Inside the CIA torture program: mock drowning, medical rape, Russian Roulette

U.S. Military Police guard detainees in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Image: Petty Officer 1st Class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)
U.S. Military Police guard detainees in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  (Image: Petty Officer 1st Class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)
U.S. Military Police guard detainees in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Image: Petty Officer 1st Class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)

Police State USA has reviewed the recent unclassified report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, titled “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” (Download the PDF here). The Committee, which spent six years probing the CIA’s practices, characterized the interrogation procedures used since 2001 as “gruesome” and revealed details regarding water torture, medical rapes, slamming heads against walls, forcing prisoners to stand on broken bones, placing living prisoners in coffins, threatening murder and rape of detainees’ family members, and sadistic games of Russian Roulette.

This article will enumerate the CIA’s tactics as they were revealed in the Senate report.

WATER TORTURE

The centerpiece of the CIA’s torture program is a mock drowning procedure, in which the detainee is strapped to a table, often with his head lower than his feet, and made to endure water pouring down his throat while a hood covers his face. Even the most resilient individuals can only tolerate a few seconds of this treatment, called “waterboarding.”

(Graphic: Lee Hulteng, Judy Treible)
(Graphic: Lee Hulteng, Judy Treible)

The committee described waterboarding as “physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting.”

One detainee, Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded at least 83 times.  During one recorded session, which lasted 2.5 hours, Zubaydah coughed, vomited, and had “involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities.”  Another session resulted in him becoming “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Similarly, the 183 waterboarding sessions of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad were described as a “series of near drownings.”

It was noted in the report that the waterboards were “well worn.”

MEDICAL RAPE

The report stated that CIA captors used a disgusting practice of forcing tubes into the anuses of prisoners to give them “rectal feedings” and “rectal rehydration.”  These were medically unnecessary and involuntary procedures used on prisoners following hunger strikes and as a “means of behavior control.”

One officer wrote an instructive report on how to jam a rectal tube “up as far as you can, then open the IV wide,” which led to “sloshing up the large intestines.”

One prisoner was placed “in a forward-facing position with head lower than torso.” A mixture of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was “pureed” and “rectally infused.”

By the DOJ definition, these acts constituted instances of rape.

Rape is: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

U.S. Department of Justice

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

According to the report, “Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours,” — over a week — and involved “usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.” 

The report stated that “detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.”

The CIA had special cells that included a bar installed at the top of the cell. Detainees were shackled to the bar with their hands above their heads, sometimes with their toes barely touching the floor. In this position they were left, sleepless and in pain.

Detainee Abd al-Karim was subjected to sleep deprivation in which he was forcibly “walked for 15 minutes every half-hour through the night and into the morning” while hobbled with a broken foot.  It lasted for 52 hours.

One prisoner, Abu Hudhaifa, “was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” the report revealed.

DEFECATION CONTROL

Records showed that the CIA extensively used control over detainees’ defecation as a means to break and manipulate them; up to and including forced self-defecation.  The report stated that after a briefing with the CIA in April 2006, President Bush “expressed discomfort with the ‘image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.'” His discomfort did not sway him from vetoing a bill restricting CIA practices in 2008.

The CIA represented to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that the use of diapers was “for sanitation and hygiene purposes.”  However, CIA records indicated that in some cases, a central “purpose” of diapers was “to cause humiliation” and “to induce a sense of helplessness.”

Detainees were regularly given only a bucket for human waste.  Even that meager accommodation was sometimes denied.  In the case of Abu Hazim, a waste bucket was removed from his cell for punishment. According to a CIA cable, Hazim “requested a bucket in which he could relieve himself, but was told all rewards must be earned.”

ICE WATER BATH

The CIA used a tactic of immersing detainees in frigid water, known among agents as an “ice water bath.”  This technique was neither approved by CIA Headquarters or the Department of Justice.  When describing the technique to the DOJ, agents referred to it as “water dousing,” and stated that the detainee is sprayed with water from a hose, and that the “water is at normal temperature; CIA makes no effort to ‘cool’ the water before applying it.”  The CIA claimed that, unlike waterboarding, this tactic did not enter the detainee’s nose, mouth, or eyes; and did not mention immersion.

The reality was that detainees were “submerged in a bathtub filled with ice water” by CIA interrogators; inducing pain and hypothermia.  Records show that detainee Abu Ja’far al-Iraqi was immersed in 44º Fahrenheit water for 18 minutes.

CONFINEMENT IN A COFFIN

CIA interrogators were found to have placed detainees into coffin-sized boxes — or smaller — for extended periods of time to psychologically break them.

In a period of twenty days, detainee Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in a coffin-sized confinement box and an additional 29 hours in an even smaller confinement box (21 x 30 x 30 inches).  Abu Zubaydah frequently “cried,” “begged,” “pleaded,” and “whimpered,” but continued to deny that he had any additional information on current threats to, or operatives in, the United States, the report stated.  The CIA interrogators told Abu Zubaydah that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin.

PHYSICAL ASSAULT

A number of hands-on assaults were described in the report.  These assaults ranged from CIA agents slapping a detainee in the face to slamming his head into a wall (called “walling”).  Wallings were a favorite tactic of interrogators and frequently resulted in injuries.  Detainee Abu Zubaydah was slammed into a concrete wall.

Other assaults included “rough takedowns,” which were rehearsed extractions of a prisoner from his cell involving several agents.  When doing this to detainee Gul Raliman, the renditions team “rushed in screaming and yelling,” then “dragged him outside, cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape.”  The agents then put a hood over his head and started dragging him down a dirt corridor, while punching and striking him.

PAIN INDUCEMENT

Pain was an integral part of many of the CIA’s tactics, including the aforementioned uses of water torture, which led to unconsciousness and vomiting; ice water torture, which led to dangerous drops in body temperature; confinement in small boxes, in which prisoners were unable to fully extend their limbs; and standing sleep deprivation, which caused swelling of the legs and feet.

The report stated that several prisoners had medical complications of the lower extremities: two detainees had a broken foot, one detainee had a sprained ankle, and one detainee had a prosthetic leg.  Each of these detainees were nonetheless shackled in the standing position for sleep deprivation for extended periods of time “until medical personnel assessed that they could not maintain the position.”

The detainees were also subjected to spending extended periods of time in painful “stress positions,” which entail supporting one’s weight in unnatural positions, producing fatigue and discomfort.

RUSSIAN ROULETTE

Police State USA found a reference to the CIA engaging in “Russian Roulette” with a detainee.  Russian Roulette is a potentially lethal “game” of chance in which a “player” places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against his head, and pulls the trigger.  If the cylinder comes to rest with the inserted round in the firing position, the round will fire into the “player’s” head.

As one can see, transparency on this subject leaves much to be desired:

Page 424 of the "Committee Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program" describes the use of Russian Roulette and threats with a gun and cordless drill.
Page 424 of the “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” describes the use of Russian Roulette and threats with a gun and cordless drill.

THREATS OF RAPE & MURDER OF FAMILY MEMBERS

Interrogators used threats of violence to manipulate detainees.  As previously stated, agents told one prisoner he would never leave unless it were in a coffin.  Another citation in the report stated that interrogators “placed a pistol near [a prisoner’s] head and operated a cordless drill near [his] body.”

When the overt threats against the detainee were not enough, CIA agents moved on to threatening the families of the men in their custody.  The report stated that one detainee was slapped on the back of the head multiple times and told that his mother would be brought before him and raped.  There is also a reference to a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”  Another detainee was told, “We’re going to kill your children.”

“We could get your mother in here,” CIA interrogators threatened Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.  “We can bring your family in here.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL MANIPULATION

The remaining tactics included a variety of methods to cause a breakdown of the detainees’ mental and emotional states.   These included wearing hoods; being paraded around the prison naked; restricting food and dietary manipulation; and being kept “without notable heat during the winter months” (which may have contributed to a prisoner’s death).  Detainees were kept in solitary confinement — sometimes in total darkness or under unceasing bright lights.  White noise or loud music was played to enhance a “sense of hopelessness” in detainees.

When CIA agents found out that one detainee had a fear of insects, they sealed him in a coffin containing insects.

READ MORE: Is it legal for the U.S. government to torture prisoners?

 

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