When Bruce Jessen was asked about his first interrogation of Gul Rahman – a detainee in the war on terror who died after being slapped, punched, chained to walls, hooded, dragged up and down a corridor, kept naked in the cold, and deprived of sleep, food and water – Jessen couldn’t remember what the man had been wearing.
Might have been pajamas or sweatpants, he told the CIA interrogator.
Or “He may have just had a diaper on.”
Jessen also told investigators that had interrogators followed the Geneva Convention, “this person would not break.”
In the end, Rahman did not break anyway.
Jessen’s account was part of a series of documents recently released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit against Jessen and his former business partner, James Mitchell. The interview represents the fullest public description of his role from Jessen, who lives in Spokane and operated a for-profit interrogation firm downtown staffed with former Fairchild Air Force Base officers. He has repeatedly denied interview requests from reporters.
The lawsuit against the two contractors is proceeding through federal court in Spokane. Rahman, through his family, is one of three named plaintiffs.
Jessen was interviewed as part of the CIA investigation into Rahman’s death at a “black site” known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002. Rahman was a suspected Afghan militant and the CIA records refer to him as a member of al-Qaida.
In his interview, Jessen said his role varied from observer to hands-on interrogator, but makes clear he was closely involved. Another document says Jessen had six “sessions” with Rahman.
At the start of his involvement, Jessen said Rahman looked tired but “robust” and “pretty composed,” and considered him a “pretty tough character” who would not admit his own name. Rahman was often resistant and threatened to kill the guards or have them killed after his release, according to the records.
“Jessen stated that one time he interrogated Rahman by himself and slapped him,” the memo said. “Jessen described it as an insult slap. Jessen stated that he felt he lost more ground than he gained. Jessen commented that some people can be intimidated, but with others it simply bolsters their resistance.”
Jessen said that Rahman would require long-term physical and psychological deprivation to become cooperative. He was kept without clothing most of the time in an environment Jessen called “pretty darn cold,” and was sleep-deprived for days at a time. “People can go hundreds of hours with sleep deprivation and not have ill effects,” he told investigators.
Jessen described one “hard takedown” used against Rahman. A team entered his cell screaming at him to “get down,” dragged him outside, cut off his clothes and “secured him with Mylar tape.” Rahman was hooded, and dragged up and down the long corridor adjacent to his cell.
“They slapped and punched him several times. Although it was obvious they were not trying to hit him as hard as they could, it was sometimes pretty forceful. … He had crusty contusions on his face, leg and hands. Nothing that required treatment.”
Jessen recommended continued use of the tactics. Rahman died six days after Jessen and Mitchell left the Salt Pit, after being shackled overnight to a cell floor with little clothing in near-freezing temperatures.