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'Rectal Hydration': Inside the CIA's Interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The CIA waterboarded the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks 183 times among other tactics with names like "rectal rehydration," a Senate report says.
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The CIA waterboarded its gold-star detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 183 times in a single month to force him to reveal potential further strikes, according to the Senate's 500-page report Tuesday on CIA interrogation techniques.

The campaign — which also included tactics with such evocative names as "rectal rehydration" and "attention grab" — was largely fruitless and took place while the CIA plotted to block FBI access to Mohammed, the report says.

Mohammed, referred to as "KSM" throughout the report, was captured on March 1, 2003, and was soon interrogated at CIA-operated bases overseas code-named Blue and Cobalt.

Less than two hours after his capture, the chief of interrogations sent an email to CIA headquarters with the subject line "Let's roll with the new guy," requesting permission to "press [Mohammed] for threat info right away."

CIA headquarters authorized what it called "enhanced interrogation techniques" — and what critics call "torture" — the same day, according to the report, and the "enhanced" procedures were put into use within minutes of Mohammed's arrival at Cobalt.

Within just three or four days, the on-site medical officer concluded that waterboarding was ineffective, according to the report, because Mohammed, knowing interrogators couldn't afford to let him die, "figured out a way to deal" with it — an assessment that even some of Mohammed's interrogators quickly reached.

One interrogator reported informing superiors that the harsh techniques weren't working and complained that "I'm ostracized whenever I suggest [Mohammed and another detainee] did not tell us everything. How dare I think KSM was holding back."

Read the Senate Intelligence Committee report (PDF)

And Mohammed wasn't just holding back, according to the report. He was outright lying, sending U.S. operatives on wild goose chases. Dozens of times, the report describes information the CIA promoted as "critical" as having been "fabricated," "unfounded" or "not supported by internal CIA records."

Within two weeks, the deputy chief of the CIA's interrogation program concluded that the waterboarding of Mohammed "has proven ineffective" and that "the potential for physical harm is far greater with the waterboard than with the other techniques, bringing into question the issue of risk vs. gain," according to the Senate report.

"We seem to have lost ground," and as a result, the CIA should reconsider whether waterboarding "may poison the well," the deputy chief is quoted as having written. But, the report says, "despite these reservations and assessments, the waterboarding of KSM continued for another 10 days."

Along with the waterboarding, Mohammed was subjected to days of standing sleep deprivation, slapping and "stress positions," the report says. And it says that several times he underwent an emergency medical procedure known as "rectal rehydration," or proctolysis, which standard medical references describe as a way to quickly replace fluids in a patient who is in shock or unconscious.

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The report matter-of-factly notes that such treatment was "medically unnecessary" for Mohammed, whom it describes as having been doused with, submerged in or force-fed water hundreds of times. After one session, the medical officer present reported that Mohammed's gastric contents were "so diluted by water" that Mohammed was in danger of water intoxication. The medical officer later wrote that "in the new technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings."

'In the new technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings.'

In another section, the Senate report also discloses that less than two months after Mohammed was captured, FBI Director Robert Mueller sought bureau access to Mohammed "to better understand CIA reporting indicating threats to U.S.cities." According to the report, however, the CIA "successfully formulated" an argument that delayed the FBI's access to Mohammed until he was transferred to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a transfer that didn't take place for 3½ more years.

The report concluded that the maneuvering to shield Mohammed and other high-value detainees was part of a CIA campaign to actively impede the national security missions not only of the FBI, but also of President George W. Bush, Congress, the State Department, the office of the director of national intelligence and the CIA's own inspector general. The report doesn't provide an explicit reason for the alleged subterfuge, but it says that as early as 2001, CIA attorneys were working on legal arguments "to avoid prosecution of U.S. officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives."