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Surviving Torture in a CIA Secret Prison: Khaled al-Sharif of Libya Recounts Horrors

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A shocking new report details how harsh American interrogation methods have led to devastating psychiatric disorders in former prisoners. The New York Times exposé is titled “How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds.” It found at least half of the 39 prisoners who went through the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program have since shown psychiatric problems—some have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, depression or psychosis. These prisoners were subjected to torture techniques such as severe sleep deprivation, waterboarding, mock execution, sexual violations and confinement in coffin-like boxes in secret CIA prisons and at Guantánamo. We air a video of Khaled al-Sharif speaking to New York Times correspondent Sheri Fink about how his two years in a secret CIA prison continues to haunt him today.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a shocking new report detailing how harsh American investigation methods—sorry, interrogation methods have led to devastating psychiatric disorders in former detainees. The New York Times exposé is titled “How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds.” It found at least half of the 39 detainees who went through the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program have since shown psychiatric problems—some have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, depression or psychosis. These detainees were subjected to torture techniques such as severe sleep deprivation, waterboarding, mock execution, sexual violations and confinement in coffin-like boxes in secret CIA prisons and at Guantánamo.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the show, we’ll be joined by New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen, co-author of the series. But first let’s turn to Khaled al-Sharif, who spoke to New York Times correspondent Sheri Fink about his two years in a secret CIA prison and how it continues to haunt him today.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] Of course, the psychological effects of this experience and this injustice that happened to me from spending a long time in solitary, there’s no doubt that you go through states of depression. Likewise, the family went through this experience of fear. They’re now worried. They’re always afraid of tomorrow. They fear I’ll disappear like I disappeared the first time.

SHERI FINK: Khaled al-Sharif is a Libyan citizen. He was a deputy head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi organization that, according to the U.S. State Department, had ties to al-Qaeda. Because of this, he was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan and sent to a secret prison operated by the CIA. And there he stayed for two years.

This is Sheri Fink. I’m a correspondent for The New York Times. I met Mr. al-Sharif, now a free man, in Turkey in September to interview him about these secret CIA prisons, like the two where he was held, and the lasting effects of his treatment there.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] I was put inside this small cell, and my wrists were tied to the ceiling. I was in this position for a few hours. Then they took me to the interrogation room. The questions from the start were about my relationship with al-Qaeda. I told them I wasn’t a member of al-Qaeda and had no relationship with them at all.

SHERI FINK: Mr. al-Sharif was held in these so-called CIA black sites at the same time as two of his fellow LIFG members, Mohamed Ben Soud, who produced the drawings you’re seeing in this video, and Salih al-Daeiki.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] Yes, they were all members of the LIFG, and we all knew each other. And we lived together as Libyans in Peshawar.

SHERI FINK: Their treatment in CIA custody during this time has been partially documented by the U.S. government in the Senate torture report of 2014.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] I was put in a tub, and then they pour water on your face until you start suffocating and you can’t breathe. They threatened to put me in a small box that they would cram you into by force. I was also tied from my wrists and feet to a ring on the wall for more than a month.

SHERI FINK: Starting in 2004, the U.S. handed the three men over to Libyan authorities. In Libya, they were imprisoned until the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. Today, Mr. al-Sharif runs a prison in Tripoli, where his prison mate, Salih al-Daeiki, became the head interrogator. It’s an irony that’s not lost on Mr. al-Sharif.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] [The prison] was created after the revolution by government decree. And I was appointed by the government to run the place. It’s a strange paradox that a man finds himself in places he didn’t expect or want to be in. I was a prisoner, and I became the head of a prison that had in custody many members of the previous regime.

SHERI FINK: Mr. al-Sharif found himself on the other end of torture allegations when, in August 2015, this video recording surfaced. It’s a graphic scene of interrogation in his prison. The man blindfolded is a son of Gaddafi. Outside the door, men appear to be undergoing beatings. The man you see in the blue vest and robe is none other than Salih al-Daeiki, Mr. al-Sharif’s former prison mate. He stands by and watches as the interrogations continue. When I interviewed him, Mr. al-Daeiki told me that he was there when Gaddafi’s son was beaten, and didn’t try to stop it. Despite being in charge of interrogations, he said it wasn’t in his power.

INTERPRETER: [translated] Was Salih endorsing the torture in the video?

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] Of course, the video, regarding Salih—I don’t think he himself struck anyone, but it was possible for him to prevent that from happening. It’s not a policy. It’s not usual for Salih or those with him to behave that way.

SHERI FINK: That answer was in response to a line of questioning I had for Mr. al-Sharif. How might the CIA’s treatment of Salih have continued to influence his behavior? I asked Mr. al-Sharif if his own detainment still affected him.

KHALED AL-SHARIF: [translated] The effects are still there. And they still affect my life. Sometimes, when I hear the music that was played to us for a whole year in prison, when I’m just walking by or in a place and I hear a bit of this music, I’ll feel a cold shiver, and my memory will take me back to that time.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former prisoner Khaled al-Sharif speaking to New York Times correspondent Sheri Fink. Al-Sharif is just one of the many prisoners who, The New York Times found, continues to suffer persistent mental health problems after surviving beatings, sleep deprivation and torture techniques in secret CIA prisons. When we come back, we’ll speak with New York Times reporter James Risen and military psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Xenakis. Stay with us.

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Journalist James Risen: CIA Torture Methods Caused Long-Term Psychological Harm to Former Prisoners

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