• What Really Happened to Abu Zubaydah at Notorious Polish Black Site Stare Kiejkuty?

    Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy on the CIA Torture of a “High-Value Target”

    In a Supreme Court ruling released last week, dissenting Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that the story of CIA detainee Abu Zubaydah’s time at a black site in Poland, where he and others were tortured by a team led by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, contracted to the CIA, remained incomplete even though 20 years has passed. “While we know that the CIA held Zubaydah at Detention Site Blue from December 2002 until September 2003, and while we know that the site was in Poland, what happened to him there remains unclear,” said Gorsuch.

    The forthcoming book, The Forever Prisoner (to be published on April 12 by Atlantic Monthly Press) fills in many of the blanks about what happened at the black site Stare Kiejkuty. James Mitchell speaks much more candidly than he ever did in his own 2016 CIA-approved book, Enhanced Interrogation, or in the recent Alex Gibney-directed documentary, also titled The Forever Prisoner. The Forever Prisoner book also offers exclusive accounts from “Gus,” the chief of the CIA’s Renditions, Detention, and Interrogation Group. He ran the entire black site network and designed and built the Polish site, located in a timber framed red-roofed 19th-century villa. He has never spoken before.

    The Forever Prisoner provides testimony from others who worked as interrogators at the Polish black site, exclusive new material about Poland from Abu Zubaydah himself, plus the memories of other detainees, who were used as “training props” as the CIA attempted to certify more “enhanced” interrogators.” It follows Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from their previous location, a black site in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to the plane that delivered them to Poland, then traveling in Polish military ambulances through snow and deep forest to the black site at Stare Kiejkuty.

    Blindfolded, they were dragged down icy steps into a dank basement facility built by “Gus” to Mitchell’s specifications. Abu Zubaydah was then shackled inside a newly constructed “man cage,” which was blasted by air conditioners and fans 24/7 despite the subzero weather conditions.

    The Forever Prisoner also charts the arrival of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other high value detainees to Stare Kiejkuty, and relates how and by whom they were mistreated.* By the time Abu Zubaydah was deemed to be compliant, he was moved upstairs and locked inside a Soviet-era bedroom like a naughty child, where he listened to CIA interrogators threatening al-Nashiri with a gun and a power drill. Meanwhile, Mitchell, Jessen and others got to work on “KSM” in the basement.

    (*Brief descriptions of individuals mentioned in the excerpts appear at the end in alphabetical order.)


    November 2002

    At [CIA] headquarters, “Gus,” whose Special Missions was now running all Renditions, Detention, and Interrogation Group locations, including the Salt Pit, called in favors. He was already managing the Rahman fallout and fielding CIA inspector general inquiries. “Jose [Rodriguez] rang me and said, ‘It’s your responsibility now,’” he recalled.[1] Luckily, Poland had been persuaded to rent out an old villa with a large basement and a cabin in the garden. It was located inside a secure intelligence training facility three hours northeast of Warsaw.

    Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were moving from a Southeast Asian melting pot to a frozen Gulag. The Polish government received $15 million in cash, delivered in two large cardboard boxes.

    Hidden away in the northeastern lake district and serviced by a small private airport, Stare Kiejkuty was a restricted military area and in winter often became snowed in. During the Second World War, the Nazis had used it as an SS intelligence center. After the war, it was listed on maps as a holiday resort, although it was a Soviet-run intelligence facility, and in 1968 it was used during the Prague Spring uprisings.[2] Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were moving from a Southeast Asian melting pot to a frozen Gulag. The Polish government received $15 million in cash, delivered in two large cardboard boxes.[3]

    As in Thailand, protocols were drawn up for actions to be taken in the event of a detainee’s death.[4] Gus spent $300,000 on security cameras, although he ruled out any more videotaping of actual interrogations. “I said absolutely not,” he recalled.[5] The upper floor of the timber-framed villa, with its whitewashed walls and sharp-peaked red-tiled roof, consisted of mildewed bedrooms with Soviet-era wallpaper and nylon carpets. Some were turned into billets.

    On the ground floor was a traditional Polish kitchen with a tiled hearth and a dining room with a long wooden dining table.[6] Here members of the team would grab their breaks and mingle with locally hired contractors, although the CIA had to fly in food supplies after Americans were caught dumping Polish sausage over a fence.[7]

    Detainees would be hidden away in the basement, another sealed and soundproofed bunker inside a building that looked nothing like a prison.[8] CIA contractors built three “holding units” connected by a walkway.[9] Each was fitted with “hard points,” CCTV surveillance, and fluorescent tube lighting. The basement could be accessed through the main house or directly from outside. The “interrogation cell” (with no cameras) contained a walling wall and a waterboard.

    A new innovation was concealed behind a false wall at the end of the walkway, a hidden room containing “a metal cage of the size fitting a grown man.”[10] The six-foot-square cage had been forged by a Polish metalworking company to CIA specifications and sat on a wooden platform mounted on half-inflated tires.[11] It was intended to make Abu Zubaydah feel permanently unstable. It was fitted out with CCTV surveillance, a boom box, a bank of freestanding fans, and air conditioners, even though thick snow fell outside.[12] Only the interrogators, guards, and medics would know he was in there. Code-named Quartz, the new black site was Gus’s first tailor-made facility. “Poland was one of my favorites,” he said.[13] Those who worked there described it as Spartan, but it was a step up from the pitch-black horse stalls of Afghanistan.


    Mitchell threatened to call Rodriguez and [Jonathan] Fredman. [Charlie] Wise told him he could not call anyone, “especially the fucking lawyers.”[14] Mitchell said he wanted to email Kirk Hubbard. “He told me I couldn’t.” Mitchell decided to leave. “I would pay my own way back home. But Wise said I couldn’t do that either.” Mitchell characterized himself as being trapped in the snowbound Polish forest with a dangerous sadist.

    Wise brought in the base chief, Mike Sealy, who also “chewed out” Mitchell. Wise had more news for the upstart contractor. He intended to restart enhanced interrogations on Abu Zubaydah too, and Mitchell would have to watch. Mitchell was furious. “I told him if he put AZ back [into EITs] he would quit providing intelligence and there would be a shit-storm,” he recalled.[15] This was his program. Abu Zubaydah was his special project. But Mitchell was a contractor and Wise’s staff position trumped all that.

    Out on the walkway, the guards played songs from Sesame Street, like “Rubber Duckie”: “Well, here I am in my tubby again, / And my tubby’s all filled with water and nice fluffy suds, / And I’ve got my soap and washcloth to wash myself, / And I’ve got my nifty scrub brush.” Guards sprayed cold water over Abu Zubaydah, chained up in his cage with his arms twisted behind his back, sending him into an uncontrollable fit of shivers and splashing blood, urine, and vomit across the platform.[16] He recollected that Wise and Mitchell interrogated him together, Bruce Jessen too.

    Wise was a “very white, tall and muscular man, with dark hair and dark eyes,” he remembered.[17] Whenever they were around him, Mitchell and Jessen called Wise “boss.” There wasn’t ever much to eat, so Abu Zubaydah was driven to distraction by the smells wafting down from the kitchen, where American chefs cooked American food for the American team in a corner of US-controlled territory in the middle of a Polish forest. Abu Zubaydah was sheared again, and his new diary, permitted by Gina Haspel, was taken away. “That was a big deal for him,” said Mitchell. “I felt bad about it.”[18] The diary maintained his sanity and was a lifeline. “What they do on my body I will forget it,” he said. But “I have these papers with me as my child.”[19]

    Tucked up in their hotels, the Americans could safely say they knew nothing about what happened to detainees at night.

    Ejected from al-Nashiri’s cell, Mitchell told Wise he was leaving. “I am a US citizen,” he thundered, “and as of right now you are holding me against my will in a foreign country. I will eventually get back home and report you.” The official record stated that Mike Sealy sent home two interrogators in December 2002 because of “prolonged absences from family.”[20] Wise and Mitchell were taking their argument to headquarters.

    Mitchell burst into Gus’s office shortly before Christmas Eve. Psychopath Wise, who had never studied the human mind, had been appointed to a position that far outranked his, and had then held him incommunicado and taken over his detainees.[21] After throwing his weight around, Mitchell stormed out, certain his CIA days were over. Before leaving Langley, he reported Wise for using unauthorized techniques and complained to Fredman.[22]

    Back in Poland, base chief Mike Sealy eased up on al-Nashiri, reporting that he was compliant and cooperative, an assessment that caused Alec Station to fire back another warning about not making “sweeping statements.”[23] It was “inconceivable” that al-Nashiri did not have concrete leads, they said. His enhanced interrogation should continue. Sealy resisted. “Without tangible proof of lying or intentional withholding . . . we believe employing enhanced measures will accomplish nothing,” he wrote back.[24] Go any further, and there was a danger he might “suffer the sort of permanent mental harm prohibited by the statute.” It was Abu Zubaydah all over again.

    Headquarters discussed the situation around Christmas Day. Alec Station wanted to dispatch its Egyptian attack dog—Albert El Gamil—to reassess al-Nashiri.[25] Gus objected. Gamil “had not been through the interrogation training,” was not approved to use enhanced techniques, was “too confident, had a temper, and had some security issues.”[26] Marty Martin overrode him. It was the holidays, and they were short of cover. Only the most dedicated officers had volunteered. Gus’s base chief was being too lenient, and Gamil should “fix” the situation.[27]

    Gamil arrived in Poland just as the Washington Post broke an explosive story about “stress and duress” tactics being used on terrorism suspects at secret CIA facilities in Afghanistan. “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,” said an unnamed CIA official.[28]

    “A brass-knuckled quest for information, often in concert with allies of dubious human rights reputation, in which the traditional lines between right and wrong, legal and inhumane, are evolving and blurred,” the newspaper reported. Those conducting the interrogations were described as “highly trained CIA officers.” The first detainee to be subjected to these measures, Abu Zubaydah, was a “very clever” guy who had driven his interrogators “nuts.” Al Qaeda detainees were not like normal people, said the source, who talked of “packaging” them for rendition and throwing them “into walls.”


    A blizzard was howling at Szymany airstrip on February 8, 2003. The runway was buried beneath snow, so when the airport director was informed that another American plane was incoming, staff scrambled. The Gulfstream landed after midnight and, like the one before, stopped at the far end of the runway. This time, only one detainee was off-loaded, Ramzi bin al-Shibh. He was as close to a real 9/11 hijacker as the CIA had got to date and a tangible link to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

    The psychologist was full of zoomorphisms when it came to describing detainees.

    For the previous five months, bin al-Shibh had been in “foreign government custody,” held on the third floor of a GID prison located inside the heavily guarded GID headquarters in the Wadi Sir district of Amman, where Jordanian prisoners were threatened with snakes and dogs, beaten with sticks, and told “we will make you see death.”[29]

    Bin al-Shibh was also rendered to a notorious Moroccan detention center outside Temara, a pretty coastal town south of Rabat. Temara prisoners claimed they were raped with bottles, burned with cigarettes, and electrocuted.[30] The CIA “guests” never entered the cell blocks but interrogated their detainees in a different building during daylight hours only. Tucked up in their hotels, the Americans could safely say they knew nothing about what happened to detainees at night. Moroccan jailers talked of taking prisoners out “to the desert.”[31] CIA detainees complained of torture and hearing habitual “sobbing and yelling” from others.[32]

    Around 50 intelligence reports were compiled while Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Amman or Temara, including one about Khalid Sheikh Mohammad plotting to crash a plane into Heathrow Airport in London.[33] But Alec Station argued bin al-Shibh was still holding back vital clues about “upcoming attacks” that he would give up only if subjected to real American enhanced interrogation and after CIA lawyers got the go-ahead from John Yoo at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Council (OLC) that the “1 August 2002 OLC opinion extends beyond the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.” The detainees being held in Poland were shuffled around to make room for him in the basement.[34]

    Abu Zubaydah was moved upstairs to a real bedroom. It had Soviet-style central heating (switched off) and a worn synthetic carpet (which smelled of mildew) and was blasted 24/7 by “awful music with curse words.”[35] Bin al-Shibh’s entry treatment was eviscerating: psychological and medical assessments, a rectal examination, a retinal scan, shearing, stripping, and shackling, “hand and foot with arms outstretched over his head.”[36]

    For the first three days, he was kept in a state of “sensory dislocation,” with bright white light and “uncomfortably cool temperatures.”[37] Like Abu Zubaydah, he was put on a bare bones diet and was hosed down with cold water to keep him chilled. Although Mitchell blamed “indigenous guards” for Gul Rahman’s death at the Salt Pit, the team in Poland often strung up detainees, wet, naked, in freezing-cold cells for days on end, and called it “conditioning.”

    Mitchell underplayed the severity, saying the guards “just wet them down with a hose.”[38] It was just another form of the “water dousing” they had used without any problem in SERE school, which was authorized as long as the water temperature was monitored and the detainee was checked for signs of hypothermia.[39] Only after the interrogators determined that bin al-Shibh’s “initial resistance level [had] been diminished by the conditions” would they start the real rough stuff.[40] Until then, nobody talked to him.[41]

    The plan had Mitchell’s fingerprints all over it, but Charlie Wise, who was still on the team despite his written concerns, wrote it up, while his “acolyte” the Preacher administered the techniques. A later inquiry found bin al-Shibh’s enhanced interrogation formed the template for all interrogations in Poland and was used on at least six other detainees, although [John] Rizzo later denied the CIA used enhanced interrogation like a “cookie-cutter, one size fits all.”[42]

    The requests for authorization were identical in all seven cases. Like Abu Zubaydah, bin al-Shibh was also threatened with rectal rehydration, which the CIA had determined was “an acceptable method of delivery” of liquids.[43] Bin al-Shibh’s plan also utilized “behavior adjustment,” which according to Mitchell was unauthorized. Enhanced techniques would be administered as “punishment” for actions perceived as disrespectful, such as failing to address an interrogator as “sir.”[44]

    Roger Aldrich, Mitchell’s former boss, who later played a prominent role in CIA interrogator training, acknowledged that EITs were used as a punishment. “If you lie to me, I’m going to use them,” he explained.[45] “Like zapping the dog for pooping on the rug.” CIA cables also made reference to interrogators playing the Blues Brothers’ version of “Rawhide” at the beginning of each of bin al-Shibh’s sessions and to keep him awake while he was in the standing sleep-deprivation posture: “Keep them doggies movin’, / rawhide, / don’t try to understand ’em, / just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.” One cable explained that music was a form of conditioning, since bin al-Shibh “knows when he hears the music where he is going to go and what is going to happen.”[46]

    When Mitchell was later accused of using music as “an audible trigger like the Pavlovian buzzer,” he blamed Wise and said the Preacher wrote the cable. CIA cables explained that the main purpose of bin al-Shibh’s conditioning was to reduce him “to the state of infantile-like dependence” so he would “respond appropriately to questions.”[47] Abu Zubaydah had recalled “Bodies” being played over and over in Thailand to the point that he had screamed along. Gul Rahman had been subjected to standing sleep deprivation and endless repeats of “The Real Slim Shady” before he died. Others detained in Poland complained about “Rubber Duckie” playing on an endless, desperation-inducing loop as they were hosed down or scrubbed. Mitchell dismissed it all as “sound masking.”[48]


    Huge, muscle-bound guards carried Mohammad into the Stare Kiejkuty villa at 6 pm on March 6, 2003. Rubber-gloved hands gripped his shoulders and forearms. He was only five feet two inches tall, and his feet barely touched the floor. Mohammad later called them “Planet X” people, an alien guard force.[49] He caught a glimpse of snow as he was maneuvered into the basement, where he was stripped again, given another cavity search and a retina scan, and then placed, “bag on the head,” into the standing sleep deprivation position.[50]

    They could feel the warmth of the sun and the bump of waves but could not see the bright blue sky or the crystalline Caribbean Sea.

    In another cell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh was still strung up naked in total darkness and bombarded by “Rawhide.” Upstairs, Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were locked up in mildewed bedrooms like naughty children, oblivious to the scuffling arrival of “Mokhtar.” Mitchell described Mohammad as a “hooded troll” with a “grotesque potbelly” and finger-length body hair that he shed “like a cat losing its winter coat.”[51] The psychologist was full of zoomorphisms when it came to describing detainees, and he characterized Abu Zubaydah as constantly groping his crotch as if he were a bad monkey.[52] Back in SERE school, Roger Aldrich advised students that torturers found it much easier to conduct their work on people they regarded as subhuman.[53] Two worlds were set to collide.

    Like Abu Zubaydah, Mohammad remembered three “experienced CIA interrogators . . . all strong and well-trained.”[54] He said they never used the word “torture” but made it clear that was what they intended to do: “I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.’”[55] A new waterboard, smaller than the Thai gurney, waited. Because everyone was charged up, and the CIA was concerned that nothing untoward should happen to its most prized detainee, the medics had instructions to monitor the frequency of the “pours” as well as the number of “applications.” They also had a pulse oximeter, having finally heeded Terry DeMay’s warnings about blacking-out episodes.[56]

    Mike McConnell, who had flown with Mohammad from Kabul, would conduct the prerequisite psychological assessment and monitor the detainee for signs of “severe physical or mental suffering.” DeMay reported: “As with AZ, the interrogation was handled by psychologist/interrogators Jessen and Mitchell and monitored by the OTS psychologist who had worked with AZ.”[57] The medical examination and psychological assessment took eight minutes.

    Back in Langley, Jim Pavitt, the CIA’s deputy director of operations, called Gus up to his office. “Pavitt said he wanted me to get the biggest, baddest guys and do whatever it takes to make him talk,” Gus recalled.[58] “Yes, sir,” he replied. As the Special Missions chief walked out, his deputy asked: “What are you going to do?” Gus said he replied: “He knows goddam well I’m not going to do anything illegal.” But in Poland, the black site team felt the building pressure; a medic reported: “The requirements coming from home are really unbelievable in terms of breadth and detail.”[59]

    Approval to get started took 20 minutes. Mohammad was shifted to the interrogation room—where there were no cameras.[60] Mitchell, Jessen, and the third interrogator tag-teamed numerous standard and enhanced techniques, softening Mohammad up. Later, Mohammad gave them names: “Abu Captain,” “Abu White,” and “Abu Hanan,” meaning the compassionate brother. Mitchell claimed “Abu Captain” and said the third interrogator was the Salt Pit–trained Wise acolyte, the Preacher.[61] Other sources indicated that Deuce Martinez spent many hours interrogating Mohammad.[62] Mohammad said “enormous men” dressed in black were also in the room, punching and slapping him, while Jessen did the official walling.[63] Mitchell ridiculed the terrified detainee.

    Whenever Jessen yanked Mohammad forward, his “naked potbelly swings out away from his body and bounces off Bruce’s upper thighs.”[64] Mitchell described Jessen’s role-play avatar as “vintage Clint Eastwood.”[65] As with Abu Zubaydah and bin al-Shibh, they homed in on weaknesses. Mitchell knew that Mohammad knew the CIA had his sons, Hamza, eight, and Zaid, seven, who had been captured with Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Now, the CIA gave Mitchell permission to threaten they were going to kill Mohammad’s boys, as long as the threats were “conditional.”[66] Mitchell recalled: “I said something like, ‘if there is another catastrophic attack on America and I find out you had information that could have prevented that attack and that another American child is killed I will cut your sons’ throats.’”[67] He acknowledged it was distasteful but had no regrets. “I don’t care if he’s afraid of us killing his children.”

    Later, Mohammad accused Mitchell of sticking a photograph of his sons on the wall of his cell—two downcast boys sitting on a patterned couch, refusing to look at the CIA photographer.[68] Mitchell denied it. “That didn’t happen,” he insisted.[69] “We didn’t have their picture. The entire crew would have been sent home if we had put up pictures.”


    Other detainees detailed being goaded or tortured into telling lies by interrogators. Abu Zubaydah recalled that while he was in Poland, when he was asked to come up with a hypothetical plot in Australia, he suggested targets could include the Sydney Opera House. Like before, whenever he was conditioned, he would “create, fabricate and invent.”[70]

    The Stare Kiejkuty villa went back to its previous decrepit state. Weeds grew over. Mildew crept over sticky carpets and up walls […] Abu Zubaydah’s man-cage disappeared into someone’s private torture museum.

    Shortly afterward, the Preacher and Albert El Gamil (who had served his suspension and was back in action) demanded Abu Zubaydah disclose his secret attack plans for Australia. When he said he did not have any, they threatened him with the waterboard. He then made things worse by saying “meow,” like a cat, a reference to the old cat joke about Arab intelligence services being willing fools. “I’m not Al Qaeda, stupid.” The Preacher and Gamil brought in Mitchell and Jessen, who also threatened to put Abu Zubaydah back on the waterboard.[71]

    Ramzi bin al-Shibh reported a similar experience. When he was asked by an unidentified interrogator to give the Arabic word for “fission,” headquarters was informed that he was talking about Al Qaeda’s nuclear capability and approved more pressure.[72] Mitchell blamed Charlie Wise for this infraction.

    Another high-value detainee, Hambali, later reported giving “false information in an attempt to reduce the pressure on himself . . . and to give an account that was consistent with what [Hambali] assessed the questioners wanted to hear.”[73] Mitchell denied going too far, even with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Allegations that he stuck “a hose up KSM’s butt” were completely untrue.[74] That was probably Charlie Wise, he said. “KSM spent 21 days under EITs,” he recalled.[75]

    The rest of Mohammad’s 1,287 days in CIA custody were, according to Mitchell, spent “rubbing his belly.” While Mitchell was still at Stare Kiejkuty, his treatment of detainees was brought to the attention of senior officials in the Bush administration, who sought out Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary. Stop telling reporters that the US is treating all detainees “humanely,” John Bellinger requested of Fleischer.[76] Maybe enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Maybe not. Others would determine that later. But they were certainly not humane.


    September 22, 2003, Stare Kiejkuty, Poland

    “Travel day” to the endgame facility arrived. Abu Zubaydah was told he was moving to a place that “would be much better in all aspects.”[77] Pictures he drew of himself while in Poland showed a skinny, wild-haired Old Testament prophet.[78] Now, they sheared him for the first time in months, and he fought with the men in black as they taped him into an adult diaper. Trussed up—goggles, duct tape, foamies, earmuffs, harness, handcuffs, shackles, and chains—he was carried downstairs. He and others in what the CIA described as “debriefing mode” were going to Strawberry Fields, Gus’s new facility at Guantánamo.

    The “noncompliants,” who included Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Khallad bin Attash, and Ammar al-Baluchi, were heading for more rigorous enhanced interrogation in Romania.[79] Having racked up $29 million, the Polish deal had run its course, but the Romanians were happy to accept huge CIA bribes.[80] Designed around the concept of disorientation—more cages built on truck tires—the Romanian facility was hidden in the basement of a government office in Bucharest and code-named Bright Light.[81]

    Since many detainees were on the move, the CIA leased a stripped-down Boeing 737 that flew first to Kabul to pick up Mustafa al-Hawsawi and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi.[82] Al-Hawsawi was compliant, while al-Libi needed “debriefing” about his Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein claims, another job on Mitchell and Jessen’s never-ending to-do list.[83] The 737 flew on to Szymany, an airstrip designed for light aircraft. The Boeing’s pilot had to execute an emergency maneuver to stop the plane from skidding off the end of the runway.[84] The airport did not have steps to reach the Boeing’s door, so the crew rigged a solution. American guards heaved all the detainees aboard.

    Abu Zubaydah recalled being chained on the floor sideways, with his hands cuffed behind his back.[85] Large plastic earmuffs prevented him from putting his head on its side, so he lay contorted, concentrating on the muffled sounds of his companions but not knowing that just a few feet away lay his brother emir from Khaldan, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi.[86] The next stop was Bucharest, where Mohammad, bin Attash, and al-Baluchi were off-loaded. Then, the plane flew on to Rabat, where Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ramzi bin al-Shibh boarded.

    The next flight was much longer. “I was destroyed and felt that was the end,” Abu Zubaydah recalled. He counted time, which felt like “several lifetimes.” By the time the plane landed in Cuba, on September 24, 2003, he had been in the air for 30 hours.[87] “This was the beginning of the end but not the end itself,” he reflected.

    Landing on the leeward side of Guantánamo Bay, each detainee was put in a separate vehicle and ferried to the windward side, where the main Camp Delta and the new CIA facility were located side by side. They could feel the warmth of the sun and the bump of waves but could not see the bright blue sky or the crystalline Caribbean Sea. Clanking off the ferry, Abu Zubaydah was driven for 20 minutes before the vehicle tires scrunched to a halt on gravel. He was manhandled out in silence.

    When the hood came off, he was back in the cold, chained and shackled, in a fiercely air-conditioned, windowless cell with a mesh inner door featuring a lockable flap that allowed guards to shackle a detainee without entering and a solid outer door with a glass viewing window that locked on the outside. It smelled of paint, dust, and the sea. Footage had aired on Pakistani TV channels of the first Guantánamo detainees arriving in orange jumpsuits before Abu Zubaydah was captured, and he suspected he might end up there too.[88]

    One month before he arrived, detainees had attempted a “mass suicide” after hearing that guards had wrapped a Koran in the Israeli flag.[89] More than 350 incidents of self-harm were registered that year by General Geoffrey Miller, the Joint Task Force Guantánamo commander, who wanted detainees to know the US military had “more teeth than they have ass, hoo-ah.”[90] But Miller did not have authority over Strawberry Fields, which was hidden away from the rest of Camp Delta and was the exclusive domain of the CIA.

    The Stare Kiejkuty villa went back to its previous decrepit state. Weeds grew over. Mildew crept over sticky carpets and up walls. The dank basement was locked up, with frogs and spiders ranging freely again. Abu Zubaydah’s man-cage disappeared into someone’s private torture museum, while the stained burlap from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s walling wall was burned. A couple that owned a farm just outside the perimeter turned their property into a homestay. Guests sleeping in featherbeds underneath the red-tiled eaves at Mazurskie Uroczysko did not know that the CIA had brought some of the “most dangerous men on the planet” to the verge of death just a few hundred yards away in an experiment that had already spread to the US military.[91]


    Ramzi bin al-Shibh: A CIA “high value target” from Yemen, who worked closely with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and helped plan 9/11. He was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 2002, and was subjected to EITs in Poland in 2003.

    Roger Aldrich: Mitchell’s former boss at SERE school. A pioneer of the US Air Force’s survival training program, Aldrich later became a founding partner in Mitchell, Jessen and Associates (MJA), a company that ran the CIA’s outsourced EIT program from 2005-2009 and was paid $81 million.

    Alec Station: A virtual CIA station located inside the Counterterrorist Center at Langley, Virginia. Dedicated to targeting senior Al Qaeda figures and finessing intelligence against them, its staff played a critical role in building a false case that Abu Zubaydah was a senior Al Qaeda figure and they argued vigorously in favor of EITs.

    Terry DeMay: The CIA’s chief psychologist in the Office of Medical Services. After becoming concerned about EITs and how medical staff were being co-opted to support them, he tried unsuccessfully to stop the EIT program.

    EITs: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

    Albert El-Gamil: A former FBI linguist and untrained CIA interrogator who held a cocked gun and a power drill against Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri’s head in Poland.

    Jonathan Fredman: The Counterterrorist Center’s chief attorney in 2002. He oversaw the legal approval of EITs.

    Gina Haspel: A “Deputy Group Chief” in the Counterterrorist Center according to her CIA resume, in October 2002 she was sent by Jose Rodriguez to be Chief of Base at the Thai black site, primarily to oversee destruction of the Abu Zubaydah tapes.

    Kirk Hubbard: A CIA behavioral psychologist who in December 2001 recommended the CIA hire Mitchell to assess Al Qaeda’s resistance to interrogation training programs.

    Mike McConnell: A former US military psychologist working in the SERE program and a close friend of Mitchell. He was employed by the CIA after retirement from the military and recommended Mitchell to the CIA.

    Marty Martin: A former CIA station chief in Amman, Jordan, who became a senior official inside the Counterterrorist Center after 9/11. Martin believed Abu Zubaydah had been the ringleader of the so-called Millennium Plot in Jordan and the US in December 2000, and he referred to high value CIA detainees as “Abu Butthead.”

    Deuce Martinez: A CIA Latin America expert, who was reassigned to the Counterterrorist Center post 9/11 to target Abu Zubaydah. He was on the ground in Pakistan when Abu Zubaydah was captured and worked as an interrogator at several black sites. He was later hired by MJA and continued working in the outsourced CIA interrogation program.

    The Preacher: A CIA interrogator, who has never been identified, but who helped Mitchell and Jessen to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in Poland. He also interrogated Abu Zubaydah. His interrogation style was to play a Southern Baptist preacher.

    Gul Rahman: An Afghan “War on Terror” detainee who died in November 2002 after being severely mistreated at the Salt Pit, a CIA detention facility in Afghanistan. Mitchell and Jessen had interrogated Rahman a week before he died and were later sued by his family. The US government settled the case for an undisclosed sum in 2017.

    John Rizzo: The CIA’s chief attorney in 2002. He was asked to obtain authorization for the use of EITs against Abu Zubaydah. He told the authors of The Forever Prisoner that he had been lied to.

    Jose Rodriguez: Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center in 2002 and a strong supporter of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs).

    Mike Sealy: The first Chief of Base at the Polish black site. [NOTE, there were several others after him].

    SERE School: “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” programs prepare US military cadets for capture and torture by rogue regimes that do not respect the Geneva Conventions. The US Air Force SERE school in Spokane, Washington, was where Mitchell honed his skills and worked for many years before introducing the program’s mock torture techniques to the CIA. They became the basis for EITs and were used on Abu Zubaydah and others.

    Charlie Wise: The CIA’s “chief of interrogations.” Hired in the Fall of 2002 by “Gus,” he clashed with Mitchell in Poland and was later fired for mistreating detainees. Previously he had taught aggressive interrogation techniques to anti-Communist rebels in Latin America.

    John Yoo: A Department of Justice attorney who liaised closely with the CIA to compile the so-called “torture memo” that in August 2002 gave legal approval to subject Abu Zubaydah to EITs. In internal correspondence, Yoo referred to the memo as the “bad things” opinion and he called Abu Zubaydah “Boo Boo.”


    Excerpted from The Forever Prisoner: The Full and Searing Account of the CIA’s Most Controversial Covert Program by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy; available April 12, 2022 from Atlantic Monthly Press.



    1. Author interviews with Gus.
    2. Goldman, “The Hidden History of the CIA’s Prison in Poland.”
    3. Ibid.
    4. Affidavit of Józef Pinior to the European Court of Human Rights Abu Zubaydah v. Poland, www .statewatch.org/media/documents/news/2013/nov/cia-echr-husayn-poland.pdf, para 78.
    5. Author interviews with Gus.
    6. Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 106; affidavit of Jozef Pinior.
    7. Affidavit of Józef Pinior.
    8. Spec of black sites, Case 2:15-cv-00286-JLQ Document 176-9, Filed 05/22/17.
    9. SSCI report, p. 62.
    10. Affidavit of Józef Pinior.
    11. The cage was made in Pruszków.
    12. Abu Zubaydah drawings.
    13. Author interviews with Gus.
    14. Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 115.
    15. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    16. Abu Zubaydah drawings.
    17. Abu Zubaydah correspondence.
    18. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial. 97. Abu Zubaydah CSRT transcript, Mar. 2007.
    19. SSCI report, p. 68.
    20. Author interviews with Gus.
    21. OIG report, p. 44.
    22. SSCI report, p. 68.
    23. Sealy’s cable was dated December 23, 2002, according to the OIG report, p. 84.
    24. Author interviews with Gus, also SSCI report, pp. 66–68.
    25. SSCI report, p. 69.
    26. Ibid.
    27. Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, “U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations,” Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2002
    28. Author interviews with al-Maqdisi.
    29. Amnesty International, Morocco/Western Sahara: Torture in the “Anti-terrorism” Campaign—the Case of Témara Detention Centre, p. 5, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/100000/mde 290042004en.pdf.
    30. Mike Busch to 9/11 pretrial; author telephone interview with Carle, who interrogated another detainee, Haji Pacha Wazir, at Temara in fall 2002.
    31. Statement of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi to the ICRC.
    32. SSCI report, p. 76.
    33. OIG report, p. 23.
    34. Abu Zubaydah to Jacobsen, also author interviews with Higgins.
    35. SSCI report, pp. 77–78.
    36. Ibid.
    37. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    38. According to the OIG report, p. 76, water dousing was first used at the Salt Pit in early 2003.
    39. Four conditioning techniques used—sleep deprivation not beyond 72 hours, continual light or darkness, loud music, and white noise—were deemed as “standard techniques” and therefore did not need headquarters’ approval, OIG report p. 40.
    40. SSCI report, p. 77.
    41. SSCI report, p. 76; “cookie-cutter,” see Rizzo, Company Man, pp. 193–94.
    42. Author interview with Harrington; “delivery of liquids” from OMS draft guidelines.
    43. SSCI report, p. 80; Abu Zubaydah correspondence.
    44. Author interviews with Aldrich.
    45. Author interview with Harrington, see also SSCI report, p. 429.
    46. Claim made by Harrington during Mitchell testimony to 9/11 pretrial. Reply from Mitchell.
    47. This document was read out during Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    48. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    49. Mohammad to ICRC.
    50. This Roger Aldrich’s phrase for hooding; author interviews with Aldrich.
    51. Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 146.
    52. Author interviews with Mitchell.
    53. Author interviews with Aldrich, see also SERE training materials cited in SASC report, pp. xiii, xiv, 4.
    54. Mohammad to ICRC.
    55. Ibid.
    56. OMS report, p. 39.
    57. Ibid.
    58. Author interviews with Gus.
    59. SSCI report, p. 84.
    60. Author interviews with Gus.
    61. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    62. Shane, “Inside a 9/11 Terrorist’s Interrogation.”
    63. Mohammad to ICRC.
    64. Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 147.
    65. Ibid.
    66. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    67. Ibid.
    68. Carol Rosenberg, “Chains, Shackles and Threats: Testimony on Torture Takes a Dramatic Turn,” New York Times, Jan. 28. 2020.
    69. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial
    70. Abu Zubaydah correspondence.
    71. Ibid.
    72. Connell to Mitchell 9/11 pretrial.
    73. Hambali, see SSCI report, pp. 108–9.
    74. Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 281.
    75. Mitchell to 9/11 pretrial.
    76. Evan Perez and Stephen Collinson, “CIA Feared for Future of Interrogation Program, Report Shows,” CNN, Dec. 11, 2014, www.edition.cnn.com/2014/12/11/politics/us-torture-bush/index.html.
    77. Abu Zubaydah to Jacobsen.
    78. Abu Zubaydah drawings.
    79. Author interviews with Gus; also “Walid bin Attash,” The Rendition Project, www.therendition project.org.uk/prisoners/walid-binattash.html.
    80. In the SSCI report, the Romanian facility was identified as Detention Site Black, pp. 97–98.
    81. Spencer Ackerman, “Go Deep inside a Secret CIA Torture Prisoner,” Wired, Dec. 8, 2011.
    82. Tailfin number N313P; see “Ammar al-Baluci,” The Rendition Project, www.therenditionproject .org.uk/prisoners/ammar-albaluchi.html.
    83. Author interviews with Mitchell; they interrogated Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Jan. 2004.
    84. www.hudoc.echr.coe.int/fre#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-183687%22]}.
    85. Abu Zubaydah correspondence.
    86. “Ibn Sheikh al-Libi,” The Rendition Project, www.therenditionproject.org.uk/prisoners/ibn-sheikh -al-libi.html.
    87. Abu Zubaydah correspondence.
    88. Author interviews with Higgins.
    89. Scott Horton, “The Guanatanmo Suicides: A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle,” Harper’s Magazine, Mar. 2010, www.harpers.org/archive/2010/03/the-Guantánamo-suicides/.
    90. For “hoo-ah” see Mark Fallon, Unjustifiable Means (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017); for “350” see Horton, “The Guanatanmo Suicides.”
    91. www.mazurskieuroczysko.pl/, quote from Mitchell and Harlow, Enhanced Interrogation, p. 126.

    Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
    Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy are the authors of highly acclaimed books, including The Exile, Deception, The Siege, The Amber Room, and The Stone of Heaven. Writing for the Sunday Times and the Guardian, they have won the One World award for foreign reporting and in 2009 were voted One World Media's Press Journalists of the Year, and they won the 2016 CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. They live in London.

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