He was a small man, one interrogator recalled, and so thin that he would slip in his restraints when the masked CIA guards tipped the waterboard upward to let him breathe.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, did not deny having been a terrorist operative for Osama bin Laden. He admitted his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, an attack that killed 17 Navy sailors. Captured two years later in Dubai, he talked openly about planning more attacks.
But any bravado had disappeared well before Nashiri’s CIA captors strapped him naked to a hospital gurney in a windowless white cell and began pouring water into his nose and mouth until he felt he was drowning. He pleaded with them to stop. They continued.
They “were going to get the truth out of him,” the interrogator told Nashiri, according to a previously undisclosed CIA cable. “They were going to do this again, and again, and again until he decided to be truthful.”
More than 15 years after Gina Haspel oversaw the questioning of Nashiri at a secret prison in Thailand, she will go before the Senate on Wednesday to seek confirmation as President Donald Trump’s choice to become the next director of the CIA.
While her nomination has already revived the country’s unresolved debate over interrogation methods that many experts consider torture, nearly everything Haspel has done in her long CIA career has remained secret, blotted out by the black ink that obscures classified information in public records.
But a trove of partially declassified CIA documents, released earlier this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to ProPublica, offers a glimpse at one coercive interrogation she is known to have supervised.
Those records describe how Nashiri was…