No Comment — July 5, 2011, 9:50 am

Unredacting “The Interrogator”

In June 2006, Ron Suskind’s best-selling book The One Percent Doctrine created ripples by reporting the success of a massive intelligence operation launched by the United States to cripple Al Qaeda’s financial network. The operation had captured Haji Pacha Wazir, a man described as “bin Laden’s banker,” and had infiltrated Pacha Wazir’s banking operation and seized vital information about the terrorist organization’s financing. Pacha Wazir was “not cooperating” with CIA interrogators, Suskind noted at the time, but they had seized his brother as part of an effort to make him more talkative. If Suskind’s report on Pacha Wazir were true, the case would indeed have marked an enormous intelligence breakthrough for the United States.

But an explosive new book by retired intelligence officer Glenn Carle contradicts the claims Suskind published about Pacha Wazir (which were no doubt faithful reports of what Suskind was told by sources in the intelligence community). As The Interrogator: An Education details, in the fall of 2002, Carle was the CIA case officer for a man identified as CAPTUS — but who was clearly Pacha Wazir — who had operated an informal money-changing and transfer business, known as a hawala system, that may have had customers with terrorist ties. As the man who handled Pacha Wazir’s interrogation and attempted to draw conclusions as to who he was and what he was up to, Carle concludes that his prisoner cooperated with his interrogators and told the truth about his operations, on the whole. The suggestion that Pacha Wazir was consciously managing bin Laden’s financial affairs was then, and remains today, utterly baseless — more or less the same as claiming that a clerk at Grand Central Terminal who unwittingly sold a train ticket to Osama bin Laden was Al Qaeda’s transportation logistics officer. Indeed, after learning of the accusations against him, Pacha Wazir had traveled to Dubai, determined to meet with American agents to explain to them why they were mistaken, only to be kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed country.

To read Scott Horton’s interview with Glenn Carle, click here.

Its contradiction of Suskind’s report aside, The Interrogator is most telling in its account of how Carle’s superiors at the CIA reacted to his conclusions: by ignoring them. Perhaps the CIA was afraid to acknowledge that it had wrongly held and mistreated a businessman for eight years, without access to the legal system, and under harsh and possibly illegal conditions. Or perhaps the CIA was concerned that claims about the greatest success of its financial intelligence program would be exposed as puffery. In any event, the CIA did not act on Carle’s recommendation that Pacha Wazir be released, even after it was embraced by Carle’s successor. American intelligence officials similarly resisted appeals by the Afghan government, ultimately including a 2008 order by Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanding his release. Not until February 2010, after eight years of American captivity, was Pacha Wazir finally set free and sent home. (Through his lawyer, Pacha Wazir declined a request to be interviewed for this post.)

Before it could be published, Carle’s book was redacted by the CIA’s Publications Review Board, which cut some forty percent of the text. While the PRB insists that its redactions cover only “disclosures which could be harmful to the national interest,” embarrassment about Agency operations and mistakes — not to mention their possible criminality — may have played a role in the redactions. Among the changes the PRB insisted on was that Pacha Wazir’s name be kept secret, and that Carle disguise the locations where the prisoner was initially and ultimately held. Ironically, this information can be readily derived from examining documents concerning the CIA’s now-banned extraordinary-rendition program, among them reports prepared by the Council of Europe and human rights groups, data collected in various criminal investigations in Europe, and pleadings and documents submitted in habeas corpus litigation involving Pacha Wazir.

Tina Foster, a constitutional lawyer who represented Pacha Wazir in habeas proceedings brought in federal court in Washington, noted to me that Carle’s account of his prisoner tallies in every detail with her client’s experiences. “There is little doubt that he is the prisoner Carle is describing,” she said. Foster also expressed concern that the government’s decision to suppress information about the CIA’s analysis of her client had led to an incorrect result in court. (Pacha Wazir’s habeas corpus petition was declined prior to his release under pressure from the Afghan government.) “The Justice Department maintained that Pacha Wazir was legally detainable on unspecified grounds, but that the determination had been properly made by those with knowledge of his case,” Foster said. “Had the conclusions reached by his interrogator not been destroyed, and instead acknowledged and disclosed by the government to the court, it would likely have tipped the scales of justice in his case and possibly also in other cases.” She noted that in habeas cases coming out of Guantánamo, court opinions had turned based on the conclusions reached by CIA analysts handling the prisoners.

As for the location of the initial rendition, the opening chapters of Carle’s book play out in an unnamed desert country where French and Arabic are spoken interchangeably, and where domestic intelligence services were holding terrorism suspects for CIA interrogation under a program a New York City Bar Association Report described as “torture by proxy.” “There is no doubt that Carle is talking about Morocco,” said John Sifton, an attorney who studied the CIA detentions program on behalf of Human Rights Watch and other organizations, and who travelled to Morocco in early 2006 to look into reports that the CIA was holding terrorism suspects there. “Most of the events described in the early chapters occurred in and around Rabat, which is where it appears the CIA detention arrangements were being carried out.”

In my interview with him, Sifton pointed to flight records from CIA aircraft used for detainee transport, which detailed several flights from Rabat to Afghanistan that matched the flight described by Carle in a chapter entitled “Methane Breathers” (a term he used to describe the CIA officers clad as ninjas who roughed up and humiliated Pacha Wazir on a Moroccan airstrip). The prisoner was then transferred to a CIA-run prison near Kabul. The description in Carle’s book perfectly matches existing accounts of the Salt Pit, a prison maintained by the CIA in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. After President Bush shut down the CIA’s black-site system in September 2006, Pacha Wazir was transferred to military custody at the Soviet-era prison at Bagram Air Base.

Carle’s book also recounts that an elderly brother of CAPTUS was seized as part of a special effort to press the prisoner on his suspected relationships with terrorists. The brother, Haji Ghaljai, was arrested in Jalalabad in December 2002 and released about six months later. Joanne Mariner, director of the human rights program at Hunter College, interviewed Ghaljai in Kabul in February 2008, in an effort to learn more about his detention and that of his brother. She told me that the disclosures in Carle’s book “demonstrate the wisdom of President Obama’s decision to take detention authority away from the CIA, but they also demonstrate the inertia of the detention system and the tendency to continue to hold prisoners not because they present a security risk but because their stories — once widely known — might embarrass figures in the intelligence community.”

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