Journey into the CIA’s heart of darkness: Ex-agent reveals ‘torture’ of terror suspect in secret prison dubbed ‘Hotel California’
A former CIA operative has described how he was torn between serving his country and refusing to ‘torture’ a man he believed was innocent.
Glenn Carle has written a shocking new tell-all memoir detailing his time with the agency in which he confessed that some people would call him a ‘torturer’.
Though the CIA has already redacted 40 per cent of his book in a two-year battle to get it published, Carle was still able to provide a vivid account of his journey to a CIA ‘black site’ or secret prison.
There, he said, he spent 10 intense days psychologically manipulating a man who the agency believed could hand them Osama Bin Laden – but who Carle believed was innocent.
He was told to ‘do whatever is necessary’ – subverting Geneva conventions in favour of the American flag.
He said he was shocked at the order to use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, writing that he told his superiors: ‘We don’t do that sort of thing’.
The reply was curt: ‘We do now.’
Carle’s memoir The Interrogator is the first account of one who had to carry out the controversial orders of former President George W Bush. He called it ‘the supreme challenge of my professional life, possibly my life’.
He maintains he carried out all his duties within the law and within the boundaries of what he believed was morally right.
But it cost him his faith in his leaders. ‘I had to oppose the orders of an administration whose actions corrupted the flag I had sworn to serve,’ he told Britain’s Sunday Times.
Spies, he said, are ‘an unusual combination of the most goody-two-shoes, upright, principled people who are then trained to subvert everyone else’s principles’.
It is a definition that haunts his tale.
‘I was a spy,’ he told the British paper. ‘I broke laws. I stole, I lied every day about almost everything: to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to everyone around me.’
Carle grew up in Boston, studying at Harvard before taking on a position as a management trainee at a big bank.
His future as a Wasp was mapped out before him – and he could not stand it. Within just a few months, he had quit. ‘I thought: what is the most challenging thing conceivable, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, even physically? I know – I’ll be a spy.’
His parents, he said, were horrified – particularly his mother, who he confessed was convinced that his colleagues were ‘going around murdering children’.
But Carle loved it – so much that he actually did consider choosing his job over the woman who would become his wife.
In the end, he got to have both – but there was never any doubt that the agency came first.
He had to tell his bosses that he was in love before he told now-wife Sally – and let them do a six-month background check on her before he could propose.
Sally, a Briton from Yorkshire who was living in Paris, was ‘subversive’ and ‘dangerous’ in the agency’s eyes because she was not American, he said.
In the end he decided that if he was forced to choose between one or the other he would choose love. ‘You give up so much in this life… I wouldn’t give that up.’
The proposal itself was surely one of the most unexpected moments of Sally’s life.
Carle revealed he told her: ‘I’m going to ask you to spend your life with me – but it’s not a normal question.
‘It means only you and I will be together for the rest of our lives. We can’t talk about what I do, we’ll always be separated in some way from people we know and it can be really hard.
‘I will disappear and you won’t know where I am and I won’t be using the same name and won’t tell you what I’ve done – and it will be like that for 30 years.’
But Sally bravely said yes, and the couple never looked back.
For years, Carle’s career was on the rise. For four years before 9/11 he was head of the CIA’s Afghanistan team – knowing more about Bin Laden than almost anyone else in the world.
Then, he made a terrifying blunder. At a meeting with foreign spies, he inadvertently left behind a briefcase full of documents.
It was a mistake that could have cost people their lives. He was swiftly transferred to non-operational work at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia – and kept there even after 9/11, when his expertise became all the more necessary.
The demotion devastated him. Bin Laden had become the most wanted man in the world, and he was on the sidelines.
So when his superiors suddenly offered him the chance to interrogate a prisoner they believed could lead them to Al Qaeda, he leapt at the chance.
He told his family he was going to Paris, and packed his bags. His daughter, then aged eight, gave him a note: ‘Daddies are a good thing to have. They love you.’
Then he flew to Morocco, where one of the most notorious CIA black sites was established.
There he first met the man he dubbed ‘Captus’. The CIA believed he was Al Qaeda’s top financier – banker to Bin Laden.
‘I found him unremarkable,’ Carle said. Captus was ‘normal-looking, with the gut of a sedentary man.’
Through an interpreter he told the prisoner: ‘We can do anything we want… No one knows what has happened to you. You have just disappeared. Three thousand of my countrymen are dead – in part because of you.’
But Captus insisted on his innocence – and, within a week, Carle had to admit he believed him.
When he told his bosses, they just insisted he push harder. The agency was desperate, and believed that Captus’s stubbornness called for the infamous enhanced interrogation.
Carle said he was never told to strike the prisoner ‘or stand him upside down or hang him from his ankles’. Instead he was simply told to ‘do whatever it takes… be aggressive’.
He had to ‘psychologically dislocate’ Captus – making him malleable and willing to share secrets.
‘This is done through psychological and physical measures, primarily intended to disrupt Circadian rhythms and an individual’s perceptions.
‘So, noise, temperature, one’s sense of time, sleep, diet, light, darkness, physical freedom – the normal reference points for one’s senses are all distorted.
‘Reality disappears, and so do one’s reference points. It is shockingly easy to disorient someone.’
So-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ for use on high-value detainees were approved in 2003, according to declassified documents.
These included: the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap, the abdominal slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, the use of diapers, harmless insects and of course, water boarding.
Carle maintains he never used any of the above methods.
‘I would not do it,’ he told Wired. ‘That point I was certain of instantaneously. I also had literally never heard of waterboarding until the story about it broke in the media.’
But Captus was technically under the control of his foreign hosts. When he asked to Langley that they could do something to Captus that he as an American would consider unacceptable, he was told: ‘You just walk out of the room. Then you won’t have seen anything.’
He claims just that: that he never saw anything. Sometimes Captus would be sent ‘into the desert’ for a few days, and would return subdued. But, Carle said, ‘there were no signs of anything I could see… Does that mean they just locked him in a room and left him alone for two days? I don’t know.’
Finally, his frustrated bosses decided they would send Captus to ‘Hotel California’, the most notorious of the black sites, just outside Kabul – so-called because, as in the Eagles song, ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’.
Carle protested in horror – and was ignored.
He described the journey to Kabul in detail.
They flew from Rabat airport at 2am in a plane that, to Carle, almost literally seemed to be a ghost. ‘It appeared out of the sky, very low, very close… I had not heard or seen anything until the very last seconds before it landed.
‘Doors opened. Men emerged and fanned out in bustling, silent, efficient activity… they were intimidating.
‘A lone ninja came out last. He wore a balaclava covering his entire face… He carried an M4 [assault rifle].’
To Carle’s surprise, the ninja turned out to be a petite woman – tiny and fine-boned – who informed him she was running the rendition.
Captus was hooded, shackled and marched on to the silent plane. Carle said the prisoner was motionless for the journey.
They landed in Kabul, drove through the ruined city and east to Hotel California – a place as desolate as the song.
The CIA redacted the chapter in which Carle went into detail about what happened to Captus there. He told the Sunday Times that the prisoner looked ‘appalling’. He was kept in a 10ft by 6 1/2ft cell with a steel door, freezing cold with only a small blanket.
At Hotel California CIA interrogators work long hours while heavy metal music blasts detainees’ ears and their sleep patterns are disrupted, according to the book. They used extreme temperatures, continuous white light or darkness, stripping, hooding, isolation.
The psychological methods were ‘standard’, Carle said.
‘I was involved in it, although I tried to stop what I considered wrong,’ he said in an interview with Wired.com.
‘I feel I acted honourably throughout my involvement in the Captus operation, and tried to have him treated properly, but much of it was disturbing and wrong.’
He told the Sunday Times the entire operation had become ‘sordid’. ‘Almost everything we were doing to him was wrong.’
Three months later, in December of 2002, Carle was ordered to leave Afghanistan. He wrote cables protesting Captus’ imprisonment – but his station chief did not send them.
He told the Sunday Times that he thought of complaining, but said: ‘What can one individual do that accomplishes anything?’
The CIA released Captus eight years later without ceremony or explanation.
Despite the secret prison being almost in a no-man’s land in terms of legal implications, Carle said he never could act with impunity.
‘We were acting clandestinely; but never beyond obligations to act correctly and honourably,’ he said.
‘The dilemma comes in identifying where those lines are, in a situation in which much was murky.
‘No one consciously broke the law, ever, in my experience or knowledge,’ he added.
‘But what should one do? How could one follow one’s orders and accomplish one’s mission, when it was flawed, objectionable, and perhaps itself legally, albeit “legally” ordered.
‘That’s the supreme dilemma I wrestled with, and others did, too.’
Perhaps tellingly, when asked how may CAPTUS’S – seemingly innocent men – there were being interrogated by the CIA, Carle said: ‘I do not know.’