9/11 Mastermind's Jail Pastime: Building Vacuum Cleaner?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed read Harry Potter, did "homework"
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2013 7:00 AM CDT
9/11 Mastermind's Jail Pastime: Building Vacuum Cleaner?
This March 1, 2003, file photo obtained by the Associated Press shows Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.   (AP Photo/Uncredited)

Storytime, tea and biscuits, Harry Potter: Sounds more like a day in the life of a British schoolkid than a typical day for the mastermind of 9/11. The AP offers a fascinating look behind the scenes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's time in a CIA prison, as officials tried to keep him and his fellow detainees occupied. "We didn't want them to go nuts," says a former CIA official—that is, after an initial program "designed to psychologically 'dislocate'" detainees. Among Mohammed's activities at the secret CIA site in Bucharest, where he was moved in 2003:

  • The admitted terrorist—who has a professorial bent—held what he called "office hours" for CIA authorities. He would tell them about his childhood and what pushed him toward jihad, sharing tea and cookies while chained to the floor.

  • He loved the Harry Potter books, proving a pain for officers, who then had to check every page to make sure he hadn't written any messages to fellow prisoners inside; he once attempted to do so.
  • Officers gave him "homework" in which he was asked to provide information on al-Qaeda. Good work meant he got Snickers bars.
  • With a degree in engineering from North Carolina AT&T State, Mohammed won approval to work on an engineering project: He wanted to make his own vacuum cleaner. It's not clear what his goals were with the project or how far he got before his transfer to Guantanamo in 2006. His lawyer can't talk about it: "It sounds ridiculous, but ... 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 US government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger."
(More CIA stories.)

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