Political News

9/11 Planner Asks to Join Fray Over Pick for CIA

Posted May 8, 2018 11:55 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2018 12:02 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA has revived debate over the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program and still-murky questions about her involvement. Now, on the eve of her Senate confirmation hearing, a striking voice is trying to join that fray: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Mohammed, the principal architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was captured in March 2003 and tortured by the CIA. This week, he asked a military judge at Guantánamo Bay for permission to share six paragraphs of information about Haspel with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haspel ran a black-site prison in Thailand where another high-level detainee was tortured in late 2002. But it is not known whether she was involved, directly or indirectly, in Mohammed’s torture. Mohammed was held in secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan and Poland.

In the weeks after his capture, an Intelligence Committee report said, Mohammed was subjected to the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times over 15 sessions, stripped naked, doused with water, slapped, slammed into a wall, given rectal rehydrations without medical need, shackled into painful stress positions and sleep-deprived for about a week by being forced to stand with his hands chained above his head.

While being subjected to that treatment, he made alarming confessions about purported terrorist plots — like recruiting black Muslims in Montana to carry out attacks — that he later retracted. They were apparently made up, the Senate report said.

Haspel is scheduled to appear before the panel for a confirmation hearing Wednesday, and several Democratic senators have called for the Trump administration to declassify more information about her involvement in the program to inform the debate about whether she is the right fit for the post.

Mohammed’s request to provide unspecified information to the panel adds a new twist to that debate. It was described by one of his lawyers, Marine Lt. Col. Derek A. Poteet, who is helping to defend him from death-penalty charges before the military commissions system at the Guantánamo Bay naval station.

On Monday, Mohammed submitted a request to the judge overseeing pretrial hearings in that case, Army Col. James Pohl, Poteet said. While the file is not public on the commissions docket, Poteet said it consisted of an expedited motion for permission to provide the information to the committee about Haspel.

The motion, Poteet said, included an attachment, titled “Additional Facts, Law and Argument in Support,” containing “six specific paragraphs of information” from Mohammed that his client thinks the Intelligence Committee should know. After Mohammed raised the idea, his defense lawyers agreed the information was important, Poteet said.

“I am not able to describe the information,” Poteet said. He added that it came from Mohammed himself, not from files turned over by the government to defense lawyers about the treatment of their client in CIA custody.

It is not clear whether Pohl would rule on the motion before Haspel’s hearing on Wednesday.

Asked whether Haspel had any involvement in Mohammed’s detention or interrogation, Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman, said he was prohibited from commenting on her activities in 2003 given the sensitivity of her work. But, he said, on Monday the agency had delivered a set of classified documents to the Senate that describe her 33-year career “including her time in CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in the years after 9/11.” The files are available to every senator, not just committee members, he said.

On Tuesday evening, the CIA released Haspel's prepared opening statement for her nomination hearing.

“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, the CIA will never restart such a detention and interrogation program,” she planned to say.

During the Bush administration, the Justice Department wrote secret memos approving CIA torture techniques as purportedly lawful despite anti-torture laws. The department later withdrew those memos, and Congress enacted a law limiting interrogators to techniques listed in the Army Field Manual.

The CIA inspector general later found that agency interrogators sometimes exceeded the limits in the descriptions of techniques provided to the Justice Department for legal analysis. The Senate report also concluded that the CIA misled the White House and other administration officials about its use of such techniques and portrayed them as more effective than they were.

Haspel ran a black-site prison in Thailand in late 2002 while a detainee being held there, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, was subjected to torture techniques including waterboarding. She was also involved in destroying videotapes of interrogation sessions in 2005.

The agency closed the Thailand prison in late 2002, and Haspel returned to the Counterterrorism Center outside Washington as a senior operations manager but continued to do temporary assignments overseas. But the details of what she was doing in 2003 are not public.

This month, four Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee — Kamala D. Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both of California; Ron Wyden of Oregon; and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico — wrote to Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, asking him to declassify all CIA information related to Haspel’s involvement in the program before her hearing, since she, as acting director of the agency, has declined to do so on her own.

“The American people deserve transparency regarding the background of a nominee who will be asked to represent them, and their values, around the world,” they wrote, adding: “Without making this information available to the American people, Ms. Haspel’s nomination cannot be fully and properly considered by the Senate.”