Ex-CIA detainees describe previously unknown interrogation tool

Ex-CIA detainees describe previously unknown interrogation tool
© Getty Images

Two Tunisian men held captive by the CIA more than a decade ago claim that they were threatened with an electric chair, a previously undisclosed method used during the spy agency’s period of brutal interrogations.

The two men, now in their early 50s, separately told Human Rights Watch that U.S. interrogators had showed them a makeshift metal chair with plugs, wires and a cap that they were told was an electric chair. The men would be forced into the chair if they refused to cooperate, interrogators allegedly told them, although they never were.

The CIA said it had no evidence to support the allegations, which were not raised during a years-long Senate investigation into the spy agency’s methods.

“CIA reviewed its records and found nothing to support these new claims,” spokesman Ryan Trapani said in a statement.


The CIA has been roundly criticized for using methods such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which are widely considered to be torture, in the years after 9/11. But it has not previously been accused of threatening detainees with the electric chair.

“These terrifying accounts of previously unreported CIA torture methods show how little the public still knows about the U.S. torture program,” Laura Pitter, a senior lawyer at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The evidence in the public record already warranted criminal investigations into CIA torture but these new allegations further heighten the need for justice.”

The two men, Ridha al-Najar and Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, were taken by U.S. and Pakistani forces in separate parts of Pakistan in 2002 and then held for years in prison facilities throughout Afghanistan. Among the facilities was the notorious “Cobalt” facility, where one captive, Gul Rahman, later died while shackled to a wall wearing only a sweatshirt.

Both men were accused of working for al Qaeda, but neither was charged.

According to the accounts they provided to Human Rights Watch, the men were also subjected to death threats, beating and other harsh methods while in CIA custody.

“I was a mess,” al-Najar told the rights group. “I had skin hanging off me and bruises and cuts all over me.”

After several months, the men were transferred from the CIA to the U.S. military. In December 2014, they were transferred to Afghanistan’s control. In June of 2015, they were repatriated to Tunisia and eventually set free.

In December 2014, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly released a scathing 500-page summary of their findings about the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The report attracted criticism from the CIA and many Republicans who claimed that it unfairly attacked American officials trying to defend the country from terrorists. 

President Obama outlawed the brutal methods shortly after taking office. Last year, Congress passed and the president signed legislation strengthening the prohibition.