Before 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he did a stint at a secret CIA prison in Romania where the former mechanical engineering major was allowed to give lectures and even design a vacuum cleaner because officials worried he would “go nuts.”
Mohammed, who graduated from AT&T State University in North Carolina in 1986 with a degree in mechanical engineering, was first captured in Pakistan in March 2003. The Associated Press reported that Mohammed had undergone some of the harshest interrogation techniques in a CIA prison in Poland. He was waterboarded 183 times. He was kept awake once for 180 hours, according to a report from a CIA inspector general.
The Polish prison closed in September 2003, and he was transferred to Bucharest. The CIA realized his intelligence value was diminishing and was eager to find a way to entertain him, according to the AP.
He was allowed to hold “office hours” in a debriefing room where he could lecture CIA officers about his path to jihad, his family and his childhood. Tea and cookies were reportedly served.
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“We didn't want them to go nuts,” said a former senior CIA official, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mohammed and five other detainees were given assignments to complete about their knowledge of al-Qaeda. For completing his work, he would be given a Snickers bar. In his free time, officials said he liked to read the "Harry Potter" series. CIA officials once found a message Mohammed had hidden a book telling other prisoners not to mention Osama bin Laden’s courier – the man who eventually led the United States to bin Laden.
At one point Mohammed asked for permission to work on a new project: designing a vacuum cleaner. His request was approved, but the CIA refuses to disclose anything about the design. It is unclear whether Mohammed had any ulterior motives.
In 2006, the Romanian prison was closed and Mohammed was send to Gitmo.
His attorney, Jason Wright, said he could not comment on his client’s interest in vacuum cleaners.
“It sounds ridiculous, but answering this question, or confirming or denying the very existence of a vacuum cleaner design, a Swiffer design, or even a design for a better hand towel would apparently expose the U.S. government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger,” Wright said. "If he had access to educational programs in Guantanamo Bay, such as distance learning programs, I am confident that in addition to furthering his Islamic studies, he could obtain a PhD in mechanical engineering, and very likely patent inventions.”