In an Oct. 1 court filing, the defense attorneys said that previously unpublished video from the interview, conducted on camera by Post journalists while Elsheikh was being detained in Syria, could help prove that he was tortured. Elsheikh was being held at the time by the Kurdish-led, U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The subpoena also seeks copies of emails, text messages and other communications between The Post and “any agents of the United States” who helped set up the interview. Elsheikh’s lawyers said in the court filing they are seeking the correspondence “as part of the defense investigation into a joint venture or working arrangement” between U.S. officials and the SDF related to the alleged mistreatment.
After Judge T.S. Ellis III, who is presiding in the case, ordered the subpoena issued at the defense’s request, The Post received the demand earlier this month. On Friday, the newspaper responded by making all video from the August 2019 interview — totaling roughly two hours — available on its website. The Post previously had published only about 8½ minutes of the interview.
“Mr. Elsheikh has asserted that the unpublished portions of our interview support his claims of torture and abuse,” The Post’s chief communications officer, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said in a statement. “We disagree, which is why we chose to publish the video from that interview in its entirety.”
Asked earlier this week about the possible publication of the full video, defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. said, “Yes, that would satisfy that part of the subpoena.”
As for the other part of the subpoena, Kelly did not specify whether the newspaper plans to challenge or comply with Elsheikh’s demand for copies of correspondence. In asking the judge to authorize the subpoena, the defense lawyers said they wanted “any and all documents, including emails or texts, that would show how the interview was arranged.”
Among publicly available records in Elsheikh’s court file as of Thursday, there was no indication of The Post’s response regarding the subpoena. MacMahon declined to comment on the issue of the correspondence.
Elsheikh’s impending trial comes years after the Islamic State horrified people around the globe by decapitating hostages and posting propaganda videos of the killings online. Four of the militants, allegedly including Elsheikh, were dubbed “the Beatles” by captives because of their British accents.
All are now dead or behind bars, authorities said: Mohammed Emwazi, the masked executioner nicknamed “Jihadi John,” was killed in a 2015 drone strike; Aine Davis was imprisoned in Turkey four years ago; and Alexanda Kotey — Elsheikh’s former co-defendant in federal court — faces a mandatory life sentence after pleading guilty last month to being involved in the killings of the four Americans.
Elsheikh is charged in the deaths of journalists James Foley, 40, and Steven Sotloff, 31, and humanitarian aid worker Peter Kassig, 26, all of whom traveled to Syria and were abducted in 2012 or 2013. They were beheaded in videos made public months later. Elsheikh also is charged in the killing of aid worker Kayla Mueller, 26, who was abducted in Syria in 2013. The circumstances of her death remain unclear.
After Elsheikh was captured, he “spent almost two years in custody overseas,” his lawyers said in seeking the subpoena. “First, he was detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces ... and later was transferred to the custody of the United States Department of Defense. While in SDF custody El Sheikh experienced abuse and torture.”
Around “the same time, and under these conditions, El Sheikh was interviewed by several media outlets,” including the video session with Post journalists in August 2019. His attorneys said Elsheikh “recalls that at least part of the footage that was not made public [before now] will corroborate his allegations of torture and abuse.”
As for emails and other correspondence, the lawyers said, “any coordination” between The Post and U.S. officials “to allow the reporters to have access to Mr. El Sheikh will support the defense position regarding a joint venture or working arrangement with the United States and Mr. El Sheikh’s jailers.”
In the interview, Elsheikh, clad in short sleeves, sat in a chair facing the journalists and spoke mostly in a soft voice. When questioned about his interactions with Islamic State hostages, he said he was mainly tasked with finding out their email addresses and contact information for their relatives.
“You didn’t do anything else with the prisoners?” he was asked.
“No interrogation or anything like that,” he answered.
He was told that some former hostages had described being tortured.
“There is not much I can say about that,” he replied. “I’m not saying they were pampered. They were prisoners in a Salafi-Jihadi environment by young people who didn’t necessarily understand the law of their religion. So I’m sure what they would have experienced from the guards in prison would have been harsh treatment.”
He said: “I did some things that were not Islamically justified. I accept that. From the harsh treatment. Yeah, I accept that.”
Elsheikh, who said he was born in Sudan and moved to the United Kingdom as a child, is charged with four counts of hostage-taking resulting in death and four conspiracy counts involving hostage-taking resulting in death, murdering a U.S. citizen outside the United States and giving material aid to terrorists.
The Justice Department opted not to seek the death penalty in his case. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted.
One of his interviewers inquired about the future Elsheikh envisions for himself.
“I try not to think about much,” he said. “I hope for the best. I expect the worst.”