Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
"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"
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
Captured alongside: Mustafa al-Hawsawi
SSCI prisoner number: 45
Entered CIA custody: 3 March 2003 – 5 March 2003
Period of CIA custody: 1280-1282 days
Left CIA custody: 5 September 2006
Detentions: Pakistan; Afghanistan (COBALT/GRAY); Poland (BLUE); Romania (BLACK); Lithuania (VIOLET); Afghanistan (BROWN); Guantánamo Bay
Current Status: Detained in Guantánamo Bay
Timeline of Key Events
1 March 2003 - 4-5 March 2003
Capture and detention, Rawalpindi, Pakistan (alongside Mustafa al-Hawsawi)
4-5 March 2003
4-5 March 2003 - 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 – 5 October 2005
Detention, CIA black site, Romania
5-6 October 2005
6 October 2005 – 25 March 2006
Detention, CIA black site, Lithuania
25-26 March 2006
26 March 2006 – 5 September 2006
Detention, CIA black site, Afghanistan
5 September 2006
Rendition, unknown location – Guantánamo Bay
5 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 on 1 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. This account is confirmed by CIA records cited by the SSCI report, which document that he was “interrogated by CIA officers and Pakistani officials... while in Pakistani custody, [and] subjected to some sleep deprivation, but there are no indications of other coercive interrogation techniques being used.”
Mohammed’s own testimony about his treatment in Afghanistan, where he says he was held for about three days, closely matches the account provided by CIA records.
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.
During Mohammed’s torture at COBALT, he provided fabricated information which led to the further capture, detention and torture of two innocent individuals, Sayed Habib and Shaistah Khan. He was then transferred out of COBALT on 7 March 2003 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. Mohammed thought 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’. This is confirmed by CIA records cited by the SSCI report, which document his arrival at the CIA-run DETENTION SITE BLUE at 6:00 PM local time, on [redacted] March 2003.
Flight data obtained by The Rendition Project demonstrates that Mohammed was rendered 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.
CIA records cited by the SSCI report confirm in great detail Mohammed’s torture while in BLUE. In anticipation of his eventual arrival at the site, Headquarters approved an interrogation plan on 3 March 2003, indicating that he “will be subjected to immediate interrogation techniques”. One email from the on-site medical officer, sent on 7 March just before Mohammed arrived, described the use of the waterboard as inevitable: “I don’t think they believe that it will be possible to entirely avoid the use of the waterboard given the high and immediate threat to US and allied interests.
Mohammed’s torture began immediately upon his arrival at BLUE, when he was stripped and placed in the standing sleep deprivation position. CIA contractors SWIGERT and DUNBAR, along with another CIA interrogator, subjected Mohammed to the following EITs: nudity, standing sleep deprivation, the attention grab and insult slap, the facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position, and walling.
On 10 March 2003, Mohammed was subject to the first of his 15 separate waterboarding sessions, CIA records noting that, taken together, these sessions saw the technique applied at least 183 times. Citing CIA cables and interviews conducted during their investigation, the SSCI report documents in vivid detail the extent of the torture to which Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was subjected. During one session on 12 March 2003, CIA records state that Mohammed’s “abdomen was somewhat distended and he expressed water when the abdomen was pressed”, a sight that led the medical officer at BLUE to describe the application of waterboarding as “a series of near drownings”. CIA records documenting an interrogation session on 13 March 2003 state that Mohammed “yelled and twisted” when he was first secured to the waterboard, but later “appeared resigned to tolerating the board”.
The frequent use of waterboarding, and its failure to provide reliable intelligence, led a number of individuals in the CIA to conclude that the technique was “not working” and that it was potentially counter-productive. Despite these reservations and assessments, the waterboarding of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed continued for anther 10 days. Waterboarding was used in conjunction with other EITs and, beginning on 18 March 2003, Mohammed was subjected to a period of sleep deprivation which would last for seven and a half days, after which came periods of intense questioning and walling. During his interrogation, detention site personnel at BLUE hung a picture of KSM’s sons in his cell, a move that aimed to “[heighten] his imagination concerning where they are, who has them, [and] what is in store for them”. On 24 March 2003, Mohammed underwent his fifteenth and final documented waterboarding session, CIA cables describing him as “composed, stoic, and resigned”.
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. CIA cables cited by the SSCI report confirm that he was in DETENTION SITE BLACK in November 2003, but do not provide any detail about his treatment at the site. 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’).
The SSCI report provides details of where Mohammed was held after his detention at BLACK, stating that he “was transferred to DETENTION SITE [redacted] on [redacted], 2005, to DETENTION SITE BROWN on March [redacted], 2006, and to US military detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on September 5, 2006.
Through analysis of redaction lengths, it appears that the redacted site name is in fact VIOLET, which was the CIA-run secret prison in Lithuania. The redacted date for this rendition appears to be 1-9 October 2005. Crucially, this date matches with flight records held in The Rendition Project’s Flight Database: between 5-6 October 2005, two aircraft documented as being involved in the renditions programme, N308AB and N787WH, connected the secret prisons in Romania and Lithuania. N308AB flew from Bucharest, Romania to Tirana, Albania, where it was on the ground at the same time as N787WH, which then flew from Tirana to Vilnius, Lithuania. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s rendition from Romania to Lithuania.
Nothing is known about Mohammed’s treatment during his second period of detention in Afghanistan. CIA records show that he was transferred out of the CIA’s secret prison network and into US military detention in Guantánamo Bay on 5 September 2006, after three and a half years (1280-1282 days) in CIA secret detention. This transfer took place alongside the other HVDs in custody at that time, all of whom appear to have been transferred to Guantánamo Bay on 4 September or 5 September 2006. This final transfer was announced by President Bush, 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.