this close to a frank admission that it tortured anyone.

Even more astonishing is how scathing the report is about the CIA’s justifications for why it needed to render and torture him. “Headquarters’ justification for rendering Ammar and using enhanced measures on him was weak,” it states bluntly.

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[Pakistan] captured Ammar and had him in custody — clearly asserting its jurisdiction — so, in custody, he no longer posed “a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons or interests.” Then [redacted] ALEC Station [redacted, with a notation ‘W87’] [in mid] 2003 told an OIG [office of the inspector general] investigator that since operatives involved in many terrorist plots had been arrested, CTC [the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which ran the torture] had, in effect, thwarted the operations. As an example, she commented that Ammar had planned, before the [Pakistanis] apprehended him, to attack the U.S. Consulate in [Karachi] (italics added). Headquarters also knew that it was rendering Ammar extra-legally; according to a cable from Headquarters [in early] 2005, “Headquarters understands there are real political consequences for [redacted] in holding [redacted, presumably ‘Pakistani’] citizens extra-legally (Italics added).

………

Submission, rather than truth, was the measure of the success of an act of vengeance that the CIA maintains to this day was entirely designed to produce intelligence. It is worth noting that the CIA has an internal rule against human experimentation. Ammar al-Baluchi’s experience as “on-the-job practice” for a torture class demonstrates how readily discarded that rule was.

………

Al-Baluchi did not say the same of his interrogators. “They don’t know how to analyze and evaluate and make very sound decisions,” the report records him telling another detainee in 2006. “[T]hey did not [know] how to start to establish grounds for interrogations in the first place, and the intelligence group did not have experience.” To end the torture as fast as possible, he lied to the CIA.

Everyone involved in this, from the torturers to the people at the top of the chain of command, should have been prosecuted, and their clearances stripped, over this.

Instead, they, and their enablers were allowed to get off scot-free, because the worst Constitutional law professor ever™ decided that it was politically expedient to eschew accountability.

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