By John Ryan | November 2, 2019 | Guantanamo Bay, News & Features
Photo of the courtroom used for the Sept. 11 case provided by Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs.
Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba – The resumption of pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 case this past week brought something of a déjà vu quality, with another witness testifying the FBI sent questions to the CIA while it held the five defendants at overseas black sites in the years before they arrived at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Former FBI Special Agent Adam Drucker recalled procedural details of sending questions to the CIA and later receiving intelligence generated at the black sites about the 9/11 attacks and other possible threats. In two days of public testimony, Drucker portrayed the system as obvious and necessary because the CIA did not give him and other Sept. 11 case agents direct access to the detainees at the black sites.
“It’s the only tool that the FBI had available,” Drucker said on Wednesday in response to questioning by defense attorney James Connell.
Connell’s team is attempting to convince the judge, Air Force Col. Shane Cohen, to suppress statements defendant Ammar al Baluchi made to FBI agents at Guantanamo Bay in January 2007, about four months after his transfer from CIA custody. Though the FBI did not employ the abusive “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA, Connell claims the interagency coordination on interrogations both at the black sites and at Guantanamo Bay should render the January 2007 FBI statements inadmissible as the fruits of torture.
Drucker, who has an accounting degree and an M.B.A., worked on bank fraud cases until the Sept. 11 attacks, at which point he shifted his responsibilities to investigating the financing behind the operation. In February 2004, the FBI detailed Drucker to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to serve as a liaison between the two agencies. Drucker testified that between 2002 and 2004 he and his colleagues sent questions to the CIA to ask detainees; once he was stationed with the CIA, he testified, he was aware of those requests continuing to come from the FBI until 2006.
Drucker went on to hold a number of supervisory roles at the FBI, including as Deputy Chief of the Terrorist Financing Operations Section, before retiring in 2018.
During his testimony, Drucker appeared to be enclosed in a fort of document binders. The binders were compiled by Connell’s team and contained copies of FBI requests for information from black-site detainees and CIA documents providing responsive information, which typically were in the form of intelligence reports distributed to the intelligence community. Many of the details in the documents are classified and were not discussed until the closed session on Thursday. In open court, Connell sought to illuminate the mechanics of the FBI-CIA information sharing.
Drucker’s testimony and the discovery provided by the government show that the CIA’s “torture program” was a large bureaucratic machine with a vast paper trial that seemingly has no end, Connell told reporters after court Wednesday. Connell said he would seek additional discovery from the government based on Drucker’s testimony.
As it did with the two earlier FBI witnesses, the prosecution questioned Drucker to support its position that the January 2007 statements were voluntary, since they were taken by the FBI in more traditional interview sessions after the defendants were moved out of the black sites. Drucker himself did not question defendants at Guantanamo Bay, unlike Fitzgerald and former Special Agent Abigail Perkins, who also testified in the September session. (Fitzgerald and Perkins conducted the interrogations of al Baluchi.) Instead, Drucker watched the sessions from a monitoring room in the detention facility.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Ed Ryan, Drucker testified that the interrogation sessions took place without any threats or raised voices and that the detainees did not exhibit any fear – confirming the accounts of his former colleagues. Drucker also confirmed that he obtained bank records and other financial documents related to the 9/11 investigation “fairly quickly” after the attacks, before any of the defendants were captured and sent to CIA custody.
On redirect by Connell, Drucker testified that he did not believe the sessions were interrogations but rather “interviews.” Drucker said that, in the context of the Sept. 11 case, the word “interrogations” is associated with the CIA sessions at black sites in which the enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, were used.
“An FBI interrogation never has EITs,” Drucker testified.
The bulk of this two-week session is focused on Connell’s motion to suppress the 2007 FBI statements, which the prosecution team considers among its most critical evidence against the five defendants. Cohen has encouraged the other four teams to participate in these suppression hearings, but they have mostly decided to hold back because the government is still providing relevant discovery. Two other teams already have filed their suppression motions and a third recently received an extension to do so. The cumbersome process has put a spotlight on the judge's planned January 2021 trial date; Connell's suppression presentation alone will extend well into 2020.
As in the last session, the lead attorney for Khalid Shaikh Mohammad chose to participate briefly after hearing a witness characterize the statements made at Guantanamo Bay as voluntary, in light of the torture that was inflicted on the defendants in the years before. Gary Sowards asked Drucker if he knew how the CIA was conducting its interrogations at the black sites when he and his FBI colleagues were sending in questions to ask the detainees. Drucker said he understood that the CIA was “not doing what the FBI would normally do.”
Sowards then asked Drucker whether, when assessing whether the January 2007 sessions at Guantanamo were voluntary, the agent knew that Mohammad had previously been suspended by chains without sleep for long stretches, subjected to multiple anal rapes and 183 mock executions, and informed that his children would be killed if he did not participate.
“First time I heard that,” Drucker responded.
Drucker testified that after being detailed to the CIA he had been told that the agency stopped using enhanced techniques in 2004. He said he was “not qualified as a psychologist” to determine whether the detainees would later feel the same amount of fear from their FBI questioners at Guantanamo Bay.
The government on Friday called as a witness the first commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp reserved for the “high-value detainees” previously held by the CIA, including the five defendants, to support its position that the January 2007 statements to the FBI were voluntary. The witness testified in civilian clothes under the pseudonym “First Camp 7 Commander.” The Army commander served in that position from shortly before the detainees arrived in September 2006 until March 2008.
Under direct examination by prosecutor Robert Swann, the commander testified that he had informed the 14 new detainees they were now in the custody of the Department of Defense and would be treated under the Geneva Conventions, which included the right to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The commander testified that, months later, the detainees voluntarily chose to attend the FBI sessions starting in January 2007 – though they were not told beforehand that they would be meeting with the FBI. Nevertheless, he testified that the detainees also voluntarily chose to attend subsequent sessions with the FBI agents.
Swann briefly read from the 2014 Senate summary report on the CIA’s interrogation program that stated the CIA had “operational control” of Camp 7 after the high-valued detainees arrived. The commander disagreed.
“As a commander, I had full responsibility,” the witness said.
Under cross-examination by Connell, however, the former commander acknowledged that an interagency group controlled some high-level decisions about Camp 7 policies.
The witness also testified that some members of his internal guard force at Camp 7 wore uniforms but were not, in fact, members of the military. Connell could not have the witness elaborate on this topic in open court because the government has classified the details of who these individuals were or worked for. The classified session began late Friday afternoon and was expected to continue through Monday.
About the author: John Ryan (email@example.com) is a co-founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Lawdragon Inc., where he oversees all web and magazine content and provides regular coverage of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. When he’s not at GTMO, John is based in Brooklyn. He has covered complex legal issues for 20 years and has won multiple awards for his journalism, including a New York Press Club Award in Journalism for his coverage of the Sept. 11 case. View our staff page.