Sleep deprivation for over a week, beatings, shackling, and waterboarding — a litany of the cruel methods used by the Bush-era CIA to interrogate Al-Qaeda terror suspects was exposed Tuesday. The shocking report released by the US Senate found that the techniques employed by the Central Intelligence Agency were “far more brutal” than the spy agency had previously admitted to.
It was drawn up over several years by the Senate intelligence committee, which revealed such techniques were applied with “significant repetition for days or weeks at a time” on prisoners rounded up in the “war on terror” launched in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
The worst treatment was meted out a secret CIA detention site dubbed COBALT where “unauthorized” interrogation techniques were used in 2002.
Almost no detailed records were found for the interrogations at this site. The country that hosted the site was also kept secret in the heavily redacted report.
Many of the techniques detailed in the report were never approved by either the CIA operations handbook or the Department of Justice. Several prisoners required medical treatment afterwards. Beginning with the CIA’s first high-value Al-Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah, suspects were routinely slammed against a wall by their interrogators and hit with rolled up towels.
Facial slaps, or “insults,” as well as stomach punches were also used.
The interrogators also used “attention grasps” in which the prisoner is grabbed with both hands, one on each side of the collar and pulled towards the interrogator. This involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, or more than a week, usually standing or in stress positions, sometimes with their hands shackled above their heads, chained to the ceiling.
Abu Zubaydah was kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day. Or he was kept awake by non-stop questioning. At least five detainees suffered “disturbing hallucinations” but in at least two cases the CIA continued with the interrogation method.
Over 20 days, Abu Zubaydah spent 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in a large coffin-size box, and 29 hours in an even smaller one during his interrogation at what was dubbed Detention Site Green. In the COBALT facility, dubbed a “dungeon” by the chief of interrogations, prisoners were kept in complete darkness, often shackled with their hands above their heads and often nude.
They were bombarded with loud music and noise and given just a bucket as a toilet. In 2002 a prisoner who had been partially nude and chained to a concrete floor died of suspected hyopthermia. Ice water baths or showers were also used to try to break suspects.
Some detainees were also forced to wear diapers, although guidelines said they could not be left on longer than 72 hours. This was used at the COBALT facility. About five CIA agents would scream at a detainee, drag him outside his cell, cut his clothes off and wrap him in Mylar tarp.
He would then be hooded and dragged up and down a dirt hallway while being slapped and punched.
After his death at the COBALT site, Gul Rahman was found to have been covered with bruises and abrasions on his shoulders, pelvis, arms, legs and face.
CIA officers regularly threatened the detainees. One was told he would only leave the facility in “a coffin-shaped box.” At least three detainees were told the CIA would hurt their families, including their children. There was a threat to sexually abuse the mother of one, while another was told his mother’s throat would be cut. The methods were supposed to ensure prisoners developed a sense of “Learned helplessness.”
At another CIA site one prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, alleged mastermind of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, was blindfolded and a pistol was placed near his head, while a CIA officer also operated a cordless drill near his body.
At least five prisoners were subjected to “rectal rehydration or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity,” the report said.
Other detainees were given a liquid diet of protein drinks known as Ensure “as a means of limiting vomiting during waterboarding.”
In this technique of previously described “near drownings,” the detainee was bound to an inclined bench with his feet usually raised.
A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes and water is then poured in a controlled way onto the clothing. The cloth is then lowered over the nose and mouth.
Once the cloth is saturated, the prisoner’s flow of air is restricted for up to 40 seconds while the cloth is left in place over the nose and mouth.
The self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Khaled Sheikh Mohammed is known to have been waterboarded 183 times.
In March 2003 he was subjected to five waterboard sessions over 25 hours.
“The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting,” the report said.