WASHINGTON - Confined to the basement of a CIA secret prison in Romania about a decade ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, asked his jailers whether he could embark on an unusual project:
Would the spy agency allow Mohammed, who had earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, to design a vacuum cleaner?
The agency officer in charge of the prison called CIA headquarters and a manager approved the request, a former senior CIA official told The Associated Press.
Mohammed had endured the harshest of the CIA's interrogation methods and had confessed to a career of atrocities. But the agency had no long-term plan for him. Someday he might prove useful again. Perhaps he'd even stand trial one day.
And for that, he'd need to be sane.
So, using schematics from the Internet as his guide, Mohammed began re-engineering one of the most mundane of household appliances.
That the CIA might possess of the world's most highly classified vacuum-cleaner blueprints is but one peculiar, lasting byproduct of the controversial U.S. detention and interrogation program.
By the CIA's own account, the program was "designed to psychologically 'dislocate' " people. But once interrogations stopped, the agency had to try to undo the psychological damage inflicted on the detainees.
In Romania, the prison provided books for detainees to read. Mohammed, former officials said, enjoyed the Harry Potter series. The CIA apparently succeeded in keeping him sane. He appears to be in good health, according to military records.
Others haven't fared as well. Accused al-Qaida terrorists Ramzi Binalshibh and Abd al-Nashiri, who were also locked up in Poland and Romania with Mohammed, have had mental issues. Al-Nashiri suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Binalshibh is being treated for schizophrenia with a slew of antipsychotic medications.
"Any type of prolonged isolation in custody - much less the settings described in the press - have been known to have a severe impact on the mental condition of the detainee," said Thomas Durkin, Binalshibh's former civilian lawyer.
Durkin would not discuss Binalshibh's case.
Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogations in Poland. Agency officers and contractors forced him to stay awake for 180 hours, according to a CIA inspector general's report. He also underwent 183 instances of waterboarding, or simulated drowning.