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CIA tortured 9/11 detainee as prop to teach interrogation techniques

Ammar Al-Baluchi, who was rendered into American custody by Pakistan on allegations of terrorism in 2003, was used to teach trainee interrogators who took turns at knocking his head against a plywood wall leaving him with brain damage

America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used a 9/11 detainee as a prop when teaching interrogation techniques, a newly declassified US government report has revealed. The shocking report dates back to 2008 but was only unsealed last week. It exposes gruesome details of the repeated torture of Ammar Al-Baluchi, a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay and suspect in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The 44-year-old is one of five defendants before a military tribunal in Guantánamo Bay charged with participation in the 9/11 plot. The case has been in pre-trial hearings for 10 years, mired in a dispute over legal admissibility of testimony obtained after torture, the Guardian has reported.

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Baluchi is believed to be the nephew of the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. Before his transfer to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, he spent more than three years in CIA custody. In that period, he was moved between a total of six "black sites". He was taken out of Pakistani custody to the black sites in 2003 "extra-legally", due to his being within Pakistani jurisdiction at the time and not an immediate terrorist threat. According to a 2012 CIA report, the Kuwaiti citizen was then taken to "Cobalt", a secret torture den referred to by detainees as "the dark prison" or "the darkness".

The recently declassified report was released as part of a court filing by Baluchi's lawyers to get him an independent medical examination. It described in detail the horrific interrogation and torture to which he was subjected. For years, CIA interrogators used Baluchi's body as what has been described as a "living doll" for unapproved torture techniques which have apparently left him brain-damaged.

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"The interrogators would grab the ends of the towel in front of and below the detainee's face and shove [Baluchi] backwards into the wall, never letting go of the towel," said the report. The aim was to "bounce" the victim off the wall. The report also noted that Baluchi was "naked for the proceedings". A typical session lasted less than two hours at a time.

One former trainer told investigators that all of the interrogation students lined up to "wall" Baluchi "so that [the instructor] could certify them" on their ability to use the technique.

"In the case of 'walling' in particular the [Office of the Inspector General] had difficulty determining whether the session was designed to elicit information from Ammar or to ensure that all interrogator trainees received their certification," the report noted. Such certification was "key".

A neuropsychologist carried out an MRI of Baluchi's head in late 2018 and found "abnormalities indicating moderate to severe brain damage", affecting memory formation and retrieval as well as behavioural regulation. The specialist found that the "abnormalities observed were consistent with traumatic brain injury."

The CIA failed to obtain any useful information by torturing Baluchi, the report found. It noted that the interrogators at Cobalt "focused more on whether Ammar was 'compliant' than on the quality of the information he was providing." It called the CIA's logic in justifying the detention "fuzzy and circular."

The report confirmed that Baluchi "fabricated" information provided to interrogators and lied so that they would stop the torture. As the nephew of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the interrogators were apparently convinced that Baluchi knew more than he was saying.

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