Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
"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"
Full name: Khaled Sheikh Mohammed
Date of Birth: 14 April 1965
Aliases: Mukhtar, Mukhtar al-Baluchi, Mukh, Abdulrahman Abdullah al-Ghamdi, Salem Ali , The Brain, Ashraf Refaat Nabith Hen, Khalid Abdul Wadud, Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Khalid, Abdullah Faqasial-Ghamdi, and many others
Capture: Rawalpindi, Pakistan, 1 March 2003
Detentions: Rawalpindi, Pakistan; Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan; Poland; Romania; Unknown; Guantánamo Bay
Current Status: Detained in Guantánamo Bay
Timeline of Key Events
1-4 March 2003
Capture and detention, Rawalpindi, Pakistan (alongside Mustafa al-Hawsawi)
4 March 2003
4 -7 March 2003
Detention, Bagram Airbase (possibly), Afghanistan
7 March 2003
7 March 2003 - 22 September 2003
Detention, CIA black site, Poland
22 September 2003
22 September 2003 – 2005
Detention, CIA black site, Romania
2005 – 4 September 2006
Further detentions and renditions with other ‘High-Value Detainees’, unknown dates and locations (possibly Lithuania and/or Afghanistan)
4 September 2006
Rendition, unknown location – Guantánamo Bay
4 September 2006 – Present
Detention, Guantánamo Bay
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed is a Pakistani national who was captured in a joint raid by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence in March 2003. He spent three-and-a-half years in secret CIA detention before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006, where he is still being held. As a ‘High-Value Detainee’ (HVD), Mohammed was subject to a range of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ while in CIA detention, including almost 200 uses of the waterboard. US authorities claim that he is ‘a senior al-Qaeda recruiter, financier and operational planner for al-Qaeda’s global terrorist network’, and the self-ascribed head of al-Qaeda’s military committee. In 2008, he was one of five detainees charged with conspiracy in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and is personally charged with masterminding the entire operation.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was captured by the CIA and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on 1 March 2003, alongside Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, and an unidentified Saudi national. Mohammed has testified that he was immediately transferred into US custody, and was held for 2-3 days in Rawalpindi. During this time, he says that he was questioned by a CIA agent who also punched him several times in the stomach, chest and face, threw him on the floor, and trod on his face. He was also denied sleep throughout his detention in Pakistan.
On or around 4 March 2003, Mohammed was rendered to a US detention site almost certainly in Afghanistan, where he was held and tortured for around three days.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s account of rendition to, and torture in, Afghanistan (source: ICRC)
During the transfer from Pakistan to Afghanistan my eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for. I was dressed in a shalwar kameez, shackled hands and feet and put sitting in a vehicle for the journey to the airport. I was then put in a sitting position on a plane. The transfer was ok, with no particular problems to report. The flight was short, only about 1 hour. I arrived at night. The transfer from the plane to the place of detention took about 15-20 minutes. During my time in this place I could hear planes taking off and landing. I think the place was Bagram.
After arrival my clothes were cut off of me, the bag and blindfold were removed and photographs were taken of me naked. I remained naked throughout the three days I stayed in this place of detention. I was checked by a doctor and asked about my medical history. I told the doctor about the pain I was still suffering from the beating in Pakistan.
I was then placed in a cell, about 2m x 4m, naked, where I was kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head. My feet were flat on the floor. At first I was questioned for about one hour with no other forms of ill treatment. After about one hour I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning. Approximately thirteen persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about ten muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach. This was repeated during two nights.
Also during this period I was on four occasions taken to a separate room from the main interrogation room. Here cold water from buckets was thrown onto me for about forty minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.
On one occasion during interrogation I was offered water to drink, when I refused I was taken to another room where I was made to lie on the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had the feeling as if I had diarrhoea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.
Whenever I was returned to my cell I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head. Music was always playing in the corridor outside my cell, but it was not very loud.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was transferred out of this detention site on 7 March 2003 – possibly alongside Mustafa al-Hawsawi – and rendered to Poland. He describes being dressed in a tracksuit and having his eyes and head covered as before, but this time with ear phones playing music placed over his ears as well. He travelled for about ten minutes by vehicle before being placed on an aircraft, and seated in a high chair titled back, with his hands and ankles shackled. He slept for the first time in five days during the flight. He doesn’t know how long the journey lasted, but remembers the transfer after landing taking about one hour. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed thinks that the destination was Poland: ‘I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had email address ending in “.pl”. The central heating system was an old style one that I had would expect only to see in countries of the former communist system’. Flight data obtained by The Rendition Project demonstrates that Mohammed was almost certainly transferred to Poland on board the CIA-owned Gulfstream V jet with tail number N379P. This aircraft flew between Afghanistan and Poland on 7 March 2003, filing a ‘dummy’ flight plan to disguise its true destination (a characteristic of rendition flights into and out of Europe). Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s rendition from Afghanistan to Poland.
It was at the CIA black site at Stare Kiejkuty that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to what he describes as the most intense interrogation, which he says was led by three experienced CIA interrogators, who he referred to as the ‘emirs’. His cell was about 3m x 4m, with wooden walls and cameras. He thinks that the cell was underground. Mohammed claims that he was interrogated initially for eight hours per day, reduced to four hours per day after the first month, and subjected to a range of torture techniques.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s account of torture in Poland (source: ICRC)
As the interrogation again resumed I was told by one of the ‘emirs’ that they had received the green light from Washington to give him ‘a hard time’. They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure’, only to ‘a hard time’. I was never threatened with death, in fact 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’.
Apart from when I was taken for interrogation to another room, I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrists resulting in open and bleeding wounds. The cuffs around my ankles also created open, bleeding wounds. Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.
For the interrogation I was taken to a separate room. The number of people present varied greatly from one day to another. Other interrogators, including women, were also sometimes present along with the ‘emirs’. A doctor would also usually be present. If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A think flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.
In addition I was also subjected to ‘water boarding’ on five occasions, all of which occurred during the first month. I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe. This obviously could only be done for one or two minutes at a time. The cloth was then removed and the bed was put in a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to wrists and ankles also occurred during the water-boarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe. Female interrogators were present during this form of ill-treatment and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of the bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to breaking point.
After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor so I could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well.
The harshest period of interrogation was just prior to the end of this first month. The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was allowed to sleep for about one hour and then put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.
During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.
Throughout that first month, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed says that he was given food on just two occasions. The rest of the time he was given an ‘Ensure’ to drink every four hours. If he refused to drink, he had it forcibly poured down his throat. He was forbidden from cleaning himself after using the toilet bucket throughout the first month. He remained naked the entire time, and was subjected to artificial light and music 24 hours per day.
His treatment improved marginally after the first month. He was given clothes, was permitted to shower, and the physical torture abated (although psychological torture continued). He also started to receive food twice per day.
Details of his torture in Poland are corroborated by the investigation carried out by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General in 2004. Although most of the account of his treatment in the report is redacted, the declassified portions reveal that the IG found Mohammed was subjected to 183 applications of the waterboard in March 2003, as well as psychological torture in the form of threats to his family (including specific threats that his children would be killed in reprisal for further attacks in the United States).
On 22 September 2003, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the other detainees still held in Poland were transferred out of the country, on board the CIA-owned Boeing 737 with tail number N313P. The aircraft flew a disguised flight direct to Bucharest, Romania, where some of the detainees – including Mohammed – were offloaded. Others remained on the aircraft, which then flew another disguised flight to Morocco to pick up further detainees, and then to Guantánamo Bay to deliver them to secret detention there. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s rendition from Poland to Romania.
Nothing much is known about Mohammed’s time in Romania. The Council of Europe’s 2012 investigation into the prison in the country found that detainees who had been moved from Poland in September 2003 had, by that time, been considered to have lower intelligence value after some months in CIA detention. This set of detainees, according to the report, were less likely to have been subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ while in Romania (which was not the case for HVDs such as Janat Gul and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who were captured during 2004-2005 and taken directly to Romania for ‘enhanced interrogation’).
Very little is known about the fate and whereabouts of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the other HVDs after their time in Romania. Most were likely moved during 2005, with evidence pointing towards Lithuania and Afghanistan as the final detention sites before their final transfer out of secret detention in September 2006. Click here for an analysis of where the HVDs – including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed – may have been held during 2005-2006. The ICRC report on the treatment of the HVDs in CIA detention refers to Mohammed having been ‘allegedly kept continuously shackled, even when inside his cell for nineteen months’. It is unclear whether this refers to a 19-month period of detention in one site; if so, this would suggest that he was either moved out of Romania in April 2005 (giving 19 months in Romania), or indeed February 2005 (giving 19 months in his subsequent place of detention).
On 4 September 2006, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was transferred along with 13 other HVDs out of the CIA’s secret prison network and into US military detention in Guantánamo Bay. This final transfer was announced by President Bush two days later, as part of a wider disclosure about the CIA’s use of secret prisons.
Mohammed remains detained in Guantánamo Bay, where he has been charged with conspiracy in relation to the 9/11 attacks and is facing a military trial along with Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, and Ammar al-Baluchi. His lawyers have made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to initiate an inquiry into his torture.